Graphically Proving Pain and Suffering in Low-Speed Collision Injury Cases
A vehicle crash may do little, if any, harm to the vehicles. Many low-speed crashes, however, do a great deal of harm to their victims. Neck and back pain caused by a collision injury can persist for many months after an impact. It may still be there by the eventual date of a jury trial. At that point, one challenge for the personal injury lawyer becomes the plaintiff’s proof of damages.
Low-speed collision injuries are often invisible on X-rays and MRI scans. They are unlikely to include fractures or other “obvious” pain sources. Without medical images of such trauma, the defense is even more likely to contend that the plaintiff cannot possibly have suffered any harm. So the harm must be demonstrated in other ways. One such way that I have found effective is to visually demonstrate important data that can be seen in the medical records: the duration and frequency of the course of treatment. Information graphics giving an overall visual picture of the medical treatment to the jury can help put the abstract concept of pain into a more persuasive physical form.
The above section of one courtroom graphic, for example, shows part of a course of treatment that spanned two years. Multiple medical providers including chiropractors, doctors, physical therapists, and orthopedic surgeons treated the plaintiff. An infographic charting the number and types of treatment was created to condense voluminous medical records into an easily understood timeline graph. Along with the plaintiff, treating medical providers, and others talking about the injuries and their effects, showing the course of treatment over time helped counter defense assertions of allegedly “minor” injuries.
The number of times that a particular medical provider treated the plaintiff could, of course, easily have been written on a large paper pad during the trial. But a recent Cornell University study suggests that the same information presented in a manner having “the appearance of being scientific can increase persuasiveness.” Researchers found that adding a graph containing no new information to the description of medication resulted in a substantial increase in the number of people believing that the medicine was effective in reducing illness.1 The study certainly doesn’t mean that personal injury lawyers should make unfounded scientific claims, but it indicates that placing actual objective data into a graphic context can make that data more effective than merely writing it down.
In this case, the use of a well-designed infographic gave the jury a visual depiction of how each of the plaintiff’s treatments related to the others. I believe that visualizing all of that medical treatment over time helped the jury understand and empathize with the plaintiff’s pain and justify allowing a greater amount of compensation for her non-economic harms.
1. Aner Tal & Brian Warsink, Blinded with Science: Trivial Graphs and Formulas Increase Ad Persuasiveness and Belief in Product Efficacy, Public Understanding of Science, Oct. 15, 2014.