Studies show that it is likely that 2014-2020 are the hottest years ever recorded, with last year being the second hottest. In addition to the increased warmth, climate change also appears to inflict a number of adverse extreme weather conditions upon the globe, such as torrential rain and windstorms. What about climate change and personal injury law? Is there any correlation between our changing climate and the frequency of personal injury claims? Obviously, there isn’t any strong data on this inquiry, but we thought it may be worthwhile to look at some data and assess.
Is there any data supporting a correlation between climate change and an increase in personal injury claims?
As of 2019, the personal injury legal market was growing at a rate of approximately 1.2-1.4% annually (below the rate of inflation). A steady and relatively saturated part of the market, without material year over year growth. As of 2019, the total estimated value of the personal injury legal market was $35 billion USD. However, most recently, and as of 2021, the total size of the personal injury looks to have ballooned to a total value of $41 billion USD, representing a growth rate of approximately 5% over 2020 and 2021. What is causing the surprising amount of growth in the personal injury industry? Can there be any correlation to climate change?
Let's assess some of the potential correlation points.
1. Does climate change result in an increased number of vehicle accidents each year?
Statistics from the United States Department of Transportation show that between 2010 – 2019 the number of people injured in a vehicle crashes increased from 2,248,000 (2010) to 2,740,000 (2019), and equaling an 18% increase over those 9 years. However, the US population only grew 6.3% over the same period. That means there is are approximately 3 times more car accidents in 2019 than there were 2010, accounting for population growth. What is causing that increase? Could it be increased temperatures and increased stress on American drivers? What we do know, is that there is an increase in car accidents that correlates to an increase in temperature. Obviously it's too early to draw conclusions as there are a number of factors that could be contributing to more car accidents (i.e. population density), however, something to keep an eye on, in particular considering the improvements in vehicle technology over the last decade.
2. Does climate change result in an increased number of people buying boats and boating?
It's no secret that more people went boating in 2020 than in 2019. This is undoubtedly the consequence of COVID-19 rather than climate change. However, we know that alcohol impacts your system more on hot days (dehydration) and statistics show that alcohol is responsible for a large proportion of both fatal and non-fatal accidents, for example in 2019 it contributed to 282 boat accidents and 374 vessel accidents in the USA. So, with temperatures rising could alcohol related boat crashes rise too?
3. Could climate change result in an increase of medical malpractice claims?
If there is an influx of patients due to the effects of climate change, could this increase claims of medical malpractice? What we did learn from COVID-19 is the medical system's inability to respond to a pandemic while maintaining the quality and level of medical service normally provided. If temperatures continue to rise and that results in an increased number of people seeking medical attention, will that too lower the quality of medical service and increase the potential number of personal injury claims for medical malpractice?
Special thanks to Emily Mabbott for helping us gather some of this data and for assisting us with this Blog.