In this podcast, Kevin McCullough talks with John Maher about personal injuries that involve scarring. He explains why permanent scarring can increase the value of a personal injury claim, and then, he talks about how lawyers establish the losses related to a scar when arguing a personal injury lawsuit.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Kevin McCullough of the Law Office of Mazow McCullough. Today, we’re talking about injuries involving scars. Welcome, Kevin.
Kevin McCullough: Thank you, John.
How Often Do Personal Injury Cases Involve Permanent Scarring?
John: So Kevin, how often do personal injury cases involve permanent scarring of the injured individual?
Kevin: I would say surprisingly higher than most people would think, in that it’s not just the happening of an event that can cause a scar, but oftentimes serious injuries may require surgery, and obviously surgical incisions can result in scars. So in general, on third-party injury claims, we see it a lot more frequently than you might think. And certainly, with certain types of injuries, we see it even more frequently. For example, dog bite cases, 100% of the time there’s some form of scarring in whether or not it’s permanent.
In motor vehicle accidents, depending on where you’re seated in the vehicle, if there’s glass that breaks, the windshield cracks, different objects within the vehicle can cause cuts or lacerations. And horrific crashes, even some of the metal can cause cuts or lacerations resulting in scars. And even with slip and fall claims, we’ve had slip and fall claims that occurred within stores where a client slipped on a substance on the floor, and then as part of the fall, not only hitting the floor, but hitting certain items within the store like shelving, cutting their fingers and forearms.
So we see injuries involving scarring across the board with all of the types of claims that we handle. And as I mentioned earlier, unfortunately, even if the event itself doesn’t cause or lead to a scar, if there’s surgical intervention down the road to help treat the injury, that will result in a scar as well.
How Does Scarring Occur?
John: Right. So generally, scarring occurs when you have a deep cut and then you need stitches, say, or something like that, and then those parts of your skin just don’t ever kind of perfectly heal so that it’s flat, right?
Kevin: Yeah, that’s correct. With a dog bite, it can be more of a puncture wound that may not sound as painful or as horrific of a scar as a bite or laceration. But sometimes a simple puncture wound can be infected or the way that the skin handles, and skin heals in different ways every time, even on the same person, depending on how the incident occurs. But the level of scarring and whether or not it heals can vary dramatically, depending upon the depth of it, as you mentioned, or if it’s just a skin scratch.
We see oftentimes with motorcycle crashes where someone will suffer injuries that are referred to as road rash, where those can be horrific injuries with skin damage, not to the extent that they can perform stitchers or suturing. You simply have to let the wound heal. And simply the scratching of the skin, the scarring that can result from a motorcycle road rash type injury can look horrific. It can be extremely painful. It may involve skin grafts. So-
Kevin: It goes across the board from puncture wound to depth to a scratch that could leave a mark.
How Do Scars Affect the Outcome of Personal Injury Cases?
John: So do physical scars like that generally affect the outcome of a personal injury settlement or a trial?
Kevin: Absolutely. When we look at the different components of damages that we pursue and try to recover for our clients, certainly, if someone suffers scarring, that’s a big component and part of the case. But more than just a piece of the case, it increases the value of the case because it’s permanent in nature. You see it forever.
With a motor vehicle accident, with physical therapy treatment or even a broken arm, you can heal and move on and be fully recovered. But when there’s scarring involved, no matter how small it may be, it’s always going to be there. It’s never going to go away.
And that increases the value of someone’s claim. And other factors that can increase the value of a claim with scarring, even small scarring can be, if it occurs on children or if it occurs on someone’s face or on the hands, different parts of the body. Any reasonable person would know and appreciate how a scar on someone’s face may impact them versus on their chest or on the back of their arm or something like that. So yeah, the age of the individual, where on the body the scarring may be, those are all different factors that could certainly impact and increase the value of a claim.
Quantifying Scars for Personal Injury Claims
John: Okay. And how does that come up during the trial, and how do you talk about that with maybe even a potential jury and explain to them that, yeah, this child now has this scar that’s on their face and they’re going to have to live with that for the rest of their life? And it might affect their ability to find a life partner to be with, or it might affect them being able to get a job later on in their life? How do you sort of explain that to a jury so that they understand the full implications of this scar and the effect that it’s going to have on this person’s life?
