In South Carolina, compensation in a civil case is based on "damages." This may include past medical expenses, lost earnings, physical pain, and mental anguish. Lesser known damages are those related to permanent injuries. However, the law is clear on this point. If another driver's negligence causes you harm, you should be compensated for past, present, and future losses. Often times, the insurance carrier will try to settle the case only weeks or months after the wreck. The settlement offer will be based on what you have experienced to date, but not what you face in the future.
So what can be done to ensure that all damages - including any long-term impairments - are properly valued? First, there must be medical documentation. That does not mean you should go out and lie to a doctor about your condition. Rather, it means to be forthright with medical professionals about any and all ways the accident still affects you. For instance, if you are having neck or lower back pain 9 months after the wreck, your doctor needs to know that. It will help your case, but more importantly, it will help ensure you get the medical care you need.
At some point, the doctor will likely conclude that you have reached a plateau. This is known in South Carolina as "maximum medical improvement." It does not mean you are 100% better, only that you have made as full a recovery as you are going to make. This is the appropriate point in time for a doctor to issue an impairment rating. For example, let's say you had to undergo back surgery after your car accident. Your treating orthopedist may give you a 15% impairment rating to the spine once you complete physical therapy. The impairment rating will be based on medical guidelines.
In presenting your case to the insurance carrier, we would note the impairment rating. However, the emphasis would be on how the injury will permanently affect your daily life. Whether the greatest impact is on your work, family, or recreational pursuits, insurers must properly compensate you for all the ways your life has been altered.
Along with physical restrictions, your long-term injuries may remain painful and require future medical care. South Carolina law allows you to recover for those ongoing and future damages, but you only have one bite at the apple. In other words, your one-time settlement must account for every damage you ever have or ever will incur. That is why it is so critical to properly identify any permanent injuries and the consequences arising from them, before settling.
I have given presentations on this topic for other lawyers, and would be glad to speak with you about compensation for future damages, or any other aspect of your auto accident case. To speak with me, call my Columbia, SC office today at 803-790-2800.