Often after a car accident or other injury the victim's future medical condition cannot be certain and often doctor's will opine that future surgery may be required as a result of the injuries sustained. This leads to the questions of ... when can the risk of future surgery be submitted to a Missouri jury for their consideration?
This issue was addressed by the Missouri Supreme Court in Swartz v. Gale Webb Transportation Co., 215 SW 3d 127 (MO 2007). This case arose from serious injuries, including lower back disc bulges, sustained after a car and bus collision. The plaintiff was the passenger in a car that was struck by a school bus owned by the defendant, Webb Transportation. The jury determined that the bus driver was at fault and as part of their verdict considered the need for potential future surgery. The defendant appealed claiming the jury should have never been able to hear medical testimony about future surgery and appealed on that ground.
The defendant argued that it was error to admit the doctor testimony that the Plaintiff's injuries put her at an increased risk of future surgery and other complications. Claiming that the experts were not able to testify that "more likely than not" the injured victim would need surgery in the future as a result of her injuries sustained. One expert testified that she had a 50/50 chance of requiring future surgery, a "more likely than not" standard requires a just a little bit more ...50.1% sure not just 50%. Additionally, the doctor admitted future surgery was "speculation" and could not be stated "within a reasonable degree of medical certainty". All buzz words or phrases that are problems for the Plaintiff to meet her burden of proof. See Injury Lawyer Article: Reasonable Degree of Medical Certainty Standard.
Despite the uncertainty of the future risk of surgery and problems, the testimony and evidence of future surgery and problems is admissible. It is admissible for purposes of establishing the nature and extent of the Plaintiff's current injuries.
"The fact that her back injury carries with it at least a 25 percent chance, and perhaps a 50 percent chance, of requiring surgery in the future makes it a worse injury than a back injury that has a lesser chance of future complications requiring surgery or that had fully healed by the time of trial."
Since the present injury brings with it this increased risk of future injury this "is information the jury should have in the difficult task of trying to give plaintiff's condition a dollar value." Because the testimony of doctors was admissible for the purpose of establishing the nature and extent of the victim's injuries, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the testimony or in refusing withdrawal instructions.
Therefore, an experienced Missouri injury attorney will get any evidence of future problems in front of a jury so they can fully decide the damages to award and the full nature and extent of the injury. Even if it is speculation that the future surgery would be needed, it goes to the extent of the present injury. However, I believe if you want to ask for specific damages - the jury to award the cost of the future surgery - you need a doctor to testify it is more likely than not the surgery would be required and what the likely cost would be.