$1,750,000 for client’s closed head injury in rollover crash
Our client whom we will call Dr. X was a belted passenger in a high-speed, roll-over freeway accident. His multiple spine fractures and his closed head injury made it very difficult for him to continue in his career as a physician. Since his insurance company could not effectively contest the cause of the rollover or of his medical condition, they denied full coverage by arguing that at 56, Dr. X was near retirement, didn’t really need to work, and had previously announced his intention to retire before the collision. The task of attorney Dean Brett was to establish that without the accident, Dr. X would have continued to work, and that with the accident his loss of earning capacity was the insurance company’s responsibility.
Dr. X had graduated from an Ivy League university, followed by medical school at a state university, then moved to a small town to join a family practice clinic, which eventually became the largest family practice group in the area. When he attempted to return to work, 3 hours per day for 3 days per week, his own doctor noted that he was “having significant difficulty with multi-tasking.” His neurologist noted “difficulties with cognition that are interfering with his work activities.” His neuropsychologist noted that “given this man’s cognitive and neurological conditions, it is likely that he will be unable to return to his pre-accident function as a physician.” These treating physicians’ conclusions were supported by the fact that his partners at the clinic, after allowing him to attempt to work part time, asked him to retire.
The critical question then became: how long would the doctor have continued to work as a physician had the accident not occurred? In other words, what amount of income had he lost?
Attorney Dean Brett, of the Brett Law Seattle office, cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicating that 56-year old white males with 15 years or more of schooling have a work life expectancy of an additional 10 years. The data indicated that more highly educated individuals tend to have a longer work-life expectancy, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics did not look at education beyond 15 years even though doctors usually have more than 20 years of schooling and a medical degree. As a result, we had to find more specific data on physician work-life expectancy.
Following extensive research, we found the best available data on physician retirement probabilities was in an article published in the December 2000 issue of Health Services Research. We asked a professor teaching Statistics and Research Methodology to evaluate the data in that article to determine the likely remaining career expectancy of a physician such as Dr. X. It turned out that Dr. X was in the exact category of physicians who tend to work longest before retiring, based on gender, ethnicity, area of practice, level of training, and level of certification. The professor of statistics estimated the remaining career expectancy of someone with these characteristics as approximately 17 years.
The data supported Dr. X’s stated intention that had the accident not occurred he would have worked at least an additional 10 years before retiring, and that his probable future earning capacity would be limited to $30,000 per year, a loss of $120,000 per year. Based on all of this data, forensic economists estimated the economic loss caused by this high-speed rollover accident as $1,274,087.
In addition to the loss of future earning capacity, Dr. X lost the intangible rewards of practicing medicine. What does it mean for a man who has spent his entire life training for and working as a doctor to no longer be able to function as a doctor? What impact does that have on his self-esteem and self-worth? Here was a man who had delivered more than 800 babies, but who could no longer work in an operating room.
Mediation was scheduled, with an arbitration scheduled as well should the mediation not lead to a settlement. Based on the expert testimony regarding likely future earnings, the claim settled for $1,750,000.
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