Future Economic Damages (Medicolegal Issues)
While the 2003 tort reform legislation capped non-economic damages that may be recovered in a health care liability claim, this cap does not apply to economic damages, such as future loss of earning capacity and future medical expenses (1). Given that expert testimony based on reasonable medical probability is needed to establish liability (a breach of the applicable standard of care) (2) and causation (that the breach of the standard of care caused injury to the patient) (3), many assume that future economic damages must also be established based on reasonable medical probability through expert testimony. That is not true. In fact, the relative ease with which future economic damages can be established may be surprising, especially in light of the high threshold required to establish the other elements of a health care liability claim. Future medical expenses are reasonable and necessary health care expenses required for the treatment of injuries sustained as a result of the negligent care at issue (4). To recover future medical expenses, the plaintiff must show a “reasonable probability” his injuries will require him to incur medical expenses in the future (5). The plaintiff may recover future medical expenses if he shows the existence of an injury that medical care was rendered for the treatment of that injury prior to the time of trial, the cost of that past medical care, and that he is still injured to some degree at the time of trial (5, 6). At a bare minimum, the plaintiff must show the reasonable value of his past medical treatment and the probable necessity of future medical treatment (6). While it is “preferred” that the plaintiff establish future medical expenses through expert testimony, expert testimony is not required (6). The necessary evidence can come from the plaintiff himself (7).