Kevin: Yeah, so as far as evidence at a trial, we use visual photographs, sometimes videos, deposition testimony, and firsthand, the juror is getting to see the scar. Those are typically ways that we would present those damages to the jury. But there is the component of trying to show the jury that it is going to be potentially a life altering injury or a life altering scar, and certainly going to be there for the rest of someone’s life. Oftentimes, what we see in the cases that we handle, because the scar is a result of a traumatic event, we don’t see it that it would be preventing someone, at least we don’t believe from entering a certain relationship or getting married, although they may feel that way with the psychological piece of an injury. But those are all things that we have to try to quantify and have to try to show to a jury of value.
And oftentimes, by the time we get to trial, there is some healing that goes on with the scar. So it is important for us to work with our clients and have the knowledge of trying cases with certain injuries and certain types of scars, to know what evidence works best and to know what a jury wants to see. And it’s important to have that experience so that when clients come into our office, excuse me, we capture those injuries as they are presently at the time of the event or trauma, and the healing process. Because if it’s as simple as, “I have a scar on my leg and this is what it looks like now,” that’s not what that person lived through. It’s the scar that remained an open wound that didn’t heal for several months, maybe required a skin graft. Those are all different things that we try to capture along the way to be able to show to the jury.
And again, I was mentioning earlier that these scars typically result from a traumatic event. What we see is, in the future, when the case is closed and someone is dealing with the scar, the questions that other people will ask. For example, if you’re at the beach and you take your shirt off and you have a scar on your back or on your shoulder, people may genuinely ask, “Oh, what’s that from?” And for most people, it’s not the fact that they have the scar or that someone even mentioned it, it’s just that now it’s triggered that traumatic event that that person went through, that that client went through.
How Scars Can Create Life-long Trauma Triggers
John: They have to remember that accident.
Kevin: Yeah, and relive it. And when someone says, “What’s that scar from?” It immediately triggers that traumatic event where now you’re into telling a story to someone to explain the scar that you have, and you’re sort of reliving that event again. And there’s no compensation that we can get for that client at that point in time, or if it comes up weekly or monthly or yearly.
So those are things that when we’re presenting a case to a jury, to show the scar, to show the healing process, to try to put the jury into sort of those shoes of, “Wow, this is what they went through,” even though it looks good now. And by the way, someone’s going to be asking about this scar indefinitely, moving forward. And again, reliving those events can be a horrible situation beyond the physical part of the scar.
John: Right. So you have that physical scar, but that you have that emotional scarring as well.
Scars May Require Future Surgeries or Treatments — Calling Medical Experts to Testify
John: And you have to take that into account. Do you ever bring in doctor’s testimonials or pictures of other people who maybe have had similar accidents or similar injuries in order to show a jury, 5 years from now or 10 years from now, this is the likelihood it might end up looking something like this?
Kevin: Yes. Occasionally, we work with experts to offer evidence to the jury to show what the scar looks like, even beyond looking at it, but what it means medically. Why it healed a certain way, why it may have a bubble feature to it, why it’s red, and it’s not really blending it with someone’s skin, and the permanent nature to talk about how this is as good as it’s going to get. And we also use experts where someone has suffered a scar, if there’s a chance for revision of that scar in the future.
With children, facial scars, oftentimes doctors and medical professionals will want to let that wound heal for at least a year, maybe two, three or four years, and the case will be closed by then. So it’s important to have a medical expert to say, “Yes, this individual suffered a facial scar when they were 12 years old, and to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, I know that that’s going to need a revision when that child stops growing at 18, 19 or 20. This is the procedure that would most likely be done. This is the cost of that procedure. This is what the procedure would entail, and this is the expected recovery for that procedure.”
It’s very important to capture that evidence, even though it’s going to happen at some point in the future-
Kevin: To be able to present that to a jury through expert testimony. So we very frequently with scarring cases work with medical experts for different reasons, but it’s always better to show a jury the client’s injury and to also talk about and discuss any future medical treatment or surgeries that might be needed,
John: Not just the pain and suffering that they’ve been through now, but the pain and suffering that they will be going through in the future because of this accident.
Kevin: Absolutely, absolutely. And it’s so important to gather that when you can, and to be able to present it at that time.
John: All right. Well, that’s really great information, Kevin. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Kevin: Thank you, John.
Visit HelpingInjured.com to Learn More
John: And for more information, you can visit the website at helpinginjured.com or call 978-744-8000.