What is a catastrophic injury?
According to 42 U.S.C. 3796b, a catastrophic injury has “direct and proximate consequences” that “permanently prevent an individual from performing any gainful work.”
To simplify, a catastrophic injury isn’t just a severe injury. For an injury to be classified as catastrophic, it has to be an injury with long-term, life-altering consequences.
Although you might automatically think of instances where a person has a visible injury, such as a lost limb, it’s essential to realize that people who appear fine on the surface could still deal with a catastrophic injury. For example, a woman who is in an accident and has a traumatic brain injury might look physically fine, yet she struggles internally because of her injury.
Types of catastrophic injury include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Loss of sight
- Loss of hearing
- Severe scarring or disfigurement
- Spinal cord injury
- Severe burns
This list is by no means complete. If you’re wondering if you or your loved one have a catastrophic injury, you need to ask yourself these three questions:
- Will I (or my loved one) be unable to work a full-time job in the future?
- Has the accident caused a need for medications for life?
- Do I (or my loved one) need life-long assistance from a device (such as a prosthetic or a cane) or an individual?
If you answered that you or your loved one wouldn’t be able to work full-time, require medications because of your accident, or need life-long assistance from a device or person, you have a catastrophic injury.
Remember, you don’t need to have answered yes to all three of those questions to have a catastrophic injury. All it takes is just one yes, and you can know you or your loved one probably has a catastrophic injury. But, how do you know for sure?
When is an injury considered catastrophic?
After your accident, when you’ve been able to get a better understanding of your injuries, you might decide you want to pursue a catastrophic injuries lawsuit. But, how do you know if your injuries are genuinely catastrophic? You’d hate to start moving forward with your case just to discover your injuries aren’t technically catastrophic.
It seems like there should be some official ruling, some pronouncement of a decree that you or your loved one have catastrophic injuries. However, there’s not as technical a process as you might imagine.
Remember those three questions from above? If you answer yes to any of those three questions, you or your loved one has a catastrophic injury.
Although your doctor’s notes aren’t necessarily crucial, they can be helpful to validate your catastrophic injury claims. This is particularly true if you have an internal injury—such as a brain or spinal cord injury—that leaves you looking relatively uninjured on the outside while you struggle inside.
What are some of the common causes of catastrophic injury?
Honestly, a catastrophic injury can occur at any time, any place. You could be walking on the sidewalk and get hit by a car. Or, you could be in surgery for a minor issue and end up with a catastrophic injury. You could even trip and fall down your stairs at your home and end up with catastrophic injuries.
Although this list is by no means complete, here are some common ways you might receive catastrophic injuries:
- Truck crash
- Severe car accident
- Motorcycle accident
- Pedestrian struck by a vehicle
- Slip and fall
- Accident at work
- Defective products
- Toxic chemicals
- Birth injuries
- Medical malpractice
- Fire or explosion
If you or a loved one have been in any of the above types of accidents and has received catastrophic injuries, you should consider filing a lawsuit. The amount of money you’ll receive will depend significantly upon who is responsible for the damage.
Who is responsible for a catastrophic injury?
If you feel like someone else is directly responsible for you or your loved one’s catastrophic injury, you should consider filing a lawsuit. But, you need to realize that proving someone else is responsible for the injury-causing accident is a little complex.
First, you have to prove there was negligence. Negligence is the idea that the person responsible for the accident should have been paying attention, following the laws, and looking out for others, but they weren’t.
A singular person can be negligent, and so can a group of people, such as a product’s manufacturer or a hospital. In some cases, you might think that both a singular person (such as a doctor) and a group (their hospital) are negligent.
But, it’s not just enough to accuse someone of negligence. You have to be able to prove it. You have to show that you were catastrophically injured because this person or group wasn’t following laws, paying attention, or looking out for others.
Next, you have to assess your guilt for the accident. Were you in any way to blame for what happened? Were you ultimately paying attention, following the law, and looking out for others? If not, you might be partially at fault (and that’s okay).
What if I’m partially at fault?
If you’ve just realized you might be partially at fault for your accident, you might feel a sense of anxiety or panic. But, take a deep breath and calm down. Everything’s going to be okay.
Cases are rarely so one-sided that only one person is to blame for what happened. In the real world, sometimes multiple people are to blame. And, let’s say you and the other person in the injury-causing accident are both to blame, that doesn’t mean you still wouldn’t receive compensation.
