Recovering for Medical Expenses in an Injury Lawsuit

In Arizona, as in other states, injured plaintiffs — whether in motor vehicle accidents, or any other tortious accident caused by the negligence, recklessness, or intentional conduct of a defendant — are entitled to recover damages that include both past and future medical expenses.

Let’s begin with a simple example.

Suppose that you are injured in a motor vehicle accident due to the negligent operation of a vehicle by another driver.  You suffer significant injuries to your back, neck, and limbs that require you to not only undergo diagnostic procedures and surgical treatment, but will also (for up to a year or more) require that you consistently attend rehabilitation sessions to get your strength back.  In addition to the various other losses that you may claim damages for (i.e., wage loss, pain and suffering, emotional distress, etc.), you may also claim damages for the medical expenses that you have already suffered, and for reasonably anticipated medical expenses in the future.

Medical expenses tend to be a substantial component (and in many cases, the largest component) of a plaintiff’s overall damage claim, as the cost of medical care includes a range of services, from diagnostics to treatment, and everything in-between.  As such, medical expenses are a frequent target of criticism in the litigation context.  Depending on the medical care that you have received, the defendant may assert that the medical care you have received (or that you will receive) is not reasonably necessary.

Past Medical Expenses

Past medical expenses are those costs associated with medical care (diagnostics, treatment, rehabilitative care, etc.) services that you have already been provided.  It’s important that you secure all your medical records — from inpatient reports to medical billing records — so that you can use such evidence to directly support your damages claim, without having to resort to assumption and guesswork.

Reasonable Charges

In some circumstances, particularly if you’ve received what the defendant believes to be “excessive” medical care, or perhaps “nontraditional” or “risky” medical care, the defendant will assert that they are not liable for the costs you incurred as a result of medical care that was not reasonable or necessary, given the circumstances.

For example, if you have suffered a minor leg injury, and in response, you go in for an experimental, risky surgery that is extremely costly (for no significant added benefit in comparison to traditional, cheaper surgeries), then the defendant will almost certainly argue that the costs were not reasonable.

Reasonability is an issue that depends on the circumstances.  Whereas a risky surgery may be unreasonable for a minor limb injury, it may be reasonable in circumstances where the plaintiff has suffered life-altering injuries and there are no other traditional, safer, and cheaper alternatives.

Future Medical Expenses

Future medical expenses are somewhat more difficult to prove than past medical expenses, as there are no medical records of the actual treatment (that has yet to be provided).  You will have to introduce expert medical testimony to establish that the future treatment is not only necessary given your injuries/condition, but also that the projected costs are reasonably accurate.

Given the inherently uncertain nature of future medical expenses, many defendants will challenge such claims.  As a plaintiff, you must therefore demonstrate that:

  1. There is a reasonable probability that the treatment will be necessary, and
  2. The projected cost of treatment (and related care) is a reasonable estimation of the value.

Demonstrating that a treatment is reasonably probable — and necessary — will depend on the circumstances.  If doctors have not yet decided whether to operate on you, for example, then you may not be entitled to claim damages for that future medical expense (unless it is reasonably probable that they will decide to operate on you).

Have you been injured in an accident due to another’s fault?  You may be entitled to compensation — which includes a damages award for medical expenses (past and future) — in accordance with Arizona law.  Your claims are subject to a statute of limitations deadline, however, so it’s important that you consult with a qualified Arizona attorney as soon as you can to ensure that your claims are litigated in a timely manner.

Call (602) 535-1900 today to speak with an experienced Phoenix injury lawyer here at Hirsch & Lyon.  Initial consultation is free.  Your attorney will assess your injury claims and help you navigate the process of litigation moving forward.