Although all injuries have an effect on people, catastrophic injuries can change the course of someone’s life forever. These types of injuries have lifelong consequences, whether it’s a permanent disability that requires 24-hour care at a facility or an amputation of the arm.
Catastrophic injuries don’t just affect the person that suffered the injury either. Parents, spouses, children, and other family members are often left stressing over medical bills or figuring out how to help victims manage their new circumstances.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. When someone suffers a catastrophic injury due to the recklessness, negligence, or willful misconduct of another person, there may be some recourse. Learn how a personal injury case can help victims of catastrophic injuries cope with their disabilities and provide compensation.
So what exactly is a catastrophic injury? One of the most generally accepted definitions is an injury in which someone suffers permanent or debilitating damage that prevents them from working. Some places define a catastrophic injury as a severe spinal, spinal cord, or cerebral injury.
The ramifications of a catastrophic injury go well beyond the actual injury. Permanent disabilities like paralysis or brain damage like CTE can alter a person and the way they interact with others. Not only are they no longer able to perform any gainful work but they may no longer be able to enjoy life. Daily activities like using the bathroom or eating can become chores that put a burden on the victim and their loved ones.
In a legal sense, catastrophic injury falls under personal injury law. Laws pertaining to personal injury are complicated since they are not clearly established in penal codes or statutes but rather in decisions made by courts.
The outcome of a catastrophic injury is typically broken down into three categories.
Catastrophic injuries can lead to death. Sometimes the injury can be fatal immediately. For example, if a person is in a car crash and suffers untreatable damage to the brain after being ejected from the vehicle. It can also be fatal due to complications that happen down the line. For example, a person may suffer from devastating burns that later become infected, leading to sepsis and ultimately death.
In some cases of catastrophic injury, a person may suffer irreversible damage to the brain or spine that leaves them permanently disabled. One example would be a teenager who was playing football and suffered an injury to his neck that resulted in paralysis. Cognitive disabilities can also be permanent.
Depending on the location, a serious but nonpermanent injury may not be considered catastrophic. However, some cases may qualify as a catastrophic injury. For example, if someone suffered temporary paralysis from an injury but went through countless hours of physical therapy to return to normal function, they may be able to show how they lost wages and have exorbitant medical bills.
A catastrophic injury can be sudden and unexpected. Here are some of the situations a person may experience a catastrophic injury:
From any of these situations, a person may suffer from paralysis, traumatic brain injury, quadriplegia, blindness, cognitive problems, deafness, amputations, disfigurement, severe burns, changes in mood and behavior, and more.
Just because a person suffers a catastrophic injury does not automatically give them the right to sue for compensation. They must first be able to show that the injury was caused by the negligence or reckless behavior of another person. If they are able to prove negligence, they may be eligible for large awards of damages.
For example, more than a thousand people filed catastrophic personal injury lawsuits against Ford and Firestone in the early 2000s after tires failures led to hundreds of deaths and even more severe injuries. The two companies settled hundreds of cases out of court for millions of dollars. The companies reportedly paid out $12 million to $16 million for cases involving paralysis1.
Cases dealing with catastrophic injuries don’t have to come from high-profile incidents. In fact, many cases deal with car crashes between two parties. For example, one plaintiff was involved in a head-on collision with another person who was not paying attention to the road. The plaintiff ended up suffering a traumatic brain injury that left her with permanent physical and cognitive problems. She was able to settle for more than a million dollars.
Although most cases settle out of court before going to a trial, lawyers are instrumental in securing the highest payout possible. Catastrophic injury cases deal with high awards, which make them more complex and contentious.
Insurance companies and defense attorneys will typically try to put all or part of the blame on the plaintiff to get out of paying the full amount of damages. An experienced attorney will be able to negotiate with the other side and prove the plaintiff’s case.
The types of damages an attorney may be able to secure include economic damages like lost wages and medical expenses or noneconomic damages like pain and suffering. Those who have been permanently injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence are encouraged to reach out to a qualified lawyer.
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