Burnett & Williams

Burnett & Williams logo

Permanency: Calculating an Injury’s Lifetime Impact

Permanency: Calculating an Injury’s Lifetime Impact

The Expert Legal Basis for Establishing the Full Compensation a Longterm Injury Requires.

nurses helping man with spinal cord injury
The experts at VCUs Spinal Cord Injury Center in Richmond work every day with patients managing permanent injuries

Many people who are injured in accidents fully recover, but many do not. Injuries that do not fully heal are regarded by the law as permanent. If someone has an injury that doesn’t recover to pre-accident status, it will impact the rest of their life, sometimes in devastating ways. Persons with a permanent injury are entitled to pain and suffering, future medical expense, inconvenience, and diminished earning capacity associated with the longterm residual effects of an injury.

Permanency, or residual impairment, is so frequent in workers compensation cases and other personal injury claims that our medical and legal communities have developed a widely accepted system for evaluating virtually all types of residual injuries. While the independent opinion of an expert physician will almost always be admissible in evidence at trial, almost all doctors, insurance companies, and lawyers use a comprehensive book published by the American Medical Association, Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.  The book is currently in its 6th edition. Its 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 a clear opinion as to 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 residual 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. 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. In cases we deal with, we find that the defense attorney will almost always try to downplay the longterm impact of an injury, typically arguing that the injury is completely behind the plaintiff. Without a permanency opinion, the plaintiff cannot refute such an argument and will not be able to get the full compensation our legal system requires for a lifetime of impact.

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.