When we think of expert witnesses, we often think of needing them to determine who was liable for an accident or to testify as to how products, manufacturing, or chemicals work, or to testify about complex government or municipal codes or regulations. Sometimes we think of them as doctors, testifying on the severity, cause, nature and extent of someone’s injuries.
Surely, these are all areas where experts are vitally important. But another area that is often overlooked but where expert testimony can be vital, is the cost of caring for someone who has become disabled because of an accident through the course of that person’s lifetime.
The Cost of Future Care
When someone is catastrophically injured, a jury can consider and award the cost of treating that person through the course of her lifetime. The cost of future surgeries, therapy, medical visits, or procedures can be considered. Even costs related to medical conditions that may develop as a result of the injuries sustained in an accident can be considered.
For example, someone who may have a rotator cuff injury can have the future, ongoing expenses related to the care of the injury awarded to them, but also for the care and treatment of arthritis in the shoulder which is likely to develop years later, because of the rotator cuff injury.
What about expenses that are not direct medical expenses? Things such as modifications to one’s home or car, in-home nurses or therapists, the cost for special schooling, or the need for special medical devices, all of which are needed because of someone’s mental or physical disability sustained in an accident?
This is where a life care plan (LCP) comes into play. An LCP shows the jury what all the medical expenses caused by the accident will be for the duration of the victim’s lifetime. It is a picture of someone’s needs going far into the future. It is not unrealistic to show a jury what the cost of special nursing home care might be years in the future for a victim who is only a young toddler today.
The Life Care Planning Expert
Putting together a picture of someone’s future special care needs requires special expertise. It may require showing future medical needs in a multitude of medical disciplines, such as where someone suffers a traumatic brain injury and a catastrophic physical injury in an accident.
It requires knowledge of the costs and expenses of special care, special education options, and the costs of transportation, medicines, and nursing care.
These experts will speak with a victim’s physicians and family. Of course, the expert will meet with the victim himself, and evaluate the victim’s medical records to determine how the victim has responded to medical treatment to date.
The victim’s environment may be considered; for example, a victim with six siblings may have fewer future in-home medical care needs than someone with no siblings, who may be completely dependent on nursing or in-home care later in life.
The expert will consider the cost and availability of options for treatment. Someone in a small community with only one option to receive special education for disabled persons, may have a higher expense than someone in an urban community, with multiple options available.
Brain Injuries Cause Special Issues
Life care plans and planning experts are used for any kind of injury expected to be permanently disabling. They include both physical and brain/mental injuries. However, brain injuries present a special challenge, given that there is so much variation in how people recover from them.
Absent advances in science, we know how much someone who is paralyzed will recover years in the future. But we cannot just look at a brain scan and determine how permanent an injury will be.
Many jurors may believe that brain injuries will heal themselves, or that time will erase a victim’s cognitive or emotional disabilities caused by an accident. In many cases, brain injury improvement will plateau after about three years. In other words, most of the improvement in function after brain injuries will occur within three years of the accident causing the disability. This can create problems in cases that go to trial or resolve within those three years, as the full extent of recovery may not yet be known.
The life care planning expert takes this into account. Using neuropsychological evaluations, social workers, and comparisons to other cases, the expert can give the jury a more reasonable and realistic picture of what the brain injury victim can expect going forward.
Future Expenses can be Overlooked Without an Expert
Experts takes into account many of the things that a jury—or sometimes, the victim’s own family—may not anticipate. For example, someone with sensory impairment may never be able to determine if food in the refrigerator is spoiled. They may not be able to detect smoke or gas leaks. They may be unstable, and thus, may not be able to be left alone in the home.
Caretakers who work may need someone home with their relative at all times when they are at work. Victims who are immobile may be prone to gain weight, and may need wheelchairs or beds replaced at a higher rate. Some medical equipment such as respirators or feeding tubes have pumps and mechanisms that must be periodically replaced as with any machine. Even routine medical care, such as primary care or colonoscopies, must be performed by special physicians or in different facilities than those without disabilities.
As if this was not difficult enough, the life care planner must determine how the effects of aging will impact those with disabilities differently. Many injuries compound the difficulties and special needs of the normal aging process. These are all costs that are easily overlooked without a thorough life care plan.
Presenting evidence in a catastrophic injury case requires special knowledge to make sure the jury has the information it needs to evaluate your damages. Contact Brill & Rinaldi today about a free consultation to discuss your case and your injuries.