This piece of medical evidence is sometimes overlooked because the importance of medical documentation is sometimes not recognized. First, one needs to understand the meaning of a permanent impairment. A permanent impairment rating is, basically, a medical assessment of the degree of injury to a particular body part or body parts from an injury-producing accident. Therefore, the rating is a method used to objectively document an injury. More specifically, if you are injured and your symptoms are still affecting your recovery to a certain degree regarding a specific body part or parts after your medical care is completed, then your injuries may be supported by a medical assessment known as a permanent impairment rating. If they are, then the impairment to a specific body part or parts must be qualified by a medical doctor per the AMA guidelines.

In California, we usually use the AMA Fifth Edition, but you can also use the AMA Sixth Edition. Most doctors who understand the AMA guidelines believe the Sixth Edition is more “draconian” than the Fifth, but I have used both editions in my injury law practice with equal success. The AMA guidelines also mandate that the degree of impairment be measured by what is called the “whole person percentage method.” This method computes the impairment of a specific body part or body parts as a ratio to the entire body. In fact, I explain the “whole person percentage method” in one of my legal videos on my website — — titled “How To Determine Case Value.” The AMA guidelines are used worldwide to document medical impairments, and the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board now uses them to support impairment ratings of workers injured on the job. I have been requesting them for my injured plaintiffs with great success for many years.

But, there is one caveat when AMA impairment ratings are used in personal injury cases: not every injury case can be substantially supported by an AMA impairment rating. However, every case should be evaluated for one when medically necessary. This means both your doctor and attorney should be aware of the availability of the rating for a particular injury when the medical evidence shows it should be explored. Also, there are certain facts that surround a person’s injury that will make it either easier or harder for an AMA impairment rating to be included in the review for settlement value.

An AMA permanent impairment rating in a personal injury case is important because it objectively documents impairment by a medical doctor. The impact it can have on your personal injury claim is incredible. Not only does it help to prove your damages in general, but it lays an objective foundation for damages covering future medical care, duties under duress and loss of enjoyment of life. It can defeat defense motions to prevent these damages from appearing at a jury trial. As the attorney, I enjoy the luxury of having medical experts explain to a jury how he or she objectively came up with the impairment rating under the AMA guidelines. It helps support why a “soft tissue injury” case is a serious matter. No longer does the jury or fact finder concentrate on mere muscle spasms, but rather they can now begin to understand how the injury has impacted the use of an important body part, and how that has interfered with an injured person’s life. It allows them to see the injury for what it really is -- a life-altering, permanent state of existence. If you are interviewing injury attorneys for your particular injury, it is a good idea to ask them about their experience with impairment ratings.