Personal injury attorneys have relied on MRI scans to bolster their clients’ claims for years, but the role of this crucial technology may soon grow dramatically. As a diagnostic imaging modality, MRI is ideal for recording soft tissue injuries, including disc protrusions and herniations and muscle tears. But even perfect documentation of these injuries doesn’t necessarily prove a devastating type of affliction that’s all too common, and often difficult to demonstrate: chronic pain.
Pain is a subjective sensation. One person’s agony might be another’s slight discomfort, and defense attorneys have a history of leaning on this subjectivity to reduce damages. Meanwhile, though, patients’ lives can be destroyed; ravaged by pain, they might not be able to work, or even perform daily tasks of living. A fair settlement might be the only thing that stands between them and utter destitution.
But how can an MRI scan document pain? Neuroscientists say they’re right on the verge of an answer.
Using MRI Technology to Track Pain’s Pathways in the Brain
A specialized type of MRI scan, functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, measures blood flow within the brain. When a certain region of the brain activates, cerebral blood flow in that area increases. The fMRI tracks these changes.
Brain mapping allows neuroscientists to associated certain areas of the human brain with general functional experiences within the thinker — including, perhaps, the thinker’s experience of pain. If an attorney could demonstrate that a client’s brain activity is consistent with chronic pain, that could be enough to sway the judge. However, we’re not quite ready to break out the fMRI scans in tomorrow’s personal injury case.
Hurdles in the Use of fMRI Scans for Personal Injury Cases
Neuroscientists are still debating the reliability of fMRI to demonstrate chronic pain. Most of the studies involving pain and brain mapping have been conducted on acute pain, not the chronic variety. Some scientists argue that patients could “cheat” the scan, imagining a greater-than-baseline intensity of pain.
The science behind demonstrating pain with fMRI scans isn’t quite up to courtroom standards yet, but it’s close, and it’s getting closer. With every new study on the subject, fMRI technology inches toward a future in which pain is as visible as a broken arm in an X-ray.
Meanwhile, standard MRI scans continue to be an important element in many personal injury cases. This technology has changed the way personal injury law functions, and it appears it will continue to do so in a broader range of cases soon.
Cherniak, Todd. “Litigation MRI: Why lawyers are asking for it and why your patients need it.” BCMJ. British Columbia Medical Journal, Sept. 2005. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.
Davis, Kevin. “Personal injury lawyers turn to neuroscience to back claims of chronic pain.” ABAJournal. American Bar Association, Mar. 2016. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.
Geddess, Linda. “Human brain mapped in unprecedented detail.” Nature. Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 July 2016. Web. 20 Dec. 2017.