The Value of Life Care Plans to Proving Damages in Personal Injury and Medical Malpractice Cases

Ultimately, the goal of most every personal injury and medical malpractice case is to obtain compensation for a person who has been injured.  New York law recognizes several categories of damages in these cases, which include, but are not limited to, pain and suffering, lost earnings and earnings capacity, and medical expenses.  In personal injury and medical malpractice cases involving very serious injuries – those which leave an injured victim with a lifetime need for ongoing medical care and treatment – the cost of future medical care is often the largest item of damages for which the injured person can receive compensation.

An important tool used by skilled personal injury or medical malpractice attorneys to prove future medical expenses is known as the “life care plan”.  In brief, a life care plan is an analysis of the future medical needs of an injured person which describes appropriate and necessary future treatment and its costs.  In fact, while the main focus of the life care plan is future medical costs, they also help to substantiate an injured victim’s claims of future pain and suffering.  In this article, we explain the details of what a life care plan is, and its value to personal injury and medical malpractice lawyers representing very seriously injured people who require long-term medical care and treatment due to having suffered very serious injuries at the hands of negligent actors.

Life care plans are generally prepared by experts who plaintiffs’ attorneys hire to analyze an injured victim’s past medical history and current medical prognosis and use this data to project out their lifetime future medical needs.  There are a range of qualifications that experts must have in order to be able to prepare a credible life care plan.  Some of these experts are registered nurses who have spent their careers caring for the disabled; some hold Ph.D. degrees in areas such as vocational rehabilitation; and some are medical doctors who specialize in rehabilitation medicine.  Ultimately, the expert preparing a life care plan must have significant experience in the treatment of patients with lifetime medical needs, and substantial knowledge regarding the likely future medical needs (and the costs associated with same) of seriously injured people with a wide range of disabilities.

The life care planner will review the injured victim’s medical history, and will then create a projection of all of the injured victim’s medical needs.  Typically, the life care planner will then meet with the injured person (and may actually perform a physical examination, especially if the life care planner is a medical doctor specializing in rehabilitation medicine) and discuss their past medical treatment.  The life care planner will then create a projection and report which details the entirety of the injured person’s past medical history as it relates to a particular accident or incidence of medical malpractice, and will then project out into the future things such as likely future complications, medical treatment requirements (e.g., future additional surgery), needs for medication and medical devices (e.g., a wheelchair), and potential needs for home aides or residency in rehabilitation facilities or assisted living facilities.  The life care planner will explain the reasonable costs of each item of required future medical treatment, and will justify the need based upon the injured victim’s medical history and the expert’s knowledge of how people with similar medical problems to those of the plaintiff are typically treated.  The report will then be presented to the defendants, and the life care planner will testify as to its contents at trial if the case goes before a jury.

The value of a life care plan is twofold.  First, it substantiates the injured victim’s claims of pain and suffering by showing that they will have to undergo a considerable amount of medical treatment into the future, which may include future surgical procedures that are painful or hospitalizations which are always unpleasant.  Second, and most importantly, it summarizes the costs of the future medical care and treatment, and makes it easier for a jury to understand what amount of money is appropriate to award an injured victim for future medical expenses in rendering its verdict.   Though life care plans can be expensive (they often range from approximately $5,000.00 to $20,000.00), in cases involving serious future medical needs, they are worth every penny and are invaluable tools for the skilled personal injury or medical malpractice lawyer in fighting to obtain proper compensation for an injured victim.