Chronic Pain Lawsuits Supported by Neuroscientists

Sep 1, 2016

Personal injury lawsuits most often involve clearly recognized injuries that are either visually obvious or medically well-documented. When this is not the case, a plaintiff has an uphill battle to prove an injury that cannot be seen or shown in medical records. This is exactly the problem with claiming damages for chronic pain for which there is no clear physical cause.

A plaintiff making such an allegation is immediately presumed to be faking the symptoms. The person will have typically reached maximum medical recovery from the injury but continues to suffer from pain. Traditional personal injury suits focus on the physical trauma of the injury, any residual physical impairment, and the pain and suffering of having been through the ordeal. These claims can be substantiated by clear medical evidence and testimony. A claim for debilitating chronic pain, however, is hard to prove.

In recent years, neuroscience has emerged as a means of proving the existence of chronic pain when there is no apparent physical reason. Neuroscience is the study of the body’s nervous system. Research in this field looks for the effects of the system on behavior and learning. With respect to pain, researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look for detectable brain activity when pain is felt. Its acceptance by the courts as “good science” in proving chronic pain has been slow since the start of its use for this purpose over the past 10 years.

An early case in which fMRI was offered as evidence involved a truck driver who was seriously burned by hot tar. After recovering from his injuries, he suffered chronic pain associated with one arm that had been severely burned. Deposition testimony from a Columbia University researcher, an expert in the use of fMRI in brain surgery, was that she detected brain activity that substantiated the existence of pain. The company hired a pain expert/neurologist who asserted the indications of pain in the fMRI could have been caused by many things.

The case never went to trial. It was settled for $800,000 in 2007, after the company lost a motion to exclude the fMRI evidence from consideration. And that is pretty much where things stand today with the acceptance of this type of evidence. Few cases have gone to trial, with settlements being the norm once fMRI evidence is allowed.

If you suffer from chronic pain as the result of the injurious actions of someone else, you may be entitled to compensation. For a free case evaluation, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys at Wright Pichon & Gray.

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