In California, someone who is partially at fault for an accident can receive compensation because of the state’s “comparative fault” law. Even if the judge decides you’re primarily at fault for the accident, you can still receive your loss.
Once your case goes to court, the judge or jury decides who is at fault, and they indicate the percentage of responsibility each party has for your accident. Then, you receive a corresponding percentage for the number of your listed damages.
Let’s take a look at an example. After hearing your case, your judge decides you were 20% to blame for the accident. This means you’ll be able to receive 80% of the amount of your damages. (Keep on reading to learn How to calculate your damages from your catastrophic injury yourself.)
What if no one is at fault for your injury?
Sometimes, accidents just happen. It’s not your fault. It’s not the other person’s fault. It seems like it’s just a case of terrible luck.
But, when you’re sitting at home with your medical bills wondering how the heck you’re going to be able to live with no income and increased personal expenses, chalking it up to bad luck doesn’t feel like an excellent option. No, you probably want someone to blame—or at least someone else to be responsible for all your new expenses.
Fortunately, it’s rarely the case that nobody is at fault for an accident that causes catastrophic injuries. Even if you aren’t sure whether anyone is or isn’t responsible for your accident, it’s worth a chat with an experienced lawyer.
By speaking with a lawyer who has experience with cases similar to your own, the lawyer might have keen insight into who is to blame. They also might be able to help you with complex calculations, such as figuring out what expenses are related to your catastrophic injury. (So that you know, we’re happy to chat with you either over the phone or in-person at no charge to you.)
What expenses are related to your catastrophic injury?
Calculating your expenses might seem straightforward. However, sometimes people miss adding in some of the costs from their injury, resulting in a loss of thousands of dollars. No one wants you to lose out on money you deserve, so here’s a quick checklist to make sure you’ve accounted for all of your catastrophic injury expenses.
- Current medical bills and estimates. Whether it’s medical or related to any personal property that may have been damaged during the accident, gather up your bills or estimates for repairs. Don’t forget to add in any bills for therapy that you might have.
- Missed wages. Since your accident, you’ve probably missed work. Take a moment now to figure out how much money you’ve missed out on. Also, if you’re missing out on an opportunity to receive a bonus or if you’re no longer offered health insurance because of your accident, don’t forget to count those losses.
- All the extras. After you or your loved one’s accident, life may have become more expensive. Perhaps you need home health to come in and help you shower a couple of times a week. Or, maybe you need a wheelchair or prosthetic device because of your catastrophic injury. You might even need a new vehicle that’s modified to accommodate your injury.
Make sure to list all of the new things you have to buy or modifications you have to make in order to get back to living everyday life. Every further expense is an item you weren’t expecting to buy, so make sure to keep a thorough list. And, don’t forget to add on any repairs or modifications you have to make to your home.
What type of damages can you receive for catastrophic injuries?
You’ve just figured out how to figure out what expenses are related to your catastrophic injury. Now, it’s time to think about what sort of damages you or your loved one could receive.
But, how do you put a price on your loss? What does a hand cost? Or the ability to form a complete thought? Or even the pride of opening your paycheck at the end of the week and knowing you worked hard to earn that money?
As someone with catastrophic injuries, your loss far exceeds something that can be precisely measured. This is why it’s best to work with a lawyer who has experience with cases similar to your own to figure out precisely what you should ask for.
But let’s say you’re not quite ready to chat with a lawyer just yet. You’ve already been through a traumatizing event, and the last thing you want to do is spend time talking to someone who might seem like a bad used car salesman. (We’re not that way, but we get why there’s that reputation out there.) Here’s exactly what you need to do to start figuring out exactly what type of damages you can receive from your catastrophic injury.
How to calculate your damages from your catastrophic injury yourself
- What have you lost? With a catastrophic injury, you or your loved one has experienced significant loss. Sit down for a moment and make a list of everything you’ve lost. For example, suppose you were in a car crash. In that case, your list could include physical damage to your car, physical injury to yourself, and psychological trauma (or pain and suffering) from the event. But really, this just scratches the surface.
Yes, it’s good to list the significant and noticeable losses, but it’s even better to list things that people might not know you’re struggling with. So, you should also include items like can’t sleep through the night, can’t sleep without pain medication, depressed, unable to shower unassisted, etc. This is a tough assignment, but the more you can list what you’ve lost, the more money you’re likely to be awarded.
