January 24, 2014

Car Accidents: Understanding Florida's Permanent Injury Threshold

When a person is injured in an auto accident, the attorney they hire can help them recover damages to cover medical bills and lost wages. In more severe cases, the victim may be able to receive damages for pain and suffering. Because this requires proving a permanent injury, many attorneys in Florida often refer to this statute as creating a permanency threshold.

There are several Florida laws that govern car accident cases and bars a plaintiff from receiving damages for pain and suffering. One Florida law, section 627.737 Florida Statutes, states that a plaintiff cannot receive damages for pain and suffering unless they can prove one of the following:

(a) Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
(b) Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.
(c) Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement.
(d) Death.

How Past Medical History May Affect Your Case

In Duclos v. Richardson, 113 So. 3d 1001 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2013), plaintiff Jeanette Richardson sustained neck injuries due to an automobile accident. Ms. Richardson sued Duclos, the defendant, because he was at fault.

Ms. Richardson provided medical testimony from three doctors whom deemed her neck injury as a permanent one. The defendant then provided medical testimony from an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Thron, who testified that Ms. Richardson suffered from arthritis in her neck and that the automobile accident did not cause permanent injury to her neck. Dr. Thron based his testimony on prior medical records belonging to Ms. Richardson.

Your Past Is Important

In any given automobile accident, prior medical history is crucial. If you are involved in an automobile accident and sustain an injury to your knee, the insurance company that is responsible for your settlement will conduct an investigation. The insurance company will contact the attorney representing you and will request your past medical history. If there is an indication in your past medical history that you had knee surgery before the occurrence of the automobile accident, it is likely that this will question the permanency of your knee injury. However, this does not mean that you will not recover. Injuries sustained in an accident may "exacerbate" a prior injury. In other words, the accident may have worsened an existing injury. Thus, it is important to share with your attorney any and all prior injuries.

Because Ms. Richardson's medical doctor was unable to declare with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Ms. Richardson suffered a permanent injury, the jury only awarded Ms. Richardson an amount equal to her past medical bills.

Informing the Attorney about Your Past Medical History

Medical records are indeed private records. However, Florida law requires that settlements due to automobile accidents be resolved in a fair manner. It is only fair that the company handling the defendant's matter settle only after conducting an investigation regarding your injury.

Your attorney will only ask you for prior medical records depicting injuries that relate to the injuries you sustained in the present accident. Your attorney will not ask for other unrelated records that need not be acknowledged. Once your attorney is able to review your past records that relate to your present case, they can carefully separate your past injury or injuries with the present one(s) and advise you accordingly.

If you still have questions about injuries, you can contact our Fort Lauderdale injury firm and speak to one of our accident attorneys for free.