What is Catastrophic Injury Law?
How do you define a catastrophic injury?
What are the essential elements you should know!
In this article, I will break down the meaning of Catastrophic Injury Law so you know all there is to know about it!
Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!
Let’s see what catastrophic injury laws relate to and how they work!
Are you ready?
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What Is Catastrophic Injury Law
The catastrophic injury law refers to the laws, statutes, and regulations that deal with cases where a person was severely injured or harmed in a catastrophic accident or as a result of another’s negligence or wrongful conduct.
In other words, when a person suffers injuries so serious and debilitating for the long-term or result in a deformity in your body, the injury would qualify as a “catastrophic injury” subject to the catastrophic injury laws.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term catastrophic is defined as follows:
The final event of the dramatic action especially of a tragedy
It’s a type of incident that is “dramatic” or a “tragedy”.
There are various laws and statutes that are passed to protect the victims of catastrophic injuries and hold the wrongdoers liable for damages.
Any person who suffers any type of injury losing a body part, being unable to work for the long-term, losing cognitive abilities, or other, can file a catastrophic injury lawsuit and seek compensation from the at-fault party (or parties).
Unfortunately, due to the seriousness of the injuries sustained, victims of catastrophic injuries will suffer greater damage than the victim of a “normal” injury, particularly due to:
- Higher surgery costs
- Higher medical expense
- More medical equipment tools needed
- Higher rehabilitation costs
- Longer need to use medical devices
- A longer period of time wages are lost
- More significant emotional damage
- More pain and suffering
It’s important to properly understand the applicable laws to assess how much you can pursue for damages (some laws cap the total amount that may be claimed for general damages while other states do not have any limits).
When there are no limits imposed by law on damages, you can see catastrophic injury settlements and verdicts that are can be significant, such as:
- $10 million awarded to an ironworker suffering work-related injuries
- $11.3 million awarded to an airplane pilot and passenger suffering injuries due to poor maintenance on the plane
- $50 million to the victim of a broken neck following a car crash
Catastrophic Injury Definition
What is catastrophic injury?
A catastrophic injury is a type of injury that is so severe that it leaves the victim of the injury with permanent or life-changing consequences.
According to 42 USC § 3796b, the legal definition of catastrophic injury is as follows:
‘‘Catastrophic injury’’ means consequences of an injury that permanently prevent an individual from performing any gainful work
In other words, the injury leads to consequences so severe that the victim of the accident is permanently prevented from performing gainful work.
For example, in many cases, catastrophic injures result from brain damage or spinal cord damage that can leave a person permanently paralyzed.
Being involved in a catastrophic accident can lead to catastrophic consequences such as:
- Loss of limb
Common Causes of Catastrophic Injuries
What are the common causes of catastrophic injuries?
There are countless situations where a person may suffer a catastrophic personal injury and it may not be possible to look at all causes.
However, I have here some common reasons when a person can suffer a debilitating injury considered catastrophic:
- Car accident
- Accident with a truck or 18-wheeler
- Accident with a bus
- Accident with a train
- Airplane accident
- Medical malpractice
- Fire accidents
- Oil rig explosions
- Maritime accidents
- Boat accident
- Dog bites
- Pedestrian accidents
- Extreme sport accidents
- Criminal attacks
- Work injuries
- Medical infections
- Construction accidents
- Use of dangerous products
- Defective products
As you can see, the common causes of catastrophic injuries I’ve listed above are either with heavy motor vehicles, medical, fire, or animals.
The common cause of injuries outlined above are so dangerous that can likely be fatal and if it’s not, it may be scar the victim for life.
Catastrophic Injury Damages
Every jurisdiction will have laws, statutes, and regulations governing catastrophic injury cases, claims, and lawsuits.
It’s important to note that some states will permit the victim of a catastrophic injury to claim financial damages and non-economic damages (like pain and suffering, mental anguish, etc) without a cap.
Economic damages are:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of income
- Surgery costs
- Rehabilitation costs
- Physiotherapy costs
- Medical device costs
- Ongoing disability care
- Caregiver expense
- Childcare expense
Non-economic damages are:
- Loss of qualify of life
- Emotional damage
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
- Stress and anxiety
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
Other states will set a legal cap on how much a victim can claim in non-economic damages leading to a reduced possibility to seek “full” compensation for the damages suffered.
