Parties typically use a mortality table to compute the likely cost of future medical care over an injured worker’s lifetime. Several entities publish summaries of life expectancy data. The longer a person lives, the longer their life expectancy. A table might predict that the average 35-year old black male will not live past his 72nd birthday. But once that same man survives to his 55th birthday, the table extends that prediction to 76. The life expectancy prediction is a moving target, growing longer as the injured worker ages. Workers compensation professionals who rely solely on a mortality table to project life expectancy may be making a mistake.Why the Life Expectancy Estimate Is Too Low
Many circumstances can affect how an individual’s life expectancy compares to the average. An important factor is heredity, but many workers compensation professionals do not ask about this issue. How old are the injured worker’s parents, or how old were they when they died?
Then there’s this interesting phenomenon. A study showed that for adults over 40 years old, receipt of a periodic payment such as a bi-weekly disability check increased their life expectancy. People literally lived for the check. An injured worker may be on the long end of the life expectancy bell-shaped curve.
Add to all of this advances in medical science. People are living longer, and some mortality tables are out-of-date.
These factors require workers compensation professionals to think twice before assuming the injured worker’s life expectancy is shorter than normal. To avoid stair-step reserving, one needs to approach the issue cautiously.
Why the Life Expectancy Estimate Is Too High
On the other hand, an injured worker by definition has some disability, and it might shorten life expectancy. An orthopedic injury in itself may not shorten life expectancy, but pain medication can. A holistic evaluation of lifetime medical care should consider co-morbidities as well as the industrial injury.
One More Thing to Talk About
In settlement negotiations parties may differ about how an injured worker’s life expectancy projection affects case evaluation. Add this to the list of issues to be discussed at mediation.