The event signaling the beginning of a personal injury case could be a collision between two motor vehicles, or it could begin with a mistake by a surgeon while operating on a patient. Regardless of how a claim for compensation begins, the end result is usually a lawsuit by the injured victim against another person or entity whose negligence caused the event to occur.
Damages and liability in personal injury cases
Evaluating a personal injury case focuses on two key areas: liability and damages. An attorney representing the victim of an accident or a medical malpractice case must determine if evidence exists to prove that another party was negligent in having breached a duty of care owed to the victim.
Damages represent the compensation to which the victim might be entitled for the injuries caused by negligence of another party. Some of the things for which an injured person might be compensated include:
- Current and future medical costs for treatment
- Lost present and future earnings
- Impairment of physical health or function
- Mental distress and mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
Proving damages in a lawsuit can be difficult without evidence to support the claim. Physical and psychological assessments can be beneficial to both sides, the injured plaintiff and the defendant being sued, in evaluating the strength or weakness of a case.
Physical assessments in personal injury suits
The victim in a personal injury case will have medical records and reports from the physicians providing treatment for the injuries. A defendant has the right to request an independent medical examination of the injured party to assess the extent of the injuries.
An independent medical examination is conducted by a doctor chosen and paid for by the defense. The purpose of the examination is to evaluate the physical condition of the plaintiff at the time of the examination.
The defense might also obtain copies of the plaintiff's medical records pertaining to treatment received for the injuries suffered in an accident through a state's discovery rules in personal injury cases. It is customary for the attorney for the defendant to have the records reviewed and assessed by a physician who could testify at trial and possibly refute a claim by the plaintiff as to the severity of the effects of the injuries and possible long-term disability.
Psychological assessment in personal injury cases
- Post-traumatic stress
The attorney representing an injured person might ask for an assessment by a psychologist or psychiatrist of the individual to determine if the emotional trauma is linked to the injuries that were suffered. The assessment provides the evidence of the psychological injuries suffered by the person, and the doctor can be used as a witness to testify about the injuries at the trial.
From the defense perspective, obtaining an independent assessment of the plaintiff's claims of psychological trauma can be necessary to challenge a demand for damages. As with a physical injury, defense counsel can request an independent examination of the plaintiff by a psychologist, or the attorney might ask for a review of the plaintiff's medical records by a psychologist who could testify for the defense.