Medical Malpractice Statutes

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231 § 85K. This statute caps at $20,000 the amount of damages that a plaintiff can recover from a charitable organization for any act of negligence. Since many hospitals are charitable organizations, this law means that the ceiling on medical malpractice liability for many hospitals is $20,000. Keene v. Brigham & Women’s Hosp. Inc., 439 Mass. 223 (2003).

Importantly, the cap does not apply to causes of action created by statute. Linkage Corp. v. Trustees of Boston Univ., 425 Mass. 1 (1997); Birbiglia v. St. Vincent Hosp., 427 Mass. 80 (1998).

Therefore, if you are suing the charitable organization under a law passed by the federal government or the Massachusetts legislature, the cap on damages does not apply to your statutory claims.

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 258 § 2. Chapter 258 is the Massachusetts Tort Claims Act. It caps the amount of damages that you can recover from any “public employer” (other than the MBTA) at $100,000.

Who is considered a “public employee”? Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) who work for a town can be public employees. Likewise, doctors who work for a “public hospital” (i.e., state- or city-run hospital) may also be public employees.

However, if the doctor has significant discretion in his day-to-day activities, he will likely be considered an independent contractor, rather than an “employee” of the hospital, and therefore the protections of the Mass Tort Claims Act will not extend to his negligent conduct. Melanson v. Damon, 16 Mass. L. Rep. 110 (2003); Latour v. DeGroot, 16 Mass. L. Rep. 351; Hull v. Foley, 17 Mass. L. Rep. 187.

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 123 § 22. This statute creates immunity for physicians in certain situations where physicians have to restrain a patient forcibly.

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