Recently a family from the United States was awarded $45 million in compensation after the doctor delivering their child made a series of medical mistakes that resulted in their newborn suffering severe brain damage. Being awarded such an exorbitant figure definitely raises questions as to why these sorts of sums are not often seen in Australia-based medical negligence claims.

Claims for compensation in the United States are subject to principles which give juries the power to award damages which not only compensate the plaintiff for the losses but also to act as punishment for the defendant’s negligence. This is called punitive damages.

Punitive damages do not provide a maximum dollar that a defendant can be ordered to pay hence, the enormous figures which we see being awarded in the US. Not to say every compensation claim is subject to punitive damages; it is usually reserved for when the defendant displayed actual intent to cause harm or gross negligence and not mere oversight. In this case, the doctor delivering the newborn left the plaintiff during delivery multiple times during crucial moments and even took an 8 minute phone call from his stockbroker.

The principle of punitive, or exemplary, damages does not currently apply in Australia to medical negligence claims, though it is available for claims where there is an intentional element to the harm (battery or assault for example).

Rather, the aim of compensation for negligence in Australia is to place the plaintiff in the same position they would have been, but for the negligent act of the defendant. It is also subject to the various caps and thresholds that have been put in place by legislation (the NSW Civil Liability Act for example).

As a result, bringing a claim for compensation as a result of someone’s negligence will not result in damages of the nature found in the U.S.A.

Despite this, if you or somebody you know has suffered an injury as a result of a medical practitioners negligence, you may still be entitled to compensation. For more information, please call Stacks Goudkamp on 1800 25 1800 to arrange a free, no-obligation assessment of your medical negligence claim, or alternatively, make an online enquiry.

Written by Mark Crollos.

Mark Crollos is a paralegal in Julie Mahony’s Practice Group. Mark works on a variety of different compensation matters, with a particular focus on medical negligence claims.