Generally, catastrophic injuries are those injuries that permanently prevent an individual from performing work and enjoying life the way he or she would have before the accident. Often, they involve permanent disabilities or have very long-term effects. Some common catastrophic injuries are spinal cord injuries, severe burns, accidental amputations, brain injury, and paralysis.
The most common causes of catastrophic injuries are motor vehicle accidents, construction site falls, medical malpractice, and intentional acts of violence. In many no-fault states, injuries must be catastrophic for a plaintiff to bring a lawsuit against a party at fault for a car accident. However, catastrophic injuries can arise in many different situations, including medical malpractice and premises liability. No matter what the cause, receiving appropriate medical care is important. Catastrophic injuries can require follow-up care and surgeries over many years.
Unlike more minor injuries, catastrophic injuries are likely to adversely affect an accident victim’s entire family. The victim probably will not be able to contribute to the household income because his or her injuries will render him or her unable to work permanently. Also, the victim may need lifelong medical care and assistance. Moreover, the injuries may make it difficult for the person to help with household chores, offer affection to a spouse or children, or perform other tasks that people who are not injured take for granted.
Damages for Catastrophic Injuries
When a plaintiff’s catastrophic injuries are caused by a person’s negligent, reckless, or intentional conduct, there are substantial financial implications. The plaintiff may feel compelled to bring a lawsuit because his or her entire life, and the wellbeing of his or her family, depends on receiving compensation from the responsible party. Choosing an attorney becomes a very significant decision for the plaintiff. In no-fault insurance states, a plaintiff can only bring a lawsuit in a car accident when his or her injuries are catastrophic.
When catastrophic injuries are involved, it is critical to choose a plaintiff’s attorney with significant trial experience. While most cases do not go to trial, lawyers with this type of experience have more leverage when negotiating with the defendant’s insurance defense attorney than litigators who settle most of their cases. An experienced plaintiff’s attorney will have to work with multiple experts before going to trial to establish the full extent of injuries and future needs.
The damages in a catastrophic injury case are likely to be substantial. As with other kinds of lawsuits, they are likely to include medical expenses, lost income, out-of-pocket expenses, and property damage. However, they also may include significant noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish, permanent disability, disfigurement, and loss of consortium. The value of the noneconomic damages may be higher because the injuries are catastrophic.
Unlike more minor injuries, it can be harder for a defense attorney to limit the damages awarded in a catastrophic injury case. As such, a defense attorney is more likely to attack the defendant’s liability. He or she may try to show that the accident was partly the plaintiff’s fault.
In all states, a plaintiff’s ability to recover will be reduced by the extent to which he or she is partially or comparatively at fault for an accident. If the jury finds that the plaintiff’s comparative negligence contributed to an accident, the plaintiff will receive only the proportionate amount of damages for which the defendant or defendants are responsible. The jury may recognize the full scope of the plaintiff’s damages, but a skillful defense attorney who can show the plaintiff was partially at fault for his or her catastrophic injuries can limit the amount owed to the plaintiff.