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Future Consequences of the Immediate Injury

Steven E. North and Laurence M. Deutsch

Arthritis is not reserved for the elderly. Even young children who suffer traumatic injury to a joint may very well be exhibiting signs of arthritis in their teenage years. Depending on the joint involved and the specific injury, surgery can sometimes bring about temporary relief, but surgery can also bring with it additional complications.

The New York Times Personal Health columnist Jane E. Brody cites research by a team of orthopedists and rehabilitation specialists from the University of Iowa who say that more than 40% of people with significant injury to a ligament, meniscus, ​or other anatomical part that services the joints of the ankle, knee, wrist, shoulder, or hip are likely to develop arthritis. It often turns out that delayed arthritis is the most dominant feature of an injury.

Some personal-injury lawyers focus on the current disability from an injury, and fail to recognize that the consequence of an injury may well be future pain and disability from arthritis. This potentiality should be taken into account during negotiations for a settlement for a personal injury claim. This is critical because legally, once a case is settled, it is over. The errant party is given a general release and then "buys his or her peace" forever.

In settlement negotiations, if the defense attorney does not accept the likelihood of future arthritis and increase the settlement offer accordingly, the plaintiff’s attorney has no option other than proceeding to trial to achieve a fair and appropriate resolution. At trial, medical experts such as orthopedists will be called by the plaintiff to weigh in on and explain the phenomenon of post-traumatic arthritis.

The probability of future disability is not limited to arthritis. A delayed diagnosis of cancer, for example, can substantially increase the likelihood of a recurrence of cancer, or metastasis, a fact that must be included in negotiating a settlement for that kind of claim.

The bottom line: Although the existing components of person’s injury are most readily apparent at the time of presentation, the greatest strength of a malpractice suit may be the injuries that have not yet occurred.​

Our depth of medical knowledge allows us to understand not only the present consequence of injury, but also how that injury may have greater effects over time. In our experience, this translates into our being able to obtain fuller compensation for the plaintiff, which is fully warranted when one understands that any settlement is “for all time.”

Source: The New York Times, Jane E. Brody, “When Arthritis Follows Injury, August 15, 2017, pD7