What is a Catastrophic Injury, and Can I Make a Claim for One?
When someone has an injury that ends up being life-altering, they may be wondering whether they can seek compensation and justice for what they went through. Such injuries are known legally as catastrophic injuries, and people who endure them can be eligible for compensation if the injury happened because of someone else’s negligence. The effects of catastrophic injuries can be lifelong, and they impact the victim as well as their loved ones. Waiting to take legal action after suffering a catastrophic injury can impact one’s ability to receive ample compensation, so having a comprehensive understanding of how catastrophic injuries are treated under the law is important.
How Does the Law Define a Catastrophic Injury?
Unfortunately, there is yet to be a specific legal definition of catastrophic injury in terms of the law. However, some aspects of what makes an injury catastrophic have been outlined. An injury can be considered catastrophic if:
- They are long-term or permanent in nature
- They are painful or severely painful
- They cause the victim to lose the use of at least one of their organs or one of their limbs
Catastrophic injuries are named this way because they impact almost every aspect of the victim’s life. Some make it so the injured can never work again, and irreversibly impact their ability to enjoy their lives. Catastrophic injuries also impact the victim’s family, more so than a less severe injury would. Many injuries of this nature require the victim to have some sort of long-term care, which family members often opt to do. Some examples of catastrophic injuries include:
- Severe spinal injuries
- Injuries to the spinal cord, particularly if they result in paralysis
- Severe injuries to the head, such as traumatic brain injuries
- Any injury that results in losing a limb
- Severe burns
- Any injury that causes severe scarring or disfigurement
Catastrophic injuries can happen in many ways, but some examples of accidents or incidents that may warrant a lawsuit include:
- Slip and fall accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Injury due to defective products
- Car accidents
- Commercial truck accidents
- Accidents or injuries at work
What Damages Can I Seek in a Catastrophic Injury Lawsuit?
Anyone who experiences a catastrophic injury will likely have significant medical bills at no fault of their own. Sometimes, they are more than insurance companies are willing to cover. There are other awards that may be available to someone who experienced a catastrophic injury or to their family, depending on the circumstances surrounding the injury in question. Some of the compensation that can be sought in a catastrophic injury lawsuit include:
- Medical bills: All types of medical bills can be claimed in such a lawsuit, including hospital care, any bills associated with occupational and physical therapy, prescription costs, and more. This can also include the cost of making alterations to the victim’s home so necessary medical equipment can be accommodated.
- Loss of earning ability: Victims can sue for financial compensation if their catastrophic injury made them lose their ability to work and earn money.
- Lost wages: Lost wages can be included in a catastrophic injury claim if the injury caused the victim to miss work.
- Pain and suffering: Victims can sue for compensation for the pain and suffering they endured because of the catastrophic injury, including past and future mental suffering, physical pain, grief, loss of quality of life, and more.
- Punitive damages: Victims can sue the defendant in a catastrophic injury lawsuit for damages meant to punish them for their negligent behavior or indifference, and this money would be awarded to the victim in addition to awards meant to compensate them for their losses.
- Wrongful death: If the victim of a catastrophic injury succumbs to their injury, the surviving family members can sue for compensation. Compensation can be awarded for lost financial support, the loss of companionship from the deceased party, money spent on funeral arrangements, and more.
How Can Fault Be Proven in a Catastrophic Injury Lawsuit?
Proving liability in a catastrophic injury lawsuit can be difficult, especially if there are many parties involved. However, the basics of proving fault in such a lawsuit include:
- Showing that the victim was owed a duty of care by the defendant to prevent the type of injury that occurred
- Showing that the defendant breached that duty of care due to their negligence or other behavior a reasonable person would not have engaged in
- Showing that the injury was directly caused by the breach of the duty of care and that it would not have happened otherwise
- Showing that the victim suffered damages because of the injury and that they would not have suffered the same damages had the injury not occurred.
Catastrophic injury lawsuits can become more complicated when multiple parties are at fault for injuring one another. However, the state of California allows multiple parties responsible for injuring one another due to negligence to collect compensation from each other, and the amount of compensation is based on the percentage of fault. Some states do not allow people to collect compensation unless they are completely without fault in the situation, however, California’s comparative fault doctrine allows each injured party to make claims. However, the amount of compensation each party receives may be less than it would be if they were completely without fault in the situation.
How Can an Attorney Help in a Catastrophic Injury Lawsuit?
An experienced personal injury attorney can help their client throughout each step of their lawsuit in addition to advocating for them in the courtroom. Some examples of assistance a personal injury attorney can provide during a catastrophic injury claim include:
- Investigation: Suffering a catastrophic injury is life-altering, and the victim may not be able to investigate the circumstances leading up to and surrounding their injury. A personal injury attorney can conduct witness interviews, assess reports from insurance companies, subpoena audio or video evidence, and more.
- Collecting evidence: An attorney can ensure that all the appropriate and available evidence has been collected for their client’s catastrophic injury claim. This includes ensuring that the other party presents all the relevant evidence they have.
- Negotiating damage payments: A personal injury lawyer can help a client negotiate with their insurance company to get the appropriate damage payments or do so on their behalf. Insurance companies can be notoriously difficult to work with and having an attorney who understands their strategies is essential to getting the compensation a victim deserves.
- Representing victims in court: Some catastrophic injury cases are settled before the case must go to trial. However, if a resolution is not made early, an attorney can file a lawsuit in the California courts on behalf of their client. During the trial, they can help make arguments, examine witnesses, and present evidence.
Is There a Statute of Limitations on Catastrophic Injury Claims?
The statute of limitations on catastrophic injury and other personal injury claims in California is two years from the date the injury occurs. However, the law differs somewhat depending on the nature of the injury. For example, if someone is the victim of medical malpractice, they have one year to make a claim from the day they discover what happened to them.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you or a loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury due to the negligence of another party, contact The Law Office of Robert J. Kaiser today. With over 20 years of experience litigating personal injury cases, Attorney Kaiser understands the emotional and physical toll they take on the victims and fights for fair compensation and justice on their behalf. Each case is unique, which is why we take a personal approach and will work to find a solution that will meet your individual needs. Contact us for a free consultation today at (661) 441-3446 or via our contact form.