Life Care Planner’s Opinions on Necessity of Future Treatment Excluded
June 2, 2023 By Steven C. Bergeron
In the recent case of Yvette Norman v. Leonard’s Express, Inc., No. 7:22cv00096 (W. D. VA, April 21, 2023), the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia provided a ruling defining the scope of permissible expert opinions from a life care planner.
The case arises from a serious accident between a vehicle driven by plaintiff and a semitruck owned by defendant. In her pre-trial expert disclosures, plaintiff identified a medical doctor who opined that plaintiff would require specific medical treatment, procedures and medications in the future. Plaintiff also identified a life care planner who opined on the cost of those future care needs discussed by plaintiff’s medical doctor. Plaintiff’s medical doctor reviewed, approved, and endorsed the life care plan proffered by plaintiff’s life care planner.
In response, defendant also identified a life care planner who would opine that the cost of plaintiff’s future care needs would be significantly less than the amount proffered by plaintiff’s life care planner. In her report, defendant’s life care planner supported her calculations by suggesting that certain future treatments, procedures and medications ascribed to by plaintiff’s medical doctor were either “indicated” or “not indicated” for plaintiff. Those she found to be “indicated” were included in her calculations for her life care plan for plaintiff and those that were “not indicated” were not, resulting in a substantial dispute of over $1,000,000 in the cost of the future care needs espoused by the parties’ experts. While defendant’s life care planner specifically requested that a physician review her plan and defendant also identified medical doctors as experts, none reviewed or endorsed her plan or specifically opined on the necessity of the future care needs disputed by defendant’s life care planner.
The Court granted plaintiff’s motion to exclude certain opinions of defendant’s life care planner on the grounds that, to the extent that she opined that certain medical treatment, procedures, or medications were “indicated” or “not indicated” without relying on the endorsement of a medical doctor, she was offering medical opinions beyond the scope of her expertise as a non-physician. In doing so, the Court held that, while a life care plan may not always need to be endorsed or approved by a physician to be admissible (such as when the future care needs are for “support care”, like scooters, shower rails, and in-home attendants, see Boden v. United States, No. 7:18cv00256 (W.D. Va. Dec. 17, 2019), the medical treatments outlined or disputed in the life care plan must be predicated on medical expert opinion.
Takeaway: When offering the opinions of a non-physician life care planner on the cost of a plaintiff’s future care needs, make sure the life care planner’s opinions are supported by a medical doctor’s opinions on what future treatment is medical necessary or not.