Household Chore Damages Assessment
Ronald Smolarski, MA, CEA, ABVE/D, CLCP, IPEC, CDEII, CCM, CVE, CRC, CRV/D, ABMP/D
Abstract. Accurate and practical assessment of the monetary damages associated with disability, in terms of household chores, is a concern for vocational experts, rehabilitation counselors, forensic economists, life care planners, psychologists, accountants, and finance professionals. Such assessment requires consideration of pre- and post-injury tasks and capacities, and estimation of their financial value, which is less obvious in the case of household chores than with work-related duties or tasks. The methodology presented here results in a realistic dollar estimation of damages that offers a thorough consideration of the specific offset factors that are involved and is more practical than more complicated, expensive, and labor-intensive methods that too often discourage professionals from considering household chores at all.
The method presented utilizes three tools:
- a checklist to help determine the ability of the evaluee to perform tasks at home
- an instrument for estimating the number of productive hours a person who is not disabled spends around the home, and for estimating the value of the activities performed
- a software application that integrates the information from the checklist and the hours/value estimate instrument to yield an Excel spreadsheet that allows application of the appropriate offset to the dollar damages.
Household Chores Damages Assessment
Over my 43 years of practice, I have developed a practical and convenient approach for making clear, understandable household chore damages determinations for workers who are disabled. Vocational experts, rehabilitation counselors, forensic economists, life care planners, psychologists, accountants, and finance professionals can all benefit by using this method to help their clients. I use three tools: The Functional Capacities Checklist (FCC), the Dollar Value of a Day (DVD), and Damages Advocate software. Together, these three tools help me determine realistic and understandable damage amounts for loss of ability to perform household chores.
First, I use the Functional Capacities Checklist (FCC) to help me determine the evaluee’s present ability to carry out tasks around the home (Burke & Dillman, 1984); some experts use K. W. Reagles and Associates’ checklist (K. W. Reagles and Associates, n.d.) to determine problems with 306 tasks. This is comprehensive but does not provide a level of competency (in terms of number values) for each task. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic Table 8B states, “Time spent in primary activities for the civilian population 18 years and over by presence and age of youngest household child and sex, 2019 annual averages, employed,” and only provides 7 activities, with no competency levels. The Dollar Value of a Day also does not provide competency levels. The FCC reveals the impact of the disability on adult living activities and household chores on a very practical level, using no equations or formulas.
A more complicated and time-consuming approach would be to take Department of Labor Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT) data for each task involved in all the tasks pertaining to household chores. This would involve performing a worker trait factor analysis on 24 DOT occupations (representing chores) using Dr. McCroskey’s (McCroskey et al., 2002) Vocational Quotient Systems (MVQS) using all 24 worker traits: General Education Development—
Reasoning (R), Math (M), and Language (L); Spatial perception (S); Form perception (P); Clerical perception (Q); Motor coordination (K); Finger dexterity (F); Manual dexterity (M); Eye/Hand/Foot coordination (E); Color disc (C); Physical Capacities—Strength level (PD1), Climb/balance (PD2), Stoop/kneel (PD3), Reach/handle (PD4), Talk/hear (PD5), and See (PD6); Environmental Tolerances—Work location (EC1); Other Tolerances— Extreme cold (EC2), Extreme heat (EC3), Wetness/humidity (EC4), Noise/vibration (EC5), Hazards (EC6), and Dusts/fumes (EC7). All this information would then need to be cross referenced with the 7 activities in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic Table 8B regarding household activities, purchasing goods and services, and caring for and helping household members to obtain the number of hours allotted to each task. Establishing this would be very time-consuming, and while it would be more accurate and add more dollar value, the professional’s invoice would be significantly, perhaps prohibitively, greater. This method would most likely be the better choice if in the future the buyer of services wished to obtain a higher damage without concern for the billable hours.
