Under Indiana law, when someone acts carelessly, and as a result, someone else is injured, the victimized person is entitled to compensation and may pursue a personal injury lawsuit to obtain that compensation. If you are injured, for example, by a negligent motorist, a careless doctor, a defective consumer product, or the negligence of a property owner, you can seek compensation for the medical bills, the days lost from work, and all related costs and damages.

However, to obtain the compensation you are entitled to, in the Merrillville area and in northern Indiana, you’ll need the help of an experienced Lake County personal injury attorney. In most Indiana injury cases, the personal injury process is straightforward. The injury victim – the “plaintiff” – must demonstrate that the “defendant” behaved negligently and thus is liable for any injury or injuries to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff can prove his or her case, the defendant agrees to or is ordered by the court to reimburse the plaintiff for the injuries and damages.

In most cases, personal injury law is not about “punishing” defendants. Rather, the purpose – to the extent that’s realistically possible – is to return the plaintiff and his or her life and health to “normal” after suffering a personal injury. In a successful personal injury claim, the amount received by the plaintiff is considered reimbursement or compensation. Only in the rarest personal injury cases are “punitive” damages – aimed at punishing a defendant’s negligence – awarded to victims.

WHAT IS TYPICALLY INCLUDED IN A PERSONAL INJURY AWARD?

A personal injury settlement or verdict almost always includes complete payment for all of a plaintiff’s injury-related medical costs. If medical care must be continued into the future, the projected cost of that future care is included, and if the victim remains unable to return to work – whether permanently or temporarily – compensation is included for the victim’s lost “earning capacity” or lost future wages. Emotional suffering and pain are also sometimes compensated.

When injuries are permanently disabling, and particularly if the victim is a young person who will struggle for decades, the final amount of damages in a personal injury case may be quite sizable. Some states, therefore, have established damage “caps,” limits on the amount that a personal injury plaintiff may obtain. Indiana caps compensation for medical malpractice claims and for some wrongful death claims.

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF MEDICAL MALPRACTICE IN INDIANA?

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the three leading causes of death here in the United States are heart disease, cancer – and medical malpractice. Medical malpractice is defined in law as a violation of the “reasonable standard of care” provided by most doctors, but it’s sometimes difficult for an injured person to know if he or she is a medical malpractice victim. Every malpractice case is unique, and every allegation must be thoroughly examined from the medical and legal perspectives.

Medical malpractice, however, constitutes much more than surgical errors like removing the wrong organ or limb. It can include misdiagnosis or the failure to diagnose a medical condition, prescribing the wrong medicine, or any act of carelessness by a healthcare professional that harms or injures a patient. If your health has declined because treatment was delayed due to a misdiagnosis, you may be a victim of medical malpractice.

The state of Indiana has established a damage cap for medical malpractice awards, but not for any other type of personal injury award. Since July 2017, the medical malpractice award cap in Indiana is $1.65 million. An Indiana victim of medical malpractice cannot obtain a greater amount of compensation. It doesn’t matter what the injuries and medical care actually cost in the long run.

The $1.65 million damage cap is the most a medical malpractice victim can receive for all medical bills, all income and earning capacity losses, and all pain, suffering, and emotional damages. The first $400,000 of damages is paid by the defendant (the healthcare provider), and the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund covers any amount above $400,000. Indiana’s medical malpractice damage cap will increase in 2019 to $1.8 million, and the first $500,000 is to be covered by the defendant.

ARE THERE CAPS FOR OTHER TYPES OF PERSONAL INJURIES IN INDIANA?

Indiana caps damage awards in some but not all cases of wrongful death. There is no cap on damages awarded to families for the wrongful death of a person under the age of 20 or a person between the age 20 and age 23 who was enrolled as a student. However, if a wrongful death victim is age 23 or older and has no dependents, that individual’s estate cannot receive over $300,000 in damages with a wrongful death claim in Indiana. No cap is imposed on wrongful death claims when those claims are filed by a surviving, dependent spouse or on behalf of a surviving minor child.

WHAT IF THE STATE OF INDIANA CAUSED SOMEONE’S INJURY?

Damages are capped at $700,000 in this state for a single individual injured at a local, county, or state government facility if the governmental entity or one or more of its employees were negligent. The liability of an Indiana state or local governmental entity is capped at $5 million for any one accident with more than one victim, so some victims may not be able to obtain even the $700,000 sum. When a stage collapse injured more than a hundred persons in 2011 at the Indiana State Fair, the state’s lawmakers authorized an additional $6 million to enhance compensation for those victims.

The reason states establish damage caps is to protect insurers, businesses, and the state itself. Damage caps, however, are not always “unfair.” They can also keep medical and insurance costs down for everyone. For example, if a doctor injures a youthful and otherwise healthy patient through an act of medical malpractice, and the jurors decide that the patient should be awarded $10 million for a lifetime of care, the insurance company has to make up for that $10 million – by charging you more for healthcare coverage.

Indiana lawmakers have changed the damage caps for medical malpractice and wrongful death cases a number of times, and they are certain to make more changes in the future. Thus, anyone who is injured by an act of negligence in Merrillville, Gary, or any other nearby area should consult immediately with an experienced Lake County personal injury attorney regarding the possibility of filing a personal injury lawsuit.