A catastrophic injury or illness usually occurs suddenly and without warning. Injuries that are considered catastrophic (due to the enormous impact they have on the lives of the individuals who experience them) include the following: brain injury, spinal cord injury, amputation, severe burns, multiple fractures, or other, neurological disorders. A catastrophic injury or illness very often causes severe disruption to the central nervous system, which in turn affects many other systems of the body. In addition to possible loss of movement, sensation, and communicative and cognitive abilities, the injury or illness may impact respiration, circulation, skin, the urinary system, the gastrointestinal system, and other body systems. Management of such an injury is complex and may require the expertise of a team of health professionals including physicians, consultants, nurses, therapists, and counselors. Clearly, the long-term needs of someone who has experienced this type of injury far surpass those of individuals with less severe injuries. Individuals may recover from some catastrophic injuries if they receive proper, early medical treatment; however, others may experience permanent disability, significant suffering, and reduced life spans. If you or your loved one has suffered catastrophic injuries as the result of an accident, consult a personal injury attorney to learn your rights to compensation. A lawyer experienced in catastrophic injury litigation can help you learn what your rights are.
If a catastrophic injury was caused by the negligent or intentional act of another, or by a dangerous or defective product, a personal injury claim by the victim will be an integral factor in his or her future quality of life, including the quality of the medical care and other support he or she will receive. Because of the huge financial impact a catastrophic injury has, one of the most important aspects of bringing a personal injury claim is the determination of the value of such a claim. A person whose earning capacity has been substantially reduced and who is likely facing a lifetime of care requires an experienced attorney, with specialized knowledge of his or her particular type of injury, to ensure that the injured person obtains all of the financial support he or she will need, possibly for decades to come.
The long-term implications of many catastrophic injuries do not surface or become apparent until years after the original injury. For example, individuals who are injured as children may experience changes in their abilities/disabilities as they grow, requiring surgeries or other medical intervention to accommodate their growth. Similarly, a burn victim might continue to undergo reconstructive surgeries for many years after the original injury. Thus, an attorney who understands the long-term implications of such injuries will be better able to ensure that victims receive just compensation and sufficient resources for the future.
Often only a small amount of insurance is available to compensate a catastrophically injured person, and it becomes necessary to seek alternative compensation or government assistance. This is one of the most important reasons for retaining an attorney with significant experience handling catastrophic injury claims. For instance, some of the worst, most dangerous drivers often carry the least amount of insurance allowed by law, or carry no insurance at all. In such cases, an injured party might be limited to recovering only up to the limits of his or her uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage benefits, which typically will fall far below the losses sustained. Also, contrary to popular belief, huge jury verdicts are rare, and most injury victims are under-compensated for their injuries. For these reasons, it is important to seek the assistance of an attorney who has experience with catastrophic injury cases; he or she will consider and know how to reach every possible source of recovery in a personal injury claim. Additionally, even if your attorney determines you do not have a legal cause of action against a responsible party, he or she might assist you in obtaining government benefits, which can be a daunting task for those not trained in the law. The following are examples of how an experienced attorney can help locate and pursue recovery from responsible individuals.
There is often inadequate insurance coverage to properly compensate burn victims for their injuries. For example, assume two cars are involved in a serious accident that causes both vehicles to burn beyond recognition, and both drivers to suffer burns over 75% of their bodies. An inexperienced attorney may conclude that all either driver is entitled to is the amount of each driver’s automobile insurance, typically $20,000 to $100,000. An experienced attorney, however, will have the knowledge and resources to investigate the accident and fire, and may discover vehicle defects, road defects, additional insurance, or assets hidden by parties responsible for the accident, all of which could result in a far greater recovery. Moreover, an experienced attorney will be better prepared to maximize the benefits to which a burn victim is entitled under his or her own insurance policies.
Brain Injury Scenario
The force necessary to suffer a brain injury can be sustained in several types of accidents, including car accidents, sports-related incidents, and workplace accidents. Assume a worker is painting on a scaffold when the platform gives way, causing a violent fall and serious closed head injury. Some attorneys may see this solely as a workers’ compensation claim, which will limit the victim’s recovery as a matter of law because, in most states, an injured worker cannot file suit against his or her employer. An experienced attorney, however, will consider additional theories of liability and defendants. For example, if the scaffolding were manufactured improperly, a product liability case may be brought against the manufacturer, which could result in a large recovery. Also, many worksites have multiple contractors, responsible for different aspects of a project; therefore, an investigation should be conducted into the involvement of others in installing and maintaining the scaffold. Finally, experienced attorneys will always closely examine emergency technician and medical records to determine whether the medical care given to an injured individual was proper.