The FCC describes the impact of a disability in laymen’s terms, showing to what degree the disability decreases the individual’s ability to accomplish chores or day-today activities around the home or even at work. (Not all vocational experts or forensic economists make this determination, e.g., if they work for insurance companies the defense does not want to present more damages or does not know how to provide an offset). Because I specialize in workers who are disabled, I provide this for most of my cases. I have found that many vocational experts and forensic economists do not know the FCC exists or that it can be used to assess this type of economic damage in cases where the worker can be evaluated as to what he or she can still perform in terms of household chores.
Forensic economists usually take the results of vocational evaluations from a rehabilitation counselor and life care planner and use them to do their calculations of monetary damages, but they do not use the tools that would let them determine the offset to total damages associated with limitations in day-to-day living (the offset means what a person can still perform post-injury). Also, life care planners need this information to complete their life care plans. For example, a worker may have a low-back injury that will impact him/her as an offset to economic damages for total disability – the person may have taken an hour to rake the leaves pre-injury but now can only do such work for 20 minutes a day and may take a week to finish the job. To be more accurate, this result of injury, i.e., what the person can still perform, should be included in the damage dollar amount awarded at settlement or trial.
When a judge, jury, attorney, or claims person can see the degree to which a disability has changed a worker’s ability to perform household chores, it is easier to understand the full impact of the injury. This practical understanding is more meaningful than using percentiles. The decrease in people’s ability to take care of themselves is extremely important because it impacts the quality of life and the individual’s ability to be independent. My approach results in a realistic dollar estimation of the individual’s damages that is not refined to the penny but offers a more thorough consideration of the specific offset factors that are involved. Rather than just asking broad questions such as, “Do you have problems with shopping?” I use the FCC to obtain detailed information on individual elements of a task, such as the following: unlocking and opening a car door; pulling open a door with a handle in a public place; lifting objects of relatively light weight from the floor above the waist or head; opening a purse or wallet and taking out paper money or credit card or mobile phone. By breaking more general questions down into their elements, I obtain much more precise information and feedback regarding the client’s competency in each element of household chores.
The checklist asks 165 specific questions about how easy it is to do these tasks, using a response scale of 0-5: (0) I don’t know, (1) no change, (2) a little more difficult to do, (3) can be done but only with difficulty or some pain, (4) very difficult to do, and (5) impossible to do or can do only with great pain. (Note that I recommend making three revisions to the original FCC instrument: 1) on line #53, “Depositing coins in a phone” should be changed to “depositing coins in a vending machine,” 2) on line #62, “Opening your purse or wallet and taking out paper money” should be extended to include “or credit card or mobile phone,” and 3) on line #92, “dialing a phone” should be changed to “tapping, swiping, and two-finger-zooming on a phone.”)
Responses (0) and (1) indicate no impact. Responses (2), (3), (4), and (5) reveal that the injury has had the effect of slowing the person down, limiting the quality of their work, or preventing them from completing the task, depending upon pain, post-traumatic stress, restricted range of motion (pain sucks a person’s energy), and depression, which in turn impacts a person’s motivation. Based on my experience as a rehabilitation counselor and life care planner, I make the clinical judgment estimation that I can make accommodations for 50% of all the (2) responses because (2) indicates minimal impact.
After administering the checklist, I add half of the total number of (2)s to the total of the (3)s, (4)s, and (5)s. For example, say a person answers 40 of the 165 questions with a (2), 50 with a (3), 10 with a (4), and 5 with a (5). When I add up the answers, I will add 20 (half of the “a little more difficult to do” answers) to 65, which is the total of all the responses of (3), (4), and (5). I then divide 85 by 165 to obtain a percentage of household chores that reflects what the disabled worker can and cannot do. In this case, .52 represents what the person cannot do, and .48 is what the person can still do.
