The severity of a personal injury has a direct impact on how substantially it affects a person’s life. The disruption an injury causes – both currently and in the future – is part of the damage that can be compensated. Valuing the damage involves a combination of assessing the severity of the injury and the anticipated effects it will have on all aspects of the victim’s life going forward. Generally, the greater the negative impact an injury makes, the greater the compensation a person is entitled to receive.
What are Catastrophic Injuries?
Catastrophic injuries are personal injuries that have a significant impact on the person injured and require life-changing accommodations. Federal law defines catastrophic injuries in relation to a person’s ability to earn a living. In Title 34 of the United States Code, a catastrophic injury is defined as:
… an injury, the direct and proximate consequences of which permanently prevent an individual from performing any gainful work …
A person who experiences a catastrophic injury has a permanent loss or losses that can never truly be made whole. The unexpected negative consequences have literally altered the course of the victim’s life.
Types of Injuries Often Considered Catastrophic
Catastrophic injuries are measured by the amount of permanent damage caused. Where on the body an injury occurs can make it more or less likely to have catastrophic results. Some of the injuries that can end up being catastrophic are:
- Head and brain trauma
- Spinal column or spinal cord injuries
- Loss of limb(s) or amputation
- Loss of sight or hearing
- Crushing injuries
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Injuries to the head, and, more specifically to the brain can cause catastrophic results. Brain injuries are classified from mild to severe depending on the symptoms displayed by the injured victim. Falls and motor vehicle accidents are frequent causes of brain injuries.
A brain injury really has two parts. Initially, there may be physical damage to the brain tissues causing tearing and bleeding. The physical damage also disrupts the brain’s neural network messing up cellular communication. The secondary injury occurs as the body responds to the damage. Motor and cognitive function may be impaired which can lead to disability and even death.
Close to 2.5 million people suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBI) each year in the United States. TBI contributes to about 30 percent of all injury-related deaths. It is estimated that 13.5 million Americans are disabled as a result of TBI.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries are less frequent than brain injuries but can also lead to the development of secondary injuries – such as cognitive impairment – as the body responds to the initial damage. The spinal cord is how the brain communicates motor functions to the rest of the body. When the spinal cord is damaged, communication is impaired or lost, resulting in loss of motor control for areas below the location of the injury.
Across all age groups, motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of spinal cord injuries. There are almost 18,000 new spinal cord injuries every year in the U.S. About 60 percent of patients with spinal cord injuries are considered to be quadriplegic – having some paralysis in all four limbs.
The Process of Getting Compensation for a Catastrophic Injury
The process for making a catastrophic injury claim is no different than making a claim for another type of personal injury. What differs is the information necessary to establish the catastrophic nature of the injury and prove the damages. Because a value must be placed on permanent, life-changing damage, it is important that the full impact of the injury be understood so the damages can be appropriately compensated.
Compensation Available for a Catastrophic Injury
Compensation for a catastrophic injury may include economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are based on actual monies lost, while non-economic damages are an attempt to place a dollar value on more intangible losses, such as feeling good, looking good, and having the capability to do things. Losses that can be compensated after a catastrophic injury include:
- Medical and treatment expenses, including anticipated future costs
- Lost income, including future earnings
- Pain and suffering
- Mental and emotional anguish
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
In some instances, additional damages may be awarded to an injured person not as compensation but as a means of punishing the party at fault. An injured claimant seeking exemplary or punitive damages has the burden of proving that the harm was inflicted with intention or a high degree of recklessness in order to recover.
Are There Limits on the Amount of Compensation for a Catastrophic Injury in Texas?
The Texas legislature has placed some limits on the amounts of damages that can be awarded for personal injuries in certain circumstances. Under current law, the following limitations will be imposed on damage awards involving medical care or the liability of local government:
- Medical malpractice personal injury – Non-economic damages are limited to $250,000 against all individuals and $500,000 against all institutions.
- Medical malpractice wrongful death – The maximum limit for the total of all damages is $500,000 per claimant.
- State government or local municipality – Damage awards are limited to $250,000 per person and $500,000 per occurrence.
How Fault Affects the Ability to Collect Compensation for a Catastrophic Injury
A person whose own actions contribute to a catastrophic injury may still be able to recover compensation from other at-fault parties. But the amount of compensation will be reduced in proportion to the injured person’s percentage of fault. In Texas, an injured person can still seek compensation unless they are more at fault than anyone else. A claimant may not be entitled to recover damages if their percentage of responsibility is greater than 50 percent. It is always still worth seeking out a free consultation with a Dallas personal injury lawyer to find out more about your legal rights and what options are available to you in an injury lawsuit.
Catastrophic injuries are usually compensable subject to damage award limitations and the contributing actions of the person injured. Understanding the impact of the injury and how to value the damage are crucial to obtaining the appropriate compensation for a catastrophic injury.