In serious motor vehicle accidents it is not uncommon for a driver or occupant of a vehicle to suffer a permanent injury. A car, truck or motorcycle traveling at high speeds and crashing into another vehicle can cause a very severe accident that often results in painful and possibly permanent injuries. Injuries that are established as being permanent will have a great impact on a personal injury claim. Specifically, the permanency of an injury can increase the value and ultimate settlement or award of damages in a negligence lawsuit. Let’s take a closer look at permanent injuries in accident cases.
When is an Injury Considered Permanent?
The legal definition of a permanent injury is “physical or mental damage that will indefinitely restrict the employment or other normal activities of an individual.” It is where an injury has left a long-lasting or residual effect. When someone is seriously injured in an accident, whether it is a car accident, trucking accident, or a slip and fall, they get medical treatment. In some situations, the injuries may require surgical intervention. Other times, the injured person may not be a surgical candidate and may require non-surgical treatment options. Either way, once the injured person has followed the specific treatment plan of their doctors and healed as much as possible, they may not get back to the condition they were in before the accident. In that case, their doctor may find that they are at a maximum medical improvement (MMI).
MMI means that the injured person has reached a state where their condition cannot be improved with any other treatment or they have exhausted all treatment options. Basically, it’s a way of saying; that’s as good as you are going to get. If someone has not completely recovered from their injury and determined to be at a maximum medical improvement, their injury can be considered permanent.
Permanent Injuries That are Common in Massachusetts Accident Cases
There are some very common permanent injuries that we routinely come across in personal injury cases. The following are some we see regularly:
Scarring: A very common permanent injury from an accident is a scar. Scars can be suffered in car accidents, dog bites, slip and falls and other types of accidents. While the majority of scars will fade over time, a lot remain very visible for years and years. They will often be considered a permanent injury.
Permanent Back & Neck Injuries: Some of the most prevalent injuries suffered in motor vehicle accidents are back and neck injuries. The spine is an amazing part of the human body, but susceptible to injury in serious car crashes. A severe accident can result in a disc injury, spinal fractures and spondylolisthesis. Sometimes surgery, such as a neck fusion or discectomy, is required. These often result in some form of a permanent injury.
Shoulder Injuries: A shoulder injury, such as a rotator cuff tear, that requires surgery can result in a permanent impairment. Some clients we have represented with rotator cuff tears regain most of their range of motion and strength in their shoulder, but can be left with some measure of impairment.
Proving the Permanency of an Injury
In a negligence lawsuit the plaintiff (injured party) bears the burden of proving the elements of their case. This includes proving damages, which includes the injuries and permanency of any injury. Proving damages begins immediately after an accident by seeking medical attention right away. This will document the injury and cause of the injury.
Consistent treatment and follow up examinations with the treating physicians is important in documenting and later proving a permanent injury. If you consistently see your doctor he or she can document your progress during treatment and then should be able to give an opinion if your injury is permanent. You should explain to your doctor the things that your injury prevents you from doing so he or she can document it in your medical records.
A very valuable piece of evidence is a narrative from your treating physician or an independent medical exam. In personal injury cases, we often obtain a narrative report from our client’s doctors. The narrative report is a medical document that is created by the treating physician that summarizes the injury and diagnosis, cause of the injury, treatment history and prognosis. Another major part of a doctor’s narrative report is a permanent impairment raring. This is where the doctor will assess a permanent injury as a percentage under the American Medical Association (AMA) Guidelines.
Factors That Affect the Value a Permanent Injury
Determining the value of a permanent injury can be a difficult task. While the value of a typical personal injury case includes the amount of the medical bills, lost wages, and pain & suffering, how much someone should be compensated for a permanent injury depends on many factors. For instance, the age and occupation of a person is important. The financial compensation for a younger person, whose permanent injury prevents them from working, may be greater than an older person in the same or similar situation. Similarly, the type of permanent injury is also important. The value of a permanent injury for a young man employed as a laborer, who suffered a permanent back injury in a non-work related accident that prevents him from working, will be greater than an older gentleman who suffered a small permanent scar to his leg.
In more severe cases, where a permanent injury prevents someone from being able to work for the remainder of his or her life, certain experts can help determine the value and impact of the injury. For example, an economic expert can be a vital witness for a plaintiff with a permanent injury. An economist will provide an opinion about the amount of money the plaintiff did not, or will not, earn due to the permanent injury that he or she suffered in the accident. These types of losses are typically lost wages, loss in earning capacity, and payments made to others for services incurred as a result of the injury.
Speak With Our Legal Team
If you, or someone you know, have been injured in an accident in Massachusetts and left with a permanent injury, you should consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We are more than happy to answer any questions you have and explain to you your legal rights. To schedule a complementary meeting and case evaluation please call us at (508) 879-3500 or contact us online.