Quantifying Economic Implications
Once I have the functionality percentage, I can quantify the economic implications of the evaluee’s disability using the 2011 version of Dollar Value of a Day (DVD) (Expectancy Data, 2011), a valuation of daily activities for 385 demographic groupings of persons in the United States. This instrument was derived from data regarding household chores gathered by the federal government in the American Time Usage Study (ATUS) and made more usable by the economists Kurt V. Krueger, Ph.D., and John O. Ward, Ph.D. The DVD provides a series of norms for establishing what a person in each demographic grouping would theoretically have been able to do pre-injury. It provides a method accepted by professionals for estimating the number of productive hours a person who is not disabled spends around the home, and for estimating the value of the activities performed. I use this instrument to determine the number of hours that the particular evaluee normally spent around the home pre-injury.
To apply the FCC percentage to the Dollar Value of a Day data, I use the economic software application Damages Advocate (ValuSource, 2020). The program provides an Excel spreadsheet that permits ready calculation of the findings from the FCC that one determines and then incorporates them into the DVD data and allows me to apply the appropriate offset to the dollar damages. This calculation will provide what the person who is disabled can still do, thereby providing a total sum of the dollar damages suffered by the worker. (Unfortunately, updates to DVD that will work with Damages Advocate are no longer available from Expectancy Data, which means that you need to use DVD 2011 in order to apply the findings of the FCC percentage to the DVD data using Damages Advocate. Perhaps in future Expectancy Data will find a way to share information as they have done in the past, making it easier for professionals to establish more accurate determinations for workers that are disabled. A positive agreement between these two companies would be a win-win if they also included my methodology. This would be more practical than using a more recent version of DVD and having to set up a new Excel sheet to complete the calculation and not use my methodology. The need to develop a new Excel sheet for each new case places a financial burden on the buyer of services, which would not be necessary if Damages Advocate could be used with an updated version of DVD.)
I enter the evaluee’s marital status, employment status, spouse’s employment status, and age of youngest child, then enter a beginning date for damages (date of trial or date of injury) and ending date (e.g., date of death [my preferred choice] or five years prior to death [date used by Gerald Martin (Stephenson, Macpherson, & Martin, 2003) in Determining Economic Damages]). Once this data has been entered, the percentage of what the person can still do (as shown in the results from the Functional Capacity Checklist) is multiplied by the number of pre-injury hours indicated by the Dollar Value of a Day data. (It is important to purchase the DVD to be able to understand the data and answer questions in a deposition or trial.) After this calculation is completed, I choose the county and state where the person lives, and the dollar value of damages estimate for household chores is shown.
If the person on whom I am doing the assessment is alive, I submit a letter to the treating physician indicating the client’s stated physical capacities to determine whether the physician agrees. When I am preparing for deposition and trial, I also conduct a functional capacities evaluation (FCE) and share the results with the treating physician. The FCE and the FCC provide the opportunity for triangulation of my vocational testing. I ask questions that the physician can answer in four different ways: yes, no, possibly, or probably. I also use this information when developing a life care plan. When using the Damages Advocate program for the pre-injury assessment, I make sure to focus only on the chores that the person performed pre-injury.
If you are a vocational expert, forensic economist, or lifecare planner who is not sure about doing what I have described above, you can try out the Damages Advocate for a month for free and just play around with it. You will see how easy it is to use and understand. The FCC costs just $15. So, break out of your box, and try it. If you find that it is useful, then you can consider adding the DVD ($199), or the Damages Advocate software ($495-$1,095). Then, you too will be able to determine household chores damage amounts with greater confidence and accuracy.
Burke, L. K., & Dillman, E. G. (1984). Functional Capacities Checklist. Retrieved from
Expectancy Data. (2011). Dollar Value of a Day: Time dollar analysis 2011dollar valuation.
Retrieved from www.expectancydata.com
K. W. Reagles and Associates. (n.d.) Retrieved from http:// kwreagles.com/
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Stephenson, S. P., Macpherson, D. A., & Martin, G. (2003). Determining economic damages.
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ValuSource. (2020). Damages Advocate 2020 [Business valuation data and software]. Retrieved from www.valusource.com/product/damages-advocate