If the defendant in a medical malpractice suit acted with recklessness, malice, or deceit, the plaintiff may be awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages are not based on the injuries sustained by the plaintiff, rather they are intended to punish the defendant for gross medical negligence and deter the defendant from committing the same act again in the future. Some states have caps on punitive damages, while others do not allow any punitive damages in medical malpractice actions.
There are several situations in which it may be possible for a plaintiff to recover punitive damages from a doctor, nurse, or other health care provider. Listed below are a few examples:
- Misrepresentation or fraud regarding surgery
- Altering medical records
- Continuing to use a particular treatment when it has had bad results in the past
- Failure to properly administer drugs or anesthesia
- Failure to obtain the patient's informed consent prior to the surgery
Plaintiffs may be able to recover punitive damages from a hospital, clinic, or another type of institutional health care provider under the following circumstances:
- The institution failed to ensure the competency of its employees
- The institution failed to properly supervise personnel
- The institution failed to provide adequate facilities, equipment, or supplies
- The institution refused to disclose medical records.
It should be noted that punitive damages are not usually awarded in medical malpractice cases because most cases only involve simple negligence, not intentional or gross misconduct. The plaintiff must prove that the defendant performed some reprehensible act in order to justify punitive damages.