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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger

Exploring the Concept of a Catastrophic Injury: Legal Definition

Occurrences such as motor vehicle accidents can cause what is known as a catastrophic injury. Just looking at the term, it is likely that some perception may be formed of what this may be, thanks to the use of the word "catastrophic." However, there is a legal definition for this, which can be found in 42 USC § 3796b.


This definition classifies the injury type as any one in which there is some direct and proximate consequence that causes the victim to be permanently unable to get any gainful employment.


Put simply, this is some kind of severe injury that affects the victim permanently, so much so that they are unable to work for notable gain.


In most cases, these are severe brain injuries or spinal cord injuries. However, there are other types such as severe burns or loss of limbs that fall under this too.


When Might There Be a Settlement for Catastrophic Injuries?


A personal injury claim claim for compensation surrounding these kinds of injuries may be applicable in several scenarios, which include:


  1. The sustained injuries result in some kind of permanent disability that has put the affected party out of work

  2. The severe injuries caused the need for medical treatment, which may also be an ongoing thing. All kinds of medical attention are factored in here including surgeries, physical therapy, medication, medical devices, etc.

  3. There has been some kind of emotional damage suffered alongside the physical injury.


Types of Catastrophic Injuries

Types of Catastrophic Injuries


While each catastrophic injury case is unique, below is a look at some of the typical ones.


Brain or Spinal Cord Injuries

As indicated before, this is one of the most common causes of catastrophic injuries. They are known for their long-term effects in cases where they are classified as catastrophic. The kinds of impairments that will come from them may be cognitive, visual, paralysis, etc. Of course, the specific effects experienced depend on where exactly the injury is localized. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can also help with questions like what is a Contrecoup Injury?


Bodily Function Loss or Impairment

Some catastrophic injuries will see the victim losing a bodily function completely. This will often be because of some kind of damage to the body's organs or its systems. Therefore, there may be damage recorded to the intestines, stomach, liver, bladder, bowel, lungs, etc.


Since the functions provided by these organs are so critical, this phenomenon introduces a situation where medical intervention may be needed to supplement the affected function.


Loss of Limbs or Digits

It stands to reason that the loss of a limb such as an arm or a foot is nothing short of life-altering. The same can be said about situations in which a digit such as a finger or a toe is lost.


While the physical limitations are bad enough, the emotional trauma that is involved is also a big problem for the person suffering from the injury.


Disfigurement or Permanent Scarring

Another concern that a catastrophic injury may bring to the fore is permanent scarring or disfigurement for the affected party. Severe lacerations, severe burns, or complex bone fractures may be at play in this kind of scenario.


Why Might a Catastrophic Injury Happen?


It is not hard to deduce based on the definition that the potential causes of a catastrophic injury are incredibly widespread. Some of the most common causes are:


  1. Slip and falls

  2. Defective products

  3. Workplace accidents

  4. Sporting accidents

  5. Medical malpractice which includes injuries sustained during childbirth

  6. Different kinds of motor vehicle accidents, which include trucks, motorcycles, bikes, pedestrian, and car crashes


While rare, catastrophic injuries affect thousands of people annually. For example, spinal cord injuries are estimated to affect nearly 18,000 people annually. Bear in mind that this is just one of many kinds of injuries that exist.


Compensation Potential in Catastrophic Injury Claims


The concept of negligence is important here. Of course, it is possible to end up suffering these kinds of injuries because the victim is negligent or just ends up suffering some kind of freak accident. However, the idea of compensation comes into the picture when there was some negligence on the party of someone else.


Legally, the idea is that the victim is supposed to be "made whole" based on the losses that have been suffered, assuming that the attempt to file an injury claim is successful. The compensation could be provided in a settlement outside of court or via a lawsuit.


Under normal circumstances, this is how personal injuries work overall. However, with catastrophic injuries, since they are so severe, the potential for compensation becomes much greater considering the long-term effects that are at play.


For example, if a car accident causes nothing more than a broken arm, the level of compensation will not be the same as if the victim ends up with permanently lost wages because of the loss of an arm.


There's going to be a greater amount of suffering, more medical attention needed, relationships may be affected, etc. Offsetting that as much as possible would mean that a greater settlement would be required.


What Makes Up a Catastrophic Injury Settlement?


Catastrophic injury compensation is supposed to cover all the bases of effects on the victim. This will likely include the following elements:


  1. The emotional distress that the victim suffers because of the injuries suffered.

  2. Any lost wages that may have already occurred as well as those that will now not be possible during the victim's lifetime because of the severity of the injury.

  3. Whatever pain and suffering is experienced and that which is to come throughout the course of living with the injuries.

  4. Any medical expenses that have already passed and those that are likely to come, thanks to ongoing treatment.


The idea here is that whatever compensation is received should be enough to account for the quality of life that is no longer possible after the accident.


Punitive damages may also be a part of the settlement. These damage awards are meant to punish the negligent party more than anything else. That's because there was an intent to harm or a gross demonstration of recklessness.


Is There a Timeline for Filing a Catastrophic Injury Lawsuit?


Like other personal injury matters, this is governed by the statute of limitations, which is a legal precedent that sets out how long a victim has to file a claim. Once this timeline has passed and there are no special circumstances, it is no longer possible to seek compensation.


In Texas, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years. Note that there is no separation whether the victim is experiencing minor injuries or catastrophic injuries. The timeline remains the same for both situations.


Why Does It Matter if The Victim's Experience Is Considered a Catastrophic Injury?


Whether it is physical trauma, birth injuries, or some other kind of occurrence, it matters that the correct classification as a catastrophic injury is applied. These kinds of injury claims are more layered and complicated than their standard counterparts.


Some of the biggest considerations to this effect are:


  • Expert witness testimonies that may be needed

  • The requirement for medical evidence.

  • Whatever damages may specifically be recoverable from a catastrophic injury


Regardless of whether the injury is catastrophic or not though, the victim's entitlement to legal action does not change. Remember that whenever injuries are suffered because of someone else's negligence, compensation may be sought and it should be done with the assistance of an expert Dallas personal injury lawyer.


What Makes an Attorney Necessary for Catastrophic Injury Cases?

What Makes an Attorney Necessary for Catastrophic Injury Cases?


Low Offers

Insurance companies that represent the negligent party are notorious for trying to put forward an offer immediately that is nothing short of a lowball offer. The idea is to try to trick the victim so that they will not need to worry about money in the future.


Realistically, they are trying to avoid dealing with the financial implications once the truth about the injury is exposed, especially where future costs are concerned. Acceptance of these initial offers will often come with a preventative measure against the victim seeking further compensation later.


The Blame Game

Apart from the lowball offer tactic, insurance companies will also try to insinuate that the accident is the fault of the victim. Bear in mind that they aim to settle as quickly as possible and they also want to do so with the last possible financial impact on themselves.


Fair Settlement Calculation

Apart from being able to negotiate with insurance companies and see right through their tactics on behalf of the victim, the best personal injury attorney in Dallas is key to calculating what a fair settlement may look like. It's one thing to be able to refer to all the documentation available to calculate economic damages.


However, it also takes a skilled lawyer to calculate what the non-economic element may look like. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can also help with questions such as what if my personal injury was partially my fault Texas?


Schedule a Free Case Evaluation with a Well-versed Dallas Personal Injury Attorney Today!


Catastrophic injuries are life-changing and not in a good way. The least a negligent party can do is adequately compensate the person that they have caused to suffer.


If you or a loved one have suffered one of these injuries at the hands of someone else's negligence, you need the kind of attorney who will go to war for you! Schedule a free case evaluation today with Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys!

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