- Gather your bills. You’re going to start by gathering bills for physical damages from your accident. This would be:
- repair bills for a vehicle
- medical bills for you or your loved one
- bills for therapy or personal care
- any necessary equipment for your catastrophic injury
- an estimate of how much you should have received in lost wages
Next, you want to think about your future. Do you have a good guess of how much you’ll spend in future doctor visits and therapy sessions because of your injuries? If you don’t know, you could put a call into your doctors’ offices and ask to speak with someone in billing. Usually, those folks are the ones who can tell you precisely what you’re going to need in the future, how much it costs, and how much your insurance is expected to pay.
- Figure out your pain and suffering amount. This step is a little bit tricky. You want to add up all your current medical bills and estimates for future medical bills. Then, rank your accident on a scale from 1 to 5 (where one is not that big of a deal and five is completely life-altering). Since you or your loved one have catastrophic injuries, you should probably pick either a 4 or 5. Then, multiply your medical bill total by the number you rated your accident. That is the amount you should ask for pain and suffering.
Just to make sure everything’s clear, let’s take a look at an example. We’ll say my current medical bills total $150,000, and it looks like I’ll probably have about $300,000 in future medical expenses. After thinking about my accident, I ranked it as a 4. $450,000 X 4 = $1,800,000. But remember, this is just the pain and suffering part.
- Add your numbers together. Take the pain and suffering amount you just came up with, and add your dollar amount from step 2. Remember, you want to have your current and future medical bills, any lost wages, and any vehicle damage, if that applies to your situation. Once you add everything together, you’ll have the amount you should ask for (or receive if an insurance company is offering you a settlement).
Let’s apply this to our example:
Current medical bills: $150,000
Future medical bills: $300,000
Pain and suffering ranking: 4—$1,800,000
Car damage: $10,000
Lost wages: $10,000
Total: $450,000 + $1,800,000 + $10,000 + $10,000 = $2,270,000
But, take a look at that “Lost wages” amount from above. This is just how much you’ve missed out on so far. If you have catastrophic injuries, you’re unable to hold a full-time job in the future. So, what is that “Lost wages” amount going to be when you adjust it for the rest of your life?
Again, another tricky situation. But, lawyers actually have access to a table that calculates how long you’re predicted to live, how much money you should receive per year and the total amount you should ask for.
But you could still be missing out on some money.
Even if you follow all the steps above and add everything up, you could still be missing out on some money. Remember when you made that list in step 1 from above? Remember how you took the time to write down the very most challenging losses you’ve faced from your catastrophic injuries?
Well, those losses could mean more money for you. Let’s take one example. Let’s say you can’t shower unassisted anymore. A good lawyer will remember to figure out how much exactly it’s going to cost you to have a caregiver there to help you shower for the rest of your life.
A great lawyer will remember to point out that you’re losing some amount of quality of life by losing the ability to shower independently. You’re no longer able to decide you want a shower and do it. Instead, you rely on someone else’s schedule.
Plus, by always needing assistance, you’re being denied a given human right—modesty. Surely losing some of your independence and control over whether someone sees you naked or not merits its own category when figuring out how much a catastrophic injury is worth.
So, you want to speak with a lawyer who has experience with cases similar to yours. Let them take a look at your list, take a look at your listed expenses and estimations, and then watch them crunch the numbers to figure out exactly what damages you can receive for your catastrophic injury.
Still, have questions about your injury or accident?
Right now, you or your loved one have gone through a horrible accident that caused catastrophic injuries. You want to follow the proper steps to get the settlement you or your loved one deserve, but it’s hard to know just what to do.
It’s hard enough to stay on top of all the medical appointments and bills but figuring out California accident injury law adds a whole new layer of complication to everything.
But, there’s good news. You’re not alone. Just like no one expected you to perform surgery on yourself after your accident, no one expects you to represent yourself when you’re standing up to whoever caused your catastrophic injuries.
That’s what we’re here for. At the Law Offices of John C. Ye, we’ve been helping victims with catastrophic injuries receive the settlements they deserve for over 25 years. But, it all starts with a phone call.
Do you have questions? We’re happy to answer them at no cost to you. Just give us a call at 866-473-0979, and you can look forward to a less stressful future.