There can be no question that the use of a vocational expert will greatly enhance the case for a client who has suffered a serious personal injury. Vocational experts specifically focus on strengthening your case once liability has been established, so you can persuasively prove the extent of the economic damages.
This article discusses how vocational expertise works and illustrates the result in three case studies, handled by our experts at Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. (OAS). After reading this article, please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about how our vocational experts can assist you with your personal injury case.
We are one of the most experienced employability, life care planning, and vocational expert firms in the United States. To discuss your case, call us at 1-800-292-1919, contact us at a location near you, or through our online form.
What Do Vocational Experts Do?
In a nutshell, a vocational expert specializes in estimating the extent of economic damages in a case and then presenting the evidence of these damages at trial. They educate the jury about the impact of the injury on the person’s health, employability, and earning capacity.
The process consists of several steps: a vocational evaluation, determining medical expenses and loss of earning capacity, properly documenting these estimates, and finally, an economic damages presentation at trial.
1. Vocational Evaluation
The first step is a vocational evaluation, which consists of seven parts:
1. Review of documentation
2. Visit the home
3. Review work problems
4. Conduct an interview
5. Assess how the person’s injury impacts their daily activities
6. Formulate an objective and comprehensive evaluation of the person’s needs
7. Research the relevant costs in the area where the person lives.
These steps provide a roadmap for the vocational experts so they can begin to form an opinion of your client’s needs.
With this roadmap in place, detailed studies are performed for both future medical care and lost earning capacity.
2. Future Healthcare Costs
In personal injury cases, future medical expenses often comprise the most significant percentage of economic damages. The vocational expert works with physicians to determine what services and what kind of equipment and supplies the injured person will need for the rest of their life. The expert systematically researches the prices of all necessary items identified. Then they work with an economist to consider medical inflation rates and to determine the costs discounted to present value.
Throughout this process, the vocational expert prepares extensive documentation to support their conclusions.
3. Loss of Earning Capacity
The next step is an earning capacity assessment. This tool establishes recommendations on the person’s functional capacity, work skills, and abilities, and work readiness.
The vocational expert prepares to answer the following questions:
1. Can the person return to work?
2. Can they perform the full range of work?
3. Does the injury impact their ability to work overtime?
4. If they can’t go back to their pre-injury occupation, can the skills they learned in that vocation, or their education, be transferred to other jobs that would require fewer physical capabilities?
5. If no transferrable skills exist, what unskilled jobs are available that can be performed, taking into account the person’s physical injuries? Or are there any jobs at all the person can perform?
6. What kind of compensation is available for these jobs?
The vocational expert gathers personal information, reviews current government labor statistics and research, and the current trends in income and benefits relative to the person’s industry. Then, based on this work and the information provided by the medical review, the vocational expert determines a loss of earning capacity.
4. Putting it All Together
Once all the information on future medical expenses and lost earning capacity is completed and the vocational expert is ready to answer all anticipated questions, the final step is to prepare exhibits for the trial. They can include physical demand charts, bar graphs, pre- and post-earning capacities, and a list of jobs available with average earnings.
These exhibits allow the vocational expert to demonstrate to the jury the methodology used in their work and the basis for their objective testimony.
It’s one thing to discuss and understand the process of vocational evaluations and how the vocational expert performs it. But what’s really important are results. And that’s where OAS shines. We not only talk about vocational evaluations, but our experts also conduct them, present the evidence at trial, and get results.
In fact, as reported by a New Jersey law journal, OAS worked on seven of the top 20 largest personal injury awards in 2019-2020.
Some examples illustrate our effectiveness.
1. Amputation Below the Knee
A four-year-old New Jersey boy, as a result of another hospital’s error, had to have his left leg amputated below the knee. The surgery left him with a stump that was swollen and in constant pain, as well as weakness in his upper left leg. The boy needed a rolling walker and motorized scooter to get around.
After calculating the cost of equipment, home care modifications, and lost earning capacity, the verdict was $12.5 million.
2. Traumatic Brain Injury
OAS also worked with attorneys representing a man who had been struck by a New Jersey transit bus. He suffered brain damage. The settlement, in that case, was a near-record-breaking $12.75 million.
3. From Diarrhea to Disability
A baby was admitted to the defendant hospital with vomiting and diarrhea. She was diagnosed with bronchopneumonia and received an IV and blood tests. During this treatment, she became dehydrated due to sodium deficiency and went into a coma. She emerged but ended up with mental deficiencies, mild cerebral palsy, and seizure disorder. The case settled for $4 million.
Let the Experts at OAS Help You with Your Personal Injury Clients
The vocational experts at OAS have over 40 years of experience performing vocational evaluations. From the initial referral to trial testimony, our experts work with the retained attorney to objectively present the case’s vocational assessment.
OAS has worked with attorneys on many multi-million-dollar outcomes, including a record-breaking $102 million verdict in a New York personal injury case.
OAS is your nationwide vocational expert, with offices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California.