In addition to the economic and non-economic damages, if the defendant’s conduct was so reckless, intentional, or significantly deviating from an individual’s duty of care, the court or jury may also award punitive damages.
When potentially adding punitive damages to the compensatory damages, the amounts can even go into the billions.
For example, in 2021, the family of Robert Middleton received a $150 billion award in punitive damages.
In 1993, the Anderson family received $4.9 billion (where $107.6 million was for compensatory damages and $4.8 billion in punitive damages) against General Motors for burns resulting from a faulty fuel tank on a Chevy Malibu.
As you can see, in some cases, the awards have been so high leading to headlines in the media.
Liability For Catastrophic Injuries
If a person or company’s conduct, actions, or activities lead to catastrophic injuries, you can base yourself on the catastrophic injury rules and regulations to hold the liable parties accountable.
To determine who is liable for your injuries, you will need to prove (in most cases) the negligence of the at-fault party as follows:
- The defendant owed you a duty of care
- The defendant breached its duty of care
- The breach led to your damages or there was a proximate cause
- You suffered damages
The catastrophic injury elements are the same as the elements you would need to prove in a negligence claim.
For example, if you are suing someone for medical malpractice causing catastrophic injuries, you will need to prove that the doctor was responsible for your care, it breached its duty and such breach caused your damages (an example is an accidental amputation).
Catastrophic Injury Examples
Let’s look at some catastrophic injury examples to get a better understanding of the notion.
Here are some injuries that may be qualified as catastrophic:
- Losing an arm
- Losing a leg
- Losing the ability to work
- Losing the ability to think
- Limb amputation
- Damage to orthopedic functions
- Spinal cord injuries
- Brain damage
- Back injuries
- Head injury
- Head trauma
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Chemical burns
- Fire burns
- Eye injuries
- Multiple bone fractures
- Organ damage
- Neurological disorders
- Accidental amputation
Brain injuries are the most catastrophic type of injuries as they lead to cognitive impairment where the person may lose the ability to talk, walk, form memories, work, and so on.
Then, spinal cord injuries can be quite debilitating as it will affect your mobility leading to paralysis and potentially resulting in the person permanently needing a wheelchair or assistance to satisfy basic life needs.
There are many types of catastrophic injuries and my list here is surely not exhaustive.
If you or your loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury, you should definitely consult a catastrophic injury lawyer for legal advice and representation.
It’s important that you get to know your legal rights and take the proper measures to ensure you get the best settlement or award possible.
Catastrophic Injury Laws Takeaways
So there you have it folks!
What is a catastrophic injury?
What falls under catastrophic injury law?
Catastrophic injuries are a type of injury that leaves a person permanently unable to perform gainful work.
A person may suddenly get into an accident that can change the course of their life forever.
When the injury is “catastrophic”, it means that the person will suffer long-term and serious effects not only affecting the victim but the victim’s entire family (and dependents).
Some of the most common causes of severe injuries are head trauma, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries affecting cognitive functions and mobility.
When a person was injured by the negligent conduct of another, intentionally, in the context of criminal conduct, due to defective products, or other, he or she can file a claim for financial and non-financial damages under catastrophic injury laws (which is essentially personal injury laws).
When a catastrophic injury claim or lawsuit is filed, the victim will seek compensation for:
- Economic damages (like medical bills, surgery, medical equipment etc)
- Noneconomic damages (loss of enjoyment of life, mental pain and suffering, loss of consortium, stress, anxiety, disfigurement
The objective of the catastrophic injury statutes is to ensure that the victims of the injury are compensated for their damages, a legal determination of the value of the damages can be made, and the defendant is held liable to pay.
If you or a person you know has been involved in a catastrophic injury, it’s important to call a catastrophic injury lawyer or law firm to seek legal advice so you can understand the full implications of the case.
It’s important that you quickly identify the “at-fault” parties, determine the proper legal process for filing a catastrophic injury claim, and ensure that you respect the statute of limitations applicable for such claims (otherwise, you may lose your right to sue).
I hope this article gave you the essentials on catastrophic accidents, how to define catastrophic injury, and what it entails.
Let’s look at a summary of our findings.
Catastrophic Injury Law Summary
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