When Are You Entitled to Future Medical Expenses?
A proper assessment of damages in personal injury claims requires consideration of future medical expenses. However, such claims are inherently speculative, since they involve costs that plaintiffs have yet to actually incur. It is therefore important to understand the threshold for when the law determines they are collectable.
Scognamillo v. Herrick is instructive for this purpose. In Scognamillo, the plaintiff won a verdict that included damages for a surgery his physician predicted he might have to undergo. Specifically, the plaintiff's physician stated that "[t]he usual procedure is to do the worst disc first and see, because of the risk of the surgery, see how much improvement there is. And if everything goes well, then perhaps, if everything goes well, proceed with the second disc." This testimony was the sole basis for the jury's award of future medical expenses, and the court determined that it was insufficient to substantiate the award.
Scognamillo stated that California law does not permit awards for future medical expenses that are "conjectural, or not reasonably certain." Id. at 1151 (quoting Bellman v. San Francisco H. S. Dist. (1938) 11 Cal. 2d 576). The court limited such awards to cases in which future medical treatment is a "reasonable medical probability."
In consideration of the above, it is crucial to wait until your condition has stabilized and your prognosis and treatment plan are as certain as possible before attempting to settle your personal injury claim. Of course, in personal injury matters, your claim is also subject to a statute of limitations--a time limit within which you must bring suit. It is therefore important to retain an experienced attorney who is familiar with your statute of limitations and can properly pace the negotiation of your claim (and filing of suit, if necessary) to ensure the greatest probability of you being able to collect future medical expenses.