What Is Considered a Catastrophic Injury?

HutzlerLaw October 3, 2022

what is considered a catastrophic injuryAll injuries can cause pain and harm. But the type known legally as “catastrophic injury” causes the affected individual to lose the ability to perform gainful work. They may have lost the ability to move or to use significant body parts.

Once you understand that a catastrophic injury results in the loss of the ability to perform gainful work, you can understand the multiple potential effects of such injuries.

  • First, the individual may suffer significant physical, emotional, and psychological pain.
  • Second, they may also suffer significant financial harm since they may lose the ability to work and thus earnings from work.
  • Third, they may face a lifetime of medical treatment, including hospitalizations, surgeries, physical therapy, and around-the-clock care.

Catastrophic injuries are life-changing in many ways. A catastrophic injury attorney could help you recover the compensation you need to move forward in life while dealing with these difficult changes.

What Types of Injuries Are Catastrophic?

Any injury in which the affected person loses the ability to perform gainful work is catastrophic.

Some of the more common types of catastrophic injuries are:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Loss of limb/amputation
  • Loss of hearing
  • Loss of sight
  • Neck injury or other trauma
  • Internal damage, such as organ damage or internal bleeding
  • Toxic chemical poisoning
  • Severe burns
  • Coma
  • Death

The catastrophic nature of these injuries depends on the severity and effects. Not all traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), for example, are catastrophic. Even mild concussion, however, can result in catastrophic consequences, such as mental impairment, severe problems with memory loss, and so on.

Whether you can work gainfully after an injury also depends on the nature of your work. Hearing loss may well be a catastrophic loss for a professional musician or a music teacher. But while the same injury may be profoundly unfortunate for someone whose livelihood does not depend on being able to hear, it would not necessarily affect their ability to earn a living.

What Causes Catastrophic Injury?

Catastrophic injuries typically result from accidents or other unforeseen events, such as:

Who’s Responsible for Catastrophic Injury?

There’s no one size fits all answer to the question, “Who’s responsible for a catastrophic injury?” It depends on who or what caused the accident or other event and how it was caused.

It can help to know the basic principles of personal injury law. A catastrophic injury falls within the category of personal injury. It’s just an especially enduring one.

Personal injury law depends on the concept of negligence. Negligence is a violation of the duty of care owed to the public. A vehicle driver, for instance, owes the public a duty of care. They should know how to operate their vehicles safely, do so at all times, follow the law, obey general safety principles, and make sure their own vehicles are maintained well enough to be driven safely. Violation of any one of these can cause an accident.

Similarly, landlords owe a duty of care to their tenants and the general public. Buildings and grounds need to be safe and kept in good repair. Suppose an area is potentially unsafe, which as an empty swimming pool, should be off-limits and clearly marked as empty. If buildings and grounds are not kept safe, accidents could occur.

Negligent parties, whether individual people or organizations (such as a property management firm), can bear responsibility if the breach in the duty of care causes an accident or other event that results in injury. Their responsibility means that they are liable (financially responsible) for damages the injuries cause.

Potentially responsible people include motorists, other vehicle owners, employers, store owners, property owners, and more.

What Damage Compensation Is Available for Catastrophic Injury?

Negligent parties bear financial responsibility toward those their negligence harmed. Injured folks typically seek damage compensation, either through the negligent party’s insurance carrier or a personal injury lawsuit.

Victims can seek compensation for:

  • Medical bills already incurred for hospitalization, doctor visits, diagnostic tests, prescription medication, emergency and other medically-necessary transportation, physical therapy, assistive medical devices, and more.
  • Medical bills expected in the future, including long-term care, retrofitting a home for care and access (hospital beds, ramps, etc.), and more
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity (if the injured person can return to work but at a lesser earnings rate than previously)
  • The lifetime value of earnings (estimated if the person cannot return to work)
  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of companionship
  • Disfigurement
  • Personal property, such as a vehicle

Damages in catastrophic injury cases have to take into account the effect of negligence on the rest of a person’s life.

What If a Catastrophic Injury Results in Death?

Tragically, some catastrophic injuries result in death. In Arizona, family members of those killed by the negligent actions of another can bring a suit called wrongful death. Specifically, the surviving spouse, surviving child(ren), surviving parent, or guardian all have this right. The executor of the estate (also known as a personal representative) can also bring a wrongful death suit against the negligent party on behalf of any of these family members or on behalf of the estate if the estate deserves compensation.

The damage compensation in an Arizona wrongful death suit can include:

  • Medical bills incurred between the date of the catastrophic injury and death
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • The value of lost wages and benefits the deceased person could have been expected to earn had they lived
  • Property damage incurred in the accident or other event that caused the injury

The above is intended to compensate loved ones or the estate for financial losses resulting from negligence. However, the state also recognizes that loved ones suffer emotionally from the tragedy and that such suffering is loss.

