Every year, millions of people are injured in serious accidents and many others die. While being injured due to another person’s actions can be a frustrating and painful experience, it can also be very expensive. Unfortunately for the elderly, personal injury cases can often be biased against older individuals when they go to court.
In many cases, an insurance company’s attorneys argue that these injuries are a product of an older person’s age and not the accident they were in. Since we become more susceptible to serious injuries as we age, it can be difficult for a court to determine if an accident would have caused harm to a person in good health. For example, a small slip may only cause a sprained ankle for a teenager or young adult. However, a slip for an older person can result in a broken hip, a neck fracture, serious back issues and more. Falls are actually the leading cause of death for individuals 65 years or older, and a 2008 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control shows that 82 percent of fatal falls happen to older individuals whereas only 18 percent happen to those under the age of 65.
Age-related bias can be found in many personal injury lawsuits across the United States. For example, a 1994 case involved severe coffee burns caused by a very hot McDonalds drink. McDonalds’ attorneys argued that the plaintiff, a 79-year-old female, should not have been driving a vehicle and attempting to drink coffee at the same time. Since it can be difficult to maintain proper coordination and movement as one ages, they argued that her injuries were not McDonalds’ fault. The plaintiff in this case was awarded $2.7 million in punitive damages, a figure which was later reduced to $480,000* (three times the amount she received for compensatory damages), but you have to wonder if the outcome would have been different if the suit was filed by a younger person.
That said, an effective car accident attorney may be able to ensure an older individual’s rights are protected by constructing sound arguments. Lawyers and Settlements has a detailed article about an ageism-related case where a trucking company’s lawyer argued that an elderly couple’s injuries were not as severe as they claimed to be and were, in fact, already healed. The plaintiff’s attorney was able to prove that the injuries were severe and lasting, and that they were a direct a result of the accident. The couple eventually received a jury verdict for $360,000 more than the truck company had offered as a settlement.
Ageism is a problem in many areas, and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are actively working to eliminate age-related discrimination in the courtroom and in other places. While aging does involve many physiological and biological changes in the body, it should not mean that one is less entitled to fair and equal representation in a court of law.