Life Care Plans Driving Up Cost of Personal Injury Litigation

With increasing frequency, personal injury litigants are utilizing the services of doctors and pseudo medical experts to help define the value of their personal injury claims. What is commonly known as a “life care plan” has evolved into a weaponized method of outlining (and often-times embellishing) the costs of an injured person’s future medical care needs.

What Are Life Care Plans?

Life care plans come in the form of reports sometimes generated by a treating doctor, but they are also commonly issued by specially retained certified life care planners. Such experts consider the nature and course of a person’s past medical treatment and current status to map out what future treatment, prescriptions, and related services will probably be needed to address ongoing care for that person’s remaining lifetime.

The reports are typically highly detailed and reflect a virtual price list (sometimes more aptly a “wish list”) of medical goodies ranging from lifelong prescription needs to periodic blood tests, and regular medical “monitoring” appointments to anticipated future diagnostic studies. Some plans even include a projection of what a litigant might need to spend to “administer” the plan itself.

How Life Care Plans Are Used in Court

The net result of the modern-day life care plan is a specified dollar amount that will be presented to a judge or jury as the amount of damages he or she should be awarded as compensation for future medical care. With the proper foundation, a legitimate life care plan can be an effective evidentiary tool. A dubiously supported plan can be attacked by a counter/defense life care planner by demonstrating that the future medical needs are too speculative or not in line with a treating physician’s opinions and recommendations.

In some cases, a Motion in Limine can serve as a means of having a life care plan report or medical expert’s opinion stricken before a case goes to trial. However, if the expert’s qualifications and methodology are sound, courts are more likely to let the issue go to the jury. Recent rulings signal that even a non-treating doctor or a certified planner who has never examined or been involved with treating a patient can be qualified to opine and testify about the patient’s future medical needs, if there is some medical history to justify the expert’s findings.

The Upshot

From a practical standpoint, life care plans can complicate, rather than facilitate meaningful settlement efforts when they project an unrealistic or inflated bottom line of a future medical cost claim. But when they are sufficiently supported by viable medical evidence, life care plans do offer insight into a claim’s potential value and can contribute toward a more complete damages evaluation.