The Strategic Value of Medical Expenses
Medical expenses and lost wages are the most concrete elements of the plaintiff’s damages. The plaintiff’s personal characteristics often undermine his or her lost wage claims, but medical expense claims do not depend on the personal worth of the plaintiff. In many medical malpractice cases, the medical expenses are the bulk of the plaintiff’s damages, driving the enormous awards in cases involving brain- damaged infants. Juries are not reticent about giving the plaintiff money to pay for medical care. From their perspective, it is not a choice between the plaintiff’s or the physician’s bearing the costs; it is a choice between the physician and society. The jury may assume that if they do not give the plaintiff money to pay for medical care, he or she is likely to become a ward of the state.
Medical expenses provide the most psychologically convincing evidence of personal injuries. A long stay in the hospital and a projection of substantial future medical needs add credibility to all of the other elements of the plaintiff’s case. There is a rule of thumb in automobile accident cases that the cases should settle for a multiple of the sum of the medical expenses and the plaintiff’s lost wages (usually three to five times the sum).