Life Care Planning is defined by the International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (2009) as “A dynamic document based upon published standards of practice, comprehensive assessment, data analysis and research, which provides an organized, concise plan for current and future needs with associated costs”. It is typically a tool that plaintiff or defense attorneys use, when a person is injured, to help determine current and future costs of care.
Some obvious reasons an attorney would use a life care planner is when a person has a catastrophic event such as: an amputation, traumatic brain injury, or spinal cord injury resulting in major medical needs and future care. These are the most common reasons for a life care plan. The person with such injuries is going to have extensive future needs in all of these cases. Even in the case of a below knee amputation and the person is able to return to work in the future. A life care plan will still make a lot of sense since treatments such as: prosthetics, therapy, increased physician visits and visits to the prosthetist, as well as increased needs as they age need to be researched in order to determine an accurate cost of needed care. An attorney would not have the knowledge to determine current and future care and associated costs by themselves without a medical expert who has been trained in life care planning to assist them.
Another reason someone would need a life care plan is a chronic health condition. An example that comes to mind is a person who due to medical malpractice has been diagnosed incorrectly or late or because of negligence has a medical condition and treatments that will last an extended period of time, if not a lifetime. Although the cost may not seem significant at the time, medications, treatments, future surgeries or care do add up over time and it is best to have a life care planner help determine those costs.
The harder situation is when an attorney may not know if there will be ongoing costs or may even know there are costs, but they don’t know if the costs are worth the money spent on a life care planner. For instance, when a client has a foot injury and is able to walk, but possibly needs crutches as illustrated above. It is best to consult with a life care planner as there may be things a life care planner can pick up on that you may not even know. With a few questions they may be able to tell you if a life care plan makes sense. While one person may not have any future needs, the next may need more surgeries in the future, crutches or cane, bathroom modifications, long term pain medications, and so forth. These items can add up to large amounts.
Things to ask yourself to determine if it makes sense is:
- Does my client have current equipment needs (wheelchair, cane, etc) and will they continue to need this in the next few years?
- Do they need additional help to live: are they able to do housekeeping chores they used to do, can they use the toilet themselves, can they dress themselves, can they grocery shop and cook?
- Are they going to need medications that are due to the injury for any length of time beyond this year?
- Do they require visits to physician specialists such as neurologist, cardiologist, or pain medicine?
- Are they currently receiving therapy and will it be ongoing: occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy.
- Do they need modifications to the home: do they live in a two story home and now have difficulty getting from the downstairs upstairs?
One last thing to keep in mind is the smaller the injury and settlement, the less time it will take the life care planner to complete the plan, so the settlement recommendation is typically commensurate to the cost associated with hiring a life care planner.