In personal injury law, injuries are sometimes classified as catastrophic. Plaintiffs with catastrophic injuries often receive a good deal of money when they win. This is partially because catastrophic injuries have a higher impact on someone’s life.
In this article we will explore the issue of catastrophic injuries, defining the term both medically and legally. Then, we will discuss ways a plaintiff can be compensated for these injuries.
Medical Definition of a Catastrophic Injury
Medically, a catastrophic injury takes place in the brain, spine, or spinal cord. Injuries like these can permanently alter someone.
Brain injuries can affect cognitive functions, emotional regulation, sleep, and so on. There may even alter one’s perception of reality, depending on which part of the brain was damaged. The brain also controls involuntary functions like digestion and blood flow, and certain brain injuries can impede these internal systems as well.
Most of your major nerves run along your spine, so any injury in that area can seriously affect your body. If a disc shifts out of place, it can poke and stab at the nerves, creating severe pain and limiting your mobility. A severe injury can sever these nerves, causing permanent paralysis. This paralysis could affect your limbs, but it could also reach into your internal systems, hindering digestion and other necessary functions.
Given the severity of these injuries, it’s easy to see why the medical community labels them “catastrophic.” They can have irreversible, life-long effects. They also require constant, serious medical care from surgery to physical therapy and beyond.
Legally, however, injuries that appear far less extreme can also be catastrophic.
Legal Definition of a Catastrophic Injury
By law, any injury that produces a lifelong disability could be considered catastrophic. When we think of disabilities, we imagine people who’ve lost their sight, hearing, mobility, etc. These are universal examples of catastrophic, lifelong effects, but in a legal respect, “disability” can be relative.
Imagine a teacher at home, using a defective saw. The blade slips, and he loses a portion of his index finger. Now imagine a professional guitar player suffering the same injury. Both parties are certainly entitled to damages from the product’s manufacturer.
However, the court may rule that the teacher’s injuries were not catastrophic, but the guitar’s players are. Losing a portion of her finger will affect her ability to play, which, in turn, affects her ability to earn a living. At best, she must relearn how to play after several surgeries, which will take time, and she’ll need to sustain herself in the meantime. At worst, she may permanently lose her ability to play, forcing her to take a different career path.
If an injury permanently alters the course of your life, it could be considered catastrophic in court.
Larger Amounts of Compensation in a Catastrophic Injury Case
Personal injury lawsuits are often misunderstood. Many people view them as “get-rich-quick” schemes, but this is simply a false narrative. Personal injury lawsuits are designed to pay you back for the expenses associated with your injury.
Catastrophic injury cases yield larger amounts of money because catastrophic injuries have a greater financial impact on the injured. A spinal injury can cost over $1,000,000 to treat in the first year alone. Each additional year, the cost decreases a bit, but maintaining a paralyzed person can still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.
Personal injury cases can also compensate someone’s lost income. If an injury affects your ability to work or completely alters your career path, you could be entitled to far more money. Not only could you be compensated for your immediately lost money, but you could also sue for lost “potential” income. Imagine our fictional guitar player from earlier. Let’s say she had just signed a new record deal, but she couldn’t record because of her injury. In her lawsuit, she can receive that future income she lost.
Moreover, the injured party may be entitled to “non-economic” damages. These come in the form of pain and suffering compensation. The more misery someone experiences, the more money they may be able to collect in a lawsuit. When it comes to a catastrophic injury, the suffering is great, meaning the injured could receive sizeable compensation for their misery.
If you’ve suffered a life-altering injury through no fault of your own, contact our firm today. We may be able to seek financial justice for you. Call us today at (305) 783-3301 for a free consultation, or reach out to us online.