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Damage Caps

Limits on compensation provided to individuals injured as a result of someone else’s negligence or intentional action are commonly referred to as "damage caps." Damage caps are a common type of tort reform, changes to the civil justice system (torts are civil wrongs in which one party becomes legally liable to the other for harm or loss caused by the negligent party).

Under Article III, Section 18 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania, the General Assembly is prohibited from limiting the amount of damages recoverable for injuries resulting in death, or for injuries to persons or property.

State law in Pennsylvania, however, does place caps on some damages in cases involving certain types of defendants. Tort reform proponents often claim that damage caps are necessary to limit excessive jury awards, but the limits that are imposed are frequently no less arbitrary.

Individuals who are against tort reform argue that damage caps may even be inadequate for providing a full lifetime of required care in some cases.

Personal Injury Lawyer in West Chester, PA Discusses Damage Caps

Did you sustain serious injuries or was your loved one killed in southeastern Pennsylvania as the result of another party's negligence? You will want to contact Ciccarelli Law Offices as soon as possible for help obtaining all of the compensation you need and deserve.

Our personal injury attorneys in West Chester represent clients in communities all over Delaware County, Chester County, Montgomery County, Lancaster County, and the greater Philadelphia area. You can have our lawyers provide a complete evaluation of your case when you call (610) 719-3190 to schedule a free initial consultation.


Overview of Damage Caps in Pennsylvania


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Damage Caps on Lawsuits Against Governmental Units in Chester County

Chapter 85 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes is dedicated to matters affecting government units. Under this chapter, a Commonwealth party is defined as a Commonwealth agency and any employee thereof, but only with respect to an act within the scope of his office or employment, while a local agency is defined as a government unit other than the Commonwealth government.

A local agency includes, but is not limited to, an intermediate unit; municipalities cooperating in the exercise or performance of governmental functions, powers or responsibilities under Title 53, Chapter 23, Subchapter A of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (relating to intergovernmental cooperation); and councils of government and other entities created by two or more municipalities under Title 53, Chapter 23 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute § 8528 establishes that damages against Commonwealth parties arising from the same cause of action or transaction or occurrence or series of causes of action or transactions or occurrences cannot exceed $250,000 in favor of any plaintiff or $1 million in the aggregate. Types of damages recoverable in these cases are limited to:

  • Past and future loss of earnings and earning capacity;
  • Pain and suffering;
  • Medical and dental expenses including the reasonable value of reasonable and necessary medical and dental services, prosthetic devices and necessary ambulance, hospital, professional nursing, and physical therapy expenses accrued and anticipated in the diagnosis, care and recovery of the claimant;
  • Loss of consortium; and
  • Property losses, except that property losses shall not be recoverable in claims brought pursuant to Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute § 8522(b)(5) (relating to potholes and other dangerous conditions).

Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute § 8553 states that damages against local parties arising from the same cause of action or transaction or occurrence or series of causes of action or transactions or occurrences cannot exceed $500,000 in the aggregate. The types of damages recoverable in these cases are limited to:

  • Past and future loss of earnings and earning capacity;
  • Pain and suffering in the following instances:
    • death; or permanent loss of a bodily function,
    • permanent disfigurement or
    • permanent dismemberment where the medical and dental expenses referred to below are in excess of $1,500;
  • Medical and dental expenses including the reasonable value of reasonable and necessary medical and dental services, prosthetic devices and necessary ambulance, hospital, professional nursing, and physical therapy expenses accrued and anticipated in the diagnosis, care and recovery of the claimant;
  • Loss of consortium;
  • Loss of support; and
  • Property losses.

When a claimant receives or is entitled to receive benefits under an insurance policy, other than a life insurance policy, as a result of losses for which damages are recoverable, the amount of such benefits will be deducted from the amount of damages which would otherwise be recoverable by such claimant.


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Medical Malpractice Damage Caps in West Chester

Title 40 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute concerns insurance, and Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute § 1303.505 establishes that in medical malpractice cases, punitive damages can be awarded for conduct that is the result of the health care provider's willful or wanton conduct or reckless indifference to the rights of others. In assessing punitive damages, the trier of fact can properly consider:

  • the character of the health care provider's act;
  • the nature and extent of the harm to the patient that the health care provider caused or intended to cause; and
  • the wealth of the health care provider.

Punitive damages will not be awarded against a health care provider who is only liable as an employer or overseer for the actions of its agent or employees that caused the injury unless it can be shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the party knew of and allowed the conduct by its agent that resulted in the award of punitive damages.

Except in cases alleging intentional misconduct, punitive damages against an individual physician cannot exceed 200 percent of the compensatory damages awarded.

Punitive damages, when awarded, cannot be less than $100,000 unless a lower verdict amount is returned by the trier of fact. The punitive damages portion of an award must be allocated as follows:

  • 75 percent paid to the prevailing party; and
  • 25 percent paid to the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund (Mcare).

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Pennsylvania Damage Cap Resources

Zauflik v. Pennsbury School District, No. 1 MAP 2014 (Pa. Nov. 19, 2014) — Ashley Zauflik sustained a crushed pelvis and the amputation of her left leg above the knee when a school bus owned by and operated by an employee of Pennsbury School District accelerated out of control onto a sidewalk and struck 20 students. Pennsbury admitted liability and that its employee bus driver caused the accident, and Pennsbury had $11 million in liability and excess insurance coverage but maintained that its liability was limited to $500,000, the statutory limit on damages recoverable against a local government agency under the Tort Claims Act. A jury returned a verdict against Pennsbury in the amount of $14,036,263.39, which included $338,580 for past medical expenses, $2,597,682 for future medical expenses, and $11.1 million for past and future pain and suffering. On November 19, 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld the limitation on damages recoverable under Section 8553(b) of the Act, noting that "the conclusion that the General Assembly is in the better position than this Court to address the complicated public policy questions raised by the larger controversy has substantial force."

Hot Coffee | Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Caps — The title of the 2011 documentary Hot Coffee was derived from the infamous case of Stella Liebeck, the Albuquerque woman who sued McDonald’s after spilling hot coffee on herself and suffering serious burn injuries. The movie explored damage caps, and this section of the film’s website lets you find answers to frequently asked questions about caps on damages as well as links to public interest organizations. As the website notes, damage caps “take away the authority of judges and juries, who listen to the evidence in a case, to decide compensation based on each specific fact situation” and instead place “these decisions in the hands of politicians, abandoning this country’s history of individualized justice.”


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Ciccarelli Law Offices | West Chester Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered catastrophic injuries or your loved one was killed in an accident caused by another party's negligence in southeastern Pennsylvania, it will be in your best interest to retain legal counsel as soon as possible. Ciccarelli Law Offices has office locations in Kennett Square, Radnor, Plymouth Square, Springfield, Malvern, Philadelphia, King of Prussia, and Lancaster.

Our West Chester personal injury lawyers can fight to get you all of the compensation that you are entitled to. Call (610) 719-3190 or submit an online contact form to have our attorneys review your case and help you understand all of your legal options during a free, confidential consultation.



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