Oliver Wendell Holmes made the point almost 100 years ago that the “life of the law” is constantly changing and adapting, like life itself. Clearly, we cannot continue to apply old laws to new circumstances. We see this with all of the new privacy protections which are being enacted, laws pertaining to computers, technology, etc. All of this has me thinking: how has modern life changed the face of personal injury law?
Of course, the main characteristic of modern life is the explosion of technology. Before I get to the law, let’s give credit where it is due: better diagnostic and therapeutic medical technology has us all living longer and better. It has also dramatically increased the cost of care.
How has the law adapted? One obvious effect is the way modern automobiles have reduced fatalities and serious injuries. People who would normally have been killed in accidents are surviving and people who might have been seriously injured are making better and faster recoveries.
This effect shows up in subtle ways in our legal practice. Frankly, some of the medical bills our clients are receiving are eye-popping. A recent client sustained a moderate head injury in a bad crash. In the old days, he might have been sent home with Tylenol, but in our client’s case, the emergency room doctors (correctly) ordered a number of imaging studies. These were costly and had to be read by radiology specialists (again more costs). By the time he got out of the emergency room, the bill was over $10,000. He was sore for several days but luckily made a reasonable recovery.
Insurance companies have begun to question the “reasonableness” of these tests and in some cases have refused to pay. That is truly unfortunate since a patient in the emergency room has little or no choice about the care he or she receives. Therefore, as far as automobile accidents are concerned, I expect the following trend to continue: more people will walk away with moderate injuries from accidents which previously would have been fatal. But the medical tab will continue to grow, and the size of their personal injury cases should remain about the same. Only time will tell.
Finally, I predict that our older population will see greater medical and legal challenges in the years to come. Older folks tend to slip and fall more, etc. and when they are injured, the path to recovery can be long and expensive. Expect more injuries and bigger injury claims from our aging population in the future.
The life of personal injury law is indeed changing and evolving case law and new statutes will likely come along to address these challenges. It is this evolution that makes our practice so interesting and why it is so gratifying to help our clients. If you have a comment or feel differently, I would love to hear from you. Of course, if we can help you with your injury claim, please also let us know. There’s never any charge for a good question.