You suffered a car accident. In the days and weeks following the accident, you realize your injuries are serious. If you are like many of our clients, you may even need back or neck surgery because of the injuries to your spine. Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court addressed a car accident case with those common facts. The case was Hicks v. Allstate Insurance Company.
What was the issue in that case? The injured party wanted to introduce a mortality table into evidence and then argue for damages over the course of their expected lifetime. If you suffer a permanent injury, you get one day in court. You get one chance to argue and recover compensation for a lifetime of damages. You need to present the full story of your injuries and how they will impact you in the future. Alabama publishes mortality tables listing the remaining life expectancy for both men and women based on their current age. I know, it sounds a little morbid to think that a chart says you will live a specific number of years. While we all differ, the charts are based on expectations using vital health statistics. If the jury is going to decide damages for a permanent injury, it’s helpful to know how many years are expected.
What happened at trial in that case? At trial, the injured person’s surgeon testified by video deposition. The surgeon described his surgery in detail. He described how the procedure involved implanting hardware that would remain in the injured person’s body. He described how the procedure helped the person’s pain but still resulted in a loss of mobility and movement.
But, when the injured person’s lawyers tried to admit into evidence the mortality table and, later, when they tried to seek damages for a permanent injury, the trial court refused. The trial court refused to allow the mortality table into evidence.
Why did the trial judge refuse to admit the table into evidence? It appears the testifying surgeon never used the word “permanent” in describing the injury. If you are reading this post, maybe you are noting the obvious. Although the surgeon may not have used the precise word “permanent,” he sure did testify about implanting hardware that is never being removed. And, he sure did testify the procedure caused the injured lady to lose mobility.
Do you really have to use the exact word when everything else points to permanency? No, you don’t. Is some “magic” word required? No. On Friday, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed. In its opinion, the court noted:
[W]here there is evidence from which there is a reasonable inference that a plaintiff’s injuries are permanent, the mortality tables are admissible.
To the lawyer for this car accident victim, I say good work to keep fighting for your client. When it comes to personal injury cases, testimony is rarely crystal clear. By nature, injuries involve difficult questions of pain, permanency and disability. These cases are not precise math equations subject to exact answers. Issues are often uncertain and unclear. Does evidence exist to argue permanency? In this case, the injured person had hardware, loss of movement and scarring. So, yes. While the doctor may not have uttered the desired word, the evidence did allow the jury to consider whether or not the injuries were permanent. And, the mortality table should have been admitted into evidence for that use.
If you are curious about Alabama’s mortality table, you can click this LINK. We routinely use mortality information in both car crash and workers compensation cases. In the past, I’ve criticized our state’s failure to update the table in a timely manner. For years, Alabama used an old table that was not updated to show increased life expectancies. That issue aside, the table is a valuable tool for judges and juries to use in deciding the long-term damages from a permanent injury. It’s good to see the Alabama Supreme Court discuss this car accident trial issue.
The Blackwell Law Firm helps people with serious personal injury cases across Alabama. Outside court, we believe in continuing to advocate for safer roadways, safer workplaces and safer products. If you have questions, let us know. Consultations are always free and confidential.