Recovering future health-care costs in extreme injury cases
Attorney Ken Kraatz discusses situation where an injured person may be able to recover future health-care costs
I have never seen in my career a case where a liability defendant, okay, so I’m talking about, you’ve got a personal-injury case that requires you to prove liability and to prove your damages. The law does not allow the plaintiff to say, “Ford Motor Company, or the hospital that caused injury to myself or my child, you need to pay my medical for the rest of my life.” It simply doesn’t exist. It doesn’t work that way. How it’s handled is this. Any plaintiff in any personal injury case, if they have evidence from qualified physicians, health care providers, that says, “In my opinion, this brain-damaged baby, or in my opinion, this young man that suffered a brain injury and that’s in a wheelchair, will incur a million dollars a year for the rest of his life”—and those cases exist—”for his medical needs.” And I’m talking the most extreme and pronounced type of injury case, where the injured party actually lives. Those cases happen, and what can happen is, the plaintiff can go to the liability insurance companies, or Ford Motor Company, or whoever you’re dealing for the defendant, and that’s just another part of your case. So you never get an agreement from the defendant that they’re going to agree to pay the medical as it’s incurred, so they don’t become your health insurance company. But what you can do is, with credible evidence, establish that your claim for future medical is in X-number of dollars a year over the course of your life. That would be another subcategory of experts that we sometimes have to retain, which are vocational rehabilitation experts to do what’s called a” life care plan for the catastrophically injured.” You need an economist to work those numbers back, so they’re on a fair evaluation, in present-day dollars for the benefit of the jury to consider. That’s pretty much how a case like that is presented to a defendant in a personal injury case, when you have substantial future medical needs that are in play, secondary to the injury. Realistically, in a case like that, if you recover substantial amounts of money for future medical expenses, there are options that the plaintiff has, my client has, to basically invest those funds to make certain that those dollars are available in the future. Many times, 30 or 40 years from now, we’ve structured settlements where basically annuity— life-insurance-type annuity policies—are purchased, that paid some certain… in exchange for a payment today. So what you can do is annuitize the payment and do the very best you can to make certain that the dollars for future medical care that a child that’s severely injured, or a younger adult that’s severely injured, is going be needing 30 or 40 years from now.