The Future of Personal Injury Practice

Practitioners and law students should be alert to the trends and portents for personal injury—and by extension, workers’ compensation—practice. These huge practice areas are steadily shrinking and may be on the cusp of an inflection point as disrupting as the one that shook estate planning when Congress raised the individual and spousal exemptions by orders of magnitude that left many attorneys scrambling to find new arenas in which to make a living.

Three factors underlie the changes to these practice areas:

Workplace Changes

An increasing proportion of employees now work in service businesses. Because these industries are generally safer workplace environments, injuries and illness overall tend to decrease the more oriented toward the service sector business becomes.

Industry Injuries and Illnesses

A Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) annual survey of Employer-Reported Workplace Injury and Illnesses, 2017 found that private industry employers had 45,800 fewer cases of nonfatal injuries and illnesses among full-time employees in 2017 as compared to the prior year. This continues a 15-year trend. Employers had 2.8 total recordable cases of illness or injury per 100 workers, approximately 50 percent of the 2003 number.

The trend becomes even more pronounced if we look at the survey’s additional conclusions: missed workdays, OSHA-recordable incidents and injury-caused work restrictions have all declined steadily in this century. It is also striking that declines in injuries and illness have decreased throughout the economy in all sectors, including construction, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing, translating to fewer workers’ compensation claims.

Autonomous Vehicles

More than 90 percent of vehicular crashes in the U.S. are the result of driver error. It is believed that self-driving vehicles are destined to cut down dramatically on such accidents. If that happens, then the entire legal/regulatory/insurance structure as it applies to vehicular transportation will have to reinvent itself. That includes the thousands of attorneys whose practices focus on personal injury.

Conclusion

The time to begin thinking about protecting yourself against these trends and possibilities is now.