Many people who are injured in accidents fully recover, but many do not. In our Personal Injury Law practice in Northern Virginia and the Richmond area, we help many people whose lives are permanently affected by injuries that were caused by someone else’s negligence – a teacher paralyzed by a drunk driver on her way home from work, a farmhand suffering an amputation because of poorly maintained equipment, a child incurring brain damage because of faulty sports gear. These are the toughest cases emotionally, but they are also the most important because a lifetime of care is needed, and lifetime experiences are forever diminished.
In these cases, how can we possibly measure the impact of the injuries? The answers come from both law and medicine. Permanency, or residual impairment, at some level is so frequent in workers compensation cases and in other personal injury claims that our medical and legal communities have developed a widely accepted system for evaluating virtually all types of residual injuries.
Under established law, injuries that do not fully heal to pre-accident status are regarded as permanent. Persons with a permanent injury that was caused by someone else’s negligence are entitled to pain and suffering, future medical expense, inconvenience, diminished earnings and earning capacity, etc. associated with the residual effects of an injury after maximum medical improvement has been achieved.
On the medical side, the opinion of a properly qualified expert physician will almost always be admissable in evidence at trial. But surprisingly, almost all doctors, insurance companies, and lawyers use the same book to make their injury impairment evaluations — a comprehensive book published by the American Medical Association entitled Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment. The book’s great value is that it addresses almost any human malady and permits a doctor, through a series of symptom evaluations and math calculations to give an opinion about the percentage of “impairment” suffered by any injured person. The “permanency rating” produced by such an analysis is not intended to suggest disability. Instead it attempts to provide fair characterization of how a particular body part or function is impaired by the effects of an injury that has otherwise reached maximum medical improvement.
A permanency rating, regardless of how small, is always important to a personal injury lawyer, because of its impact at trial, whether it is in Richmond, Chesterfield County, Loudoun County or Fairfax County. If a plaintiff has a permanent injury, his or her lawyer will be permitted to argue that this permanent impairment, caused by the defendant, will be suffered every day, every month and every year for the rest of the plaintiff’s life. Without a permanency rating or opinion from an expert doctor, the plaintiff’s attorney will not be allowed to make that compelling argument. The defense attorney will almost certainly argue that the injury is completely behind the plaintiff. Given the difference in potential impact on the value of a case, virtually all personal injury lawyers explore the need to document a permanent injury whether for settlement purposes or for presentation at trial through an expert.