Bone fractures sustained during childhood can affect growth plates, requiring difficult bone-stretching procedures long after the fractures have healed, and possibly permanently impairing normal use of one or more limbs. Such an outcome might not even be considered by an attorney representing a child at or near the time of injury. Yet, an experienced attorney will anticipate such future problems, and ensure that the injured individual is financially protected.
Another example might be where a driver is broadsided by a drunk driver who has no liability insurance. An inexperienced attorney may advise his client that his or her recovery is limited to his or her own uninsured motorist benefits. An experienced attorney, however, will quickly determine where the drunk driver was drinking prior to the accident, and preserve a case against other potential defendants, including a bar, restaurant or homeowner who served the driver alcohol knowing he was already intoxicated. In addition, a product liability claim may exist against one of the car’s manufacturers if some defect in one of the cars contributed to the accident. Such claims are not inexpensive to litigate and, therefore, less accomplished attorneys might not even consider them.
Finally, many states maintain a catastrophic claim fund that makes money available to victims of catastrophic injuries who are not adequately compensated by other sources. Some attorneys may not even know about such a fund, and may overlook that as a source of recovery completely.
Determining Future Costs of Care & the Damages to Which a Catastrophically Injured Person is Entitled
Whether a person falls from a construction platform and injures his spine, catches her hand in a piece of machinery, or is born with a birth defect that impairs his or her mobility, he or she will likely need financial assistance in treating the injury and continuing on with life. In today’s society, within the systems established to provide for injured individuals, the medical evaluation of the degree of an individual’s impairment can have a huge impact on the level of compensation the individual will receive, from all sources. Other issues such a medical evaluation will evaluate include:
- The injured person’s ability to work;
- The right to receive different kinds of economic compensation;
- Eligibility for protection against discrimination;
- Whether independent living is possible;
- What type of physical therapy might improve his/her health.
Significantly, such an evaluation should include the significant changes an individual will undergo as he/she progresses through acute hospitalization, then returns to the home and community. An individual will likely experience the best possible outcome with rehabilitation that offers an interdisciplinary approach and coordinated care.
Life Care Planning
Life care planning is the process of analyzing the medical and medically-related goods and services an individual will need because of a disabling injury or disease. A systematic and logical approach is utilized to trace all of the needs relating from the disability to the end of one’s life expectancy. Various experts within the field of rehabilitation and case management are often asked to develop life care plans, in consultation with medical and therapeutic specialists according to their clinical specialties. All past medical, social, psychological, vocational, educational, and rehabilitation data are taken into consideration to the extent that it is available and applicable. The goals and desires of the patient and family are expressed in the plan. Medical literature is surveyed to reflect current concepts of patient care management. Consideration is given to changes in a patient’s needs due to aging and the progression of his or her disability.
The life care plan provides for services that are needed to prevent or significantly reduce known complications over time. Potential complications associated with the principle diagnoses are discussed, and the care needs related to these complications are projected. The range of services in the geographic area or region, and prevailing costs and standards are utilized to provide an analysis of costs. These costs are typically expressed as present day costs derived from the best available data and resources.
Through the life care plan process, a template for current and future care is developed. The plan serves as a guide for family members, case managers and health care providers. It is not a prescription for care, but represents a logical blueprint for an individual’s anticipated needs and to provide optimal outcomes, based upon reasonable medical probability and current concepts of care. An individual’s life care plan may be utilized by his or her attorney in seeking compensation for his or her injuries, and may also call for consultation with financial professionals to select appropriate investment strategies to preserve resources over the patient’s life.
In the unfortunate event you or a loved one fall victim to a life-altering, catastrophic injury, you should not have to worry about proper compensation or your attorney’s expertise. Therefore, it is highly advisable to seek out an attorney experienced in handling catastrophic injury claims, who will exhaust all possible avenues of financial and medical recovery on your behalf. An attorney experienced in handling catastrophic injury cases will know how to uncover all of the parties who may be responsible for your injuries.