I am always amazed at the courage and dignity of my clients who go ahead with surgery or other invasive medical treatments on their spines or other body parts. I am also amazed at the courage and dignity of my clients who refuse surgery and accept the new reality of their post-injury circumstances and who find ways to live with pain and disability. I think too little time is spent by insurance companies and injury attorneys considering what a client goes through emotionally and mentally when they are confronted with these questions and the decisions that they must make. I have no idea how I would react if I were in a client’s position: seriously injured due to a bad and avoidable collision caused by a defendant and facing tough choices whether to proceed with medical treatment or live with pain and disability. Personally, I cannot imagine agreeing to spinal surgery or other invasive spinal procedures. For me, it would have to be the last resort when I can no longer live with the pain. Yes, I am a big baby, but that is the truth of how I feel. I do not think I am alone.
I think a lot of potential jurors would relate to the horror of the decision whether to agree to the scary prospect of a surgery that may or may not help; undergo a surgery that, like all surgeries, carries a certain amount of risk; no absolute guarantee as to an outcome and which could result in no improvement. The accommodations that you have to make in your life, your day to day impairment and the fear that will greet your every day: will it be a bad day or a horrible day; is this the day I will do something that will make it impossible to avoid the surgery any longer; these are the new reality for people who are contemplating surgery after an injury or accident.
The choice to not have surgery or to defer surgery as long as possible is valid. For your attorney, your choice requires creative thinking and advocacy. Having surgery does increase the value of any injury claim and removes a number of arguments defendants and insurance companies raise in defending against a claim. However even without undergoing surgery, your claim can still have a very high value. It does mean that proving that high value requires resourceful advocacy and out of the box thinking. The defense attitude and approach of trivializing your injury and your suffering can provide a reason for a jury to get angry on your behalf and render a verdict for a sum that is fair and appropriate for what you have suffered, are continuing to suffer and will continue to suffer in the future.
The insurance company will never willingly pay you a cent more than they have to, but since reimbursing your medical expenses is (in theory) their job, they may have to pay more if your treatment included surgery.
If the medical expenses you required after an accident or injury included extensive or expensive surgery, then the claim you can make against the negligent party’s insurance (or your own medical insurance, or an employer’s workplace accident insurance) will include these expenses. This means that any settlement the insurance company offers or accepts will invariably include some or all of that cost, leading to a potentially much higher settlement overall.
Surgery can also be used as an argument and evidence for the severity of your injuries. An insurance company might argue that, since you did not get surgery, the injury or pain is not as severe, and try to use that to pay you less in a settlement. Unfortunately, they are just as likely to turn around and say surgery was not necessary if you did get one. Insurance companies can prove quite unscrupulous when trying to minimize their costs, irrespective of the impact on lives like yours.
Overall, you should never make the decision to have surgery based on what you think an insurance company might do. Instead, you should decide based on the recommendations of your doctors, and what you determine you need to best recover and live your life. Leave it up to us, as your attorneys, to ensure that, whatever you decide, you will receive the maximum possible compensation from the insurance company.