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Can I Sue a Doctor for What Could Have Happened? … I Could’ve Died!

May 14, 2021

A healthcare provider made a mistake that could have injured you. But it didn’t. Can you sue the physician, surgeon, or healthcare facility for a medical error they could have made?

The answer is no. Damages are necessary for a medical malpractice claim in Michigan.

What Must a Patient Prove to Recover?

There are three elements to a medical malpractice claim. You and your Michigan medical malpractice attorney must prove each of the three to recover:

  1. The doctor breached the standard of care and was negligent. To be legally responsible, a doctor or surgeon must have been negligent in a patient’s diagnosis or treatment. To bring a successful lawsuit for medical malpractice, a patient must be able to show that the doctor caused harm to the patient in a way in which a competent doctor, under the same circumstances, wouldn’t have. The doctor’s care must only be “reasonably skillful and careful.” The question of whether the physician was reasonably skillful and careful usually is the main issue of a medical malpractice claim and usually requires expert testimony.
  2. The doctor’s negligence caused the injury. In a medical malpractice case, there may be an issue as to whether the physician’s actions—negligent or not—actually caused the harm to the individual when the patient is already sick or injured, or has some type of pre-existing condition. In these situations, the patient must show that it’s “more likely than not” that the doctor’s incompetence directly caused the injury. Again, a medical expert will testify as to whether the doctor’s negligence caused the injury.
  3. The injury resulted in specific damages. No matter if it’s obvious that a doctor or surgeon performed below the expected standards in his or her field, a patient can’t sue for malpractice if he or she patient didn’t suffer any harm. So again, you can’t bring a medical malpractice lawsuit for a medical error the doctor could have made because you didn’t suffer any damages and can’t satisfy this element of a medical malpractice claim.

What are Economic and Non-Economic Damages?

There are two basic types of damages that a patient can recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit: economic and non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are damages for things such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, the loss of quality of life, disability, and the loss of consortium or companionship.

Economic damages include monetary losses suffered because malpractice such as hospital and other medical bills, the loss of earning capacity, lost income, vocational rehabilitation, household services, and any out-of-pocket expenses that are connected to the patient’s injuries. Non-economic damages are capped, but there’s no limit on the amount of economic damages patients may be awarded.

In 2021, the limitations on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice claims were increased to a limit of $851,000 for the “upper cap,” and the “lower cap” was upped to a maximum award of $476,600.

The upper cap is applicable if the medical malpractice victim claims an injury that falls into one or more of these categories:

  1. The result of the medical malpractice is that the plaintiff is hemiplegic, paraplegic, or quadriplegic with total permanent functional loss of one or more limbs caused by an injury to the brain and/or spinal cord;
  2. The plaintiff suffers permanently impaired cognitive capacity making him or her incapable of making independent, reasonable life decisions, and permanently incapable of independently performing normal daily living activities; or
  3. The plaintiff’s injuries have caused permanent loss of or damage to a reproductive organ resulting in his or her inability to have children.

The lower cap is applicable to all other cases of medical malpractice.


If you or a loved one has suffered harm due to an injury or complication you believe was an error by the physician, surgeon, or hospital, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Buchanan Firm in Michigan for a free consultation. We can discuss your situation if you believe you’ve been injured as the result of medical malpractice and work through the types and amounts of damages you should recover.

Our firm serves Michiganders all over the state, including in major cities like Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Detroit, Lansing, Holland, St. Joe, and Ann Arbor, and rural towns such as Lowell, Ada, Fremont, Newaygo, Grand Haven, Rockford, and Cedar Springs. We will meet you after-hours, at home or in the hospital to accommodate you.

Contact us today!