Personal injury lawyers commonly are consulted by a potential client who has been seriously injured or who has suffered catastrophic injuries as the result of the breadth of negligent conduct, from an auto accident or bicycle or pedestrian or motorcycle accident to medical malpractice, a product defect, food poisoning, or a defect or failure to maintain commercial or residential premises.
While “liability” in some cases may be simple, such as the auto accident lawyers establishing through witness testimony that the defendant driver ran the red light, the presentation of the damage case in every serious injury case is complex. Specific injuries sustained in auto accidents or premises liability cases, such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) or spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis, quadriplegia or paraplegia, and the resulting loss of enjoyment of life, can be as complex to present by personal injury lawyers as the evidence of Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome HUS in a food poisoning case, or cerebral palsy in an obstetrical medical malpractice case.
Furthermore, speaking again just in terms of the client’s “general damages,” the personal injury lawyers must use appropriate strategies to convey to the settlement judge or jury the life consequence of the serious injuries. Many personal injury attorneys refer to “general damages” as “pain and suffering,” but often the most persuasive strategy can be framed in terms of “loss of enjoyment of life.” One way that lawyers will present their clients general damages is by eliciting the testimony of the client, his family and friends, as well as photographs and home movies demonstrating all the activities that the client enjoyed most in his life before the accident, juxtaposed against a “Day in the Life” film, commissioned by the personal injury lawyer to demonstrate the courage of the seriously injured client as he confronts all of the obstacles and challenges presented by his daily life.
The personal injury lawyer must also present the client’s “special damages” including his past and future medical expenses and past and future loss of earnings or earning capacity. Past medical expenses are often easy to prove, simply gathering and summing all medical bills accumulated from the date of the accident through the date of the settlement conference or trial. Future medical expenses are much more complicated for personal injury attorneys to present, usually requiring the testimony of a number of medical experts, a life care planner and a forensic economist. Very briefly, the life care planner consults with the treating and the medical experts hired by the serious injury attorneys to arrive at the client’s life expectancy and itemize all of the medical expense, from additional surgeries to convalescent home or rehabilitation expense, to replacement prostheses or wheel chairs to medical supplies that the client will require over the course of his life expectancy. The personal injury lawyer will the present the “life care plan” to a forensic economist who will increase the individual costs over the time period using medical cost inflation statistics and then reduce the total to present value.
In the simplest of cases, involving the hourly wage earner, for example, the measure of past loss of earnings might be relatively easy to calculate, but the measure of future loss of earning is always complex. Again it requires the personal injury lawyer to engage a number of experts, including medical experts, and most importantly a “vocational rehabilitation expert” and forensic economist. The measure of future loss of earnings or earning capacity is the “net” loss, and so the vocational rehabilitation expert generally meets with the client, speaks with the clients physicians and the medical experts selected by the serious injury lawyer, reviews the clients transcripts from the schooling or advanced education he has received, and then provides a report to the lawyer describing the occupations for which the client is, subsequent to the accident, is disqualified to participate in, and the occupations for which he remains qualified. Depending on the client’s injury, there may also be a substantial difference between the client’s “work life expectancy” before and after the accident. The serious injury lawyers then provide the vocational rehabilitation experts report to the forensic economist, who in turn employs wage rate increase statistics, for the client’s occupation before the accident, and in those industries for which he is still qualified to be employed, if any, and applies general inflation statistics to the gross total loss of future earnings to discount to present value.
Please understand that above our California personal injury lawyers have discussed only the “simplest case” of the hourly wage earner. Presenting future loss earnings, for example, can be much more complicated, for example, in cases in which the client was a business owner. For a more complete discussion of the presentation of damages in serious injury cases, you are invited to consider How Serious Injury Lawyers President Damages in Catastrophic Injury Cases In that article we go into much more depth in explaining how serious injury attorneys present general damages and special damages, including in particular, future medical expenses and future loss of earnings.
It is a challenge for personal injury lawyers to properly and adequately present the damage case of the seriously injury client. It is a challenge that must be accepted by attorneys who regularly prosecute complex cases, such as medical malpractice, food poisoning or pharmaceutical product liability cases, as well as auto accident lawyers and premises liability attorneys alike. The special damage issues, which are the commonly the most complex, are the regardless whether the underlying liability is a simple auto accident or complex medical malpractice case. And the damage case requires equal attention, regardless of the underlying liability, by the personal injury lawyer who undertakes any serious injury case.