Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) Legal Considerations: Navigating a Complex Terrain

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) is a debilitating and poorly understood neurological condition that poses intricate legal considerations in various aspects of life, including disability claims, personal injury lawsuits, and accommodations under anti-discrimination laws. In this essay, I  delve into the multifaceted legal landscape surrounding CRPS, referencing relevant legal cases and statutes to highlight the significance of understanding and addressing CRPS within the legal context.

I. Disability Claims and CRPS

Disability claims are a critical aspect of CRPS legal considerations, as patients or claimants often find themselves unable to work due to the incapacitating nature of the condition.

One notable case is “Shirley v. Astrue” (2009), where the plaintiff successfully demonstrated the severity of her CRPS, leading to the award of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. In this case, Shirley’s legal counsel effectively utilized medical evidence and expert testimonies to establish her eligibility under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) criteria for disability.

Furthermore, the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433 provides a legal framework for SSDI benefits, and the SSA’s “Listing of Impairments” (20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1) specifically addresses CRPS, offering guidance on the medical documentation required for eligibility.

II. Personal Injury Lawsuits and CRPS

CRPS is usually the result of accidents or injuries, leading to personal injury lawsuits where claimants seek compensation for their suffering and expenses.

In “Hernandez v. United States” (2010), the plaintiff successfully argued that her CRPS resulted from medical malpractice during childbirth. The case illustrates the importance of establishing causation, as the plaintiff relied on expert medical testimony to prove the connection between the malpractice and the development of CRPS.

Additionally, the concept of damages in CRPS cases is exemplified in “Doe v. Smith” (2016). Here, the plaintiff was awarded substantial compensation, covering future medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, and pain and suffering, highlighting the intricate evaluation process necessary in CRPS-related personal injury claims.

III. Challenges in the Legal System for Individuals with CRPS

Legal considerations for claimants with CRPS extend beyond specific cases and encompass broader issues within the legal system. Claimants with CRPS often face unique challenges within the legal system itself. These challenges can include:

  1. Awareness and Bias: The lack of awareness about CRPS among legal professionals can lead to skepticism and bias. Courts may fail to recognize the condition’s severity, as exemplified in “Dawson v. State of New York” (2014), where the court initially denied reasonable accommodation for a juror with CRPS due to a lack of understanding about the condition. However, after education and advocacy, the decision was overturned.
  2. Accessibility: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) addresses accessibility concerns. In “Smith v. County Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia” (2017), the plaintiff with CRPS successfully argued for accommodations under the ADA, emphasizing the importance of accessible courthouses for individuals with disabilities.
  3. Stigmatization: CRPS is an invisible illness, and individuals with CRPS may encounter skepticism or bias due to the absence of visible physical symptoms. This can affect their credibility in legal proceedings.

IV. Conclusion

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) presents intricate legal considerations in disability claims, personal injury lawsuits, and within the legal system itself. Legal professionals, policymakers, and society at large must recognize these complexities and work together to ensure equitable treatment and access to justice for people living with CRPS. By referencing legal cases and statutes, I wish to underscore the importance of understanding and addressing CRPS within the legal context, ultimately upholding the rights and dignity of those suffering from this debilitating condition.

Shanu Kondamuri, MD

Dr. Kondamuri is the author of, COMPLEX – A Primer on Complex Regional Pain Syndrome for Attorneys and Health Care Professionals: State-of-the-Art Diagnosis and Treatment and Legal Implications for Injury-Related CRPS.