Most Virginia residents trust their doctors, and for good reason. Doctors are highly-trained medical professionals and, generally, do a great job taking care of patients. However, doctors are still human and sometimes make mistakes or are careless, which can result in significant harm to patients. When these mistakes do happen, Virginia state law allows those who are injured to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible doctor. If successful, these suits can result in financial recovery for the victim to cover pain and suffering, lost wages, past and future medical expenses, and other losses they suffered.
The purpose of these lawsuits is generally not to punish the doctor but rather to help the victim recover. Because of this, punitive damages are rarely available. Punitive damages are additional monetary damages that may be awarded to the plaintiff that serve not to make the plaintiff whole and help them recover, but to punish and deter the doctor’s behavior. Because this is not the purpose of medical malpractice lawsuits, these damages are reserved for rare cases when the doctor’s conduct was extremely egregious and in disregard of the patient.
Recently, a Virginia court discussed punitive damages in a medical malpractice case. According to the court’s written opinion, the patient broke her ankle in March of 2011, and was treated by the defendant, a doctor. The patient required surgery, and after the surgery, the doctor prescribed her Percocet, a drug consisting of acetaminophen and oxycodone, a controlled narcotic substance. The patient had a history of bipolar disorder and alcohol use, so she was at an increased risk of developing an addiction to narcotic pain medication, but the doctor continued to prescribe her Percocet. He never attempted to treat her with non-narcotic pain medication.