Family members can thus seek damage compensation for:

  • their emotional pain and suffering
  • loss of the deceased person’s affection, love, comfort, companionship, and guidance
  • loss of household services the deceased provided

How Long Do I Have To Seek Damages?

Any legal case for damage compensation relating to a catastrophic injury needs to be filed within two years from the date of the injury in Arizona. To wait later means that you have exceeded the statute of limitations, and the court will not hear your case.

In the case of wrongful death, a suit needs to be brought within two years of the date of death.

My Loved One Suffered Catastrophic Injuries. What Should I Do?

If your loved one suffered catastrophic injuries, both of you could face considerable stress and pain. Dealing with the injury and adjusting to the effects of the injury on the life of both of you can feel overwhelming. You may face mounting medical bills and care issues.

How a Lawyer Can Help You

First, obtaining a just and fair amount for damages may require negotiating with an insurance company or bringing a lawsuit. Lawyers are experienced and skilled at doing both and can fight for justice for your loved ones.

Second, a just claim will require evidence. It’s not uncommon for catastrophically injured folks to need some help gathering evidence. For example, a moderately injured person will ordinarily stay at the scene of a car crash. They can dial 911, talk to law enforcement, get a copy of a police report, talk to any eyewitnesses, and obtain contact information from the other driver(s). But a catastrophically injured person may be rushed from the scene unconscious in an ambulance. Most immediately, they don’t have any of these potential evidence sources.

Lawyers, however, can obtain evidence for catastrophically injured people. They can get a copy of any reports made by law enforcement, which often indicate who or what bore responsibility for a crash. They can hire investigators to find any potential surveillance footage showing the crash, which can indicate what occurred. The investigators can also search for and interview eyewitnesses.

Lawyers can hire forensic and accident analysts to reconstruct the accident if necessary. These can reveal who and what caused the accident.

One of the key evidence components for catastrophic injuries is medical evidence. If your loved one is injured, all medical records are highly important and must be saved.

This includes records of:

  • Emergency department treatment
  • All medical-related treatment, including hospitalization, surgery, doctor’s office, physical therapy, diagnostic tests, and more, including dates
  • All rehabilitative treatment, including stays in rehab, medical device purchase, and more
  • All diagnoses

If in doubt, save. It is not unusual, however, for catastrophic injury victims and their families to have incomplete or no medical records. Again, you may have been in a crisis state early, during the initial stages of treatment and diagnosis. Keeping records or even making notes of dates may have been the furthest thing from your mind.

If that’s the case, catastrophic injury lawyers can help you gather medical evidence of all types.

They can also arrange to take pictures of the injuries, their nature, and their extent. Pictures are excellent evidence.

The families of catastrophic injury victims may worry about the expense of consulting a lawyer. After all, they may face challenges with everyday expenses if a breadwinner can no longer work. But there’s really no reason to worry about the score of expenses.

First, an initial consultation is always free. At the initial consultation, you can bring any and all evidence you have. The lawyer needs to know what happened and how it affected the injured person’s life and your family’s life. They also need to know any evidence and what may exist, but you haven’t gathered it.

At the conclusion of the initial consultation, the lawyer can tell you whether you have a reasonable case to pursue. Hiring a lawyer is not obligated after an initial consultation; it’s your choice.

A catastrophic injury lawyer is paid as a percentage of what they win for you: either a percentage of a payout on an insurance claim or a personal injury case. So, even at the end of your case, you do not owe the lawyer out of your own pocket. If your case should prove unsuccessful, there is no charge.

Valuing Your Claim and Negotiating with the Insurance Company

There’s one more important service an attorney can render you. It’s a process called evaluating your claim. They can thoroughly compile evidence, including what happened, the nature and extent of the injuries, and the likely effect on your life, including the need for continuing medical care and any job outlook.

Given all that, they can consult medical experts on the likely prognosis and what will be required for care. They also consult economic experts on the likely future cost of care.

With that, they come up with a reasonable and just claim for damages from all categories.

Why is this important? Because if you don’t personally know the value of your claim, an insurance company adjuster may try a tragically common tactic with catastrophically injured people: paying you quickly but for much less than the claim is worth.

Sound unscrupulous? It is. Insurance companies are in business to make a profit. Paying a large claim eats into their profits. They don’t want to do it, no matter how just it is.

They know two things. First, most people don’t know how much a catastrophic injury claim should be. They’ve never been injured like that before. Second, many catastrophically injured people need money to live on and pay medical and other bills. A quick offer thus looks very attractive and even life-saving.

If an insurance company offers you a payout quickly, you have ample grounds to be suspicious of the amount. A lawyer, however, will have valued your claim sufficiently to know if the amount is fair or not. If it isn’t, they can keep negotiating until justice is done.

They can also negotiate if the insurance company minimizes or denies your claim. Don’t try to negotiate with an insurance company alone.