Sometimes when someone sues another for an injury, the injury is on-going at the time of trial. Medical treatment and costs can persist through the lawsuit and for the rest of the life of the injured person. This injects inherent uncertainty into the important question of compensating victims.
How is a jury to figure out what to award for “future medical expenses”? How are our courts to review jurors’ estimates?
At present, the jury must rely on expert testimony. Our courts must review the juries’ determinations to confirm that they make sense and align with the evidence presented before them.
So, while no one can conceivably know the future with specificity, our system has devised only as reliable a method of approximation as it can.
In the recent case of Larson v. BNSF Railway, the Minnesota Court of Appeals found that the jury improperly looked at the Plaintiff’s past medical costs and simply projected that into the future for the duration of his life expectancy. This methodology is obviously flawed.
There is no reasonable basis for the jury’s finding that Larson would incur future medical expenses in the amount of $787,853.58 because there is no evidence to support a conclusion that Larson’s past medical expenses are representative of the medical expenses he will incur in the future. By projecting Larson’s past medical expenses over his life expectancy, the jury’s finding as to Larson’s future medical damages necessarily presumes that Larson will require additional surgeries in the future at the same rate as in the 28 months before trial—that is, one surgery every 28 months. While both Dr. Stephenson and Dr. Garvey testified that Larson may need to undergo surgery in the future, neither doctor indicated that Larson would likely require roughly 20 surgeries throughout his life expectancy.
It is too bad that our legal system and insurance companies have not yet devised some kind of case-based on-going insurance obligation by a defendant for future medical expenses to determine if and how much defendants must pay to cover future medical costs arising from the harm the defendants were found to have caused. If feasible, such a system would, of course, eliminate the risk of over-compensating or under-compensating victims for future their medical expenses.