An Alabama personal injury lawyer can help you get the money you need to continue living your life to the fullest
What is a catastrophic injury?
A catastrophic injury is usually defined as an injury that happens suddenly or unexpectedly that leaves the injured person with severe and life-changing conditions.
A catastrophic injury could happen in a number of ways—it could be the result of anything from a car accident to a natural disaster, to an industrial accident or anything in between.
A catastrophic injury can include:
There’s no one-size-fits-all method for determining catastrophic injuries
Whether or not you have a “catastrophic injury” sometimes depends not on the injury—but on you. An injury is deemed catastrophic based on the ways in which it affects your life, rather than the severity of the injury itself. What’s catastrophic for one person might not be catastrophic for someone else.
For example, if a person who makes their living as a concert pianist is in an accident and breaks bones in both of their hands, they might be unable to play the piano again. Although bones usually heal, someone who uses their hands in a very specialized way and relies on speed and dexterity might not be able to resume activity the way they did before. This could be catastrophic for the pianist who can no longer earn their living, but it would not be catastrophic for a person who doesn’t use their hands as intensely on a daily basis.
Here’s another example: A single dad with 2 young children works on a construction site. He falls from some scaffolding and suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI). It leaves him with disabilities that render him unable to work or properly care for his children. As a result, he no longer has an income, and he must hire around-the-clock caretakers for his children, along with assistance for cooking, cleaning and other housekeeping.
This would likely be considered a catastrophic injury for this person. By contrast, if the same type of injury happened to an older adult, who was close to retirement age and had a partner who could assist with his activities of daily living, the financial toll would be much less even if the injury was the same.
While it might seem as though it’s not “fair” for the same injury to be catastrophic for one person and less so for another, this is how the legal system works. The basis for personal injury law is that a lawsuit can make a plaintiff whole, which means restoring them to the financial condition they would be in if the injury hadn’t happened.
That’s why, if you’re in an accident and your 10-year-old mid-range sedan is totaled, you would recover the market value for what the car would be worth on the day of the accident if the accident hadn’t happened. You can’t expect to recover the same amount as you would if the accident resulted in the loss of a brand-new luxury SUV.
Types of damages you can recover for an Alabama catastrophic injury
If you suffered a catastrophic injury in Alabama that was caused by someone’s negligence, you can file a lawsuit to recover damages that include both compensatory and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages include both economic and non-economic costs resulting from your injury.
Economic costs include:
- Medical treatment like surgeries, hospital stays, doctor visits, prescription medication, MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, other diagnostics and other treatments
- Assistive devices like wheelchairs or prosthetics and home or vehicle modifications if necessary
- Present lost wages and loss of future earning capacity if you need to take time off from work during your recovery or if you are unable to return to work in the same role as you had before the accident because of a disability
Non-economic costs include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress including Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or (PTSD) and mental anguish
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Non-compensatory damages are punitive damages. Punitive damages are sometimes awarded in addition to compensatory damages as a punishment to the defendant for especially reckless or malicious behavior. In Alabama, a court could award punitive damages up to 3 times the amount of compensatory damages, with a cap of $1.5 million.
Calculating pain and suffering in an Alabama catastrophic injury lawsuit
Because of the nature of a catastrophic injury, you might be looking to claim damages for pain and suffering.
Unlike medical treatment or lost wages, it’s hard to put a specific monetary value on pain and suffering. That’s why the courts have specific methods used to calculate these non-economic damages.
Regardless of which method is used in your case, there are 3 primary factors that determine an amount of damages for your pain and suffering:
- Severity of your injury
- Effects on your daily life. This depends on how much your life has changed and whether your injury is permanent.
- How the injury affects your mental health. This might include stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions that result from the accident and the changes to your life.
Calculating pain and suffering using the multiplier method
Your lawyer would negotiate with the other party’s lawyer to determine a number between 1 and 5 based on the severity of your injury.
A minor injury that has temporary effects and for which there’s expected to be a near-full recovery might be a 1. A catastrophic injury that will leave the plaintiff with life-long, serious and debilitating issues might be a 4 or 5.
The court would multiply that number by the amount of medical costs to arrive at a figure for pain and suffering. For example, if your medical bills are anticipated to be $600,000 and your multiplier is 4, you’d multiply 4 x $600,000 for a total of $2,400,000 in pain and suffering damages.
The per diem method
“Per diem” is Latin for “per day.” Similar to the multiplier method, your lawyer will calculate how much the injury costs you each day. Usually, this is related to something quantifiable, like your daily earnings before the accident.
Then, your lawyer (along with actuaries and other experts) calculates how many days you’ve suffered pain from the accident. So, if you earned $200 per day and the lawyers decide that your injury might cause you 5 years of pain, you might recover $365,000 (365 days x 5 years = 1,825 days, then multiplied by $200 per day = $365,000).
Negligence, liability and Alabama catastrophic injury lawsuits
If you were injured, you usually have 3 options for receiving compensation:
- To make an insurance claim, especially if the injury was caused by a car accident or a hazardous property condition,
- To make a workers’ compensation claim if the accident happened at work, or
- To file a personal injury lawsuit.
Negligence is when the accident or injury was caused because someone’s action (or inaction) lacked reasonable care to prevent an injury that was foreseeable. In other words, these elements must be present in order to make a claim for negligence:
Duty. The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff. This can be a situation where the parties know each other, like a doctor/patient relationship, for example—or when they don’t, like a driver and pedestrian.
A driver has a duty to every other road user to drive in a way that won’t cause harm. Likewise, a property owner has a duty to protect any person who is legally permitted to be on their property from suffering harm as a result of a hazardous condition.
- Breach. The defendant did not uphold their duty to prevent reasonably foreseeable harm to the plaintiff. “Reasonably foreseeable” means that an average person could anticipate that their behavior would cause someone to become injured.
- Causation. The defendant’s behavior has to be the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
- Injury. There must be an actual physical injury—a close call that ultimately left you uninjured won’t qualify for compensation in a lawsuit.
- Damages. The injury must have cost you money.
Any type of accident could result in a catastrophic injury if it’s severe. These can include:
|Type of injury
|Defective product injury
|Manufacturer, distributor or seller of a defective item
|Injured person’s employer
|Physician, hospital, pharmacy or other medical professionals
|Injury caused by a minor
|Slip and fall or other premises liability injury
|Owner or manager of the property
Alabama pure contributory negligence rule
There’s one aspect of Alabama law that makes some personal injury cases complicated, and that’s the Alabama pure contributory negligence rule. Each state follows 1 of 4 different fault systems, and these rules determine whether a plaintiff can receive damages if they had any role in or liability for the accident that caused the injury. Some states allow a plaintiff with shared liability to recover damages reduced by the amount for which they were liable, but Alabama does not.
In Alabama, if the plaintiff had any liability or contributed in any way to their own injury, they can’t receive any damages from a personal injury lawsuit.
This is why, particularly if the injury was caused by a car accident or similar where liability could be a question, it’s crucial to have a skilled Alabama lawyer who will review the evidence and absolve you of responsibility. In most states, it’s enough to minimize responsibility, but in Alabama, you can’t have any.
In other words, even if you didn’t cause the injury, if the court finds that you could have acted differently in a way that might have prevented it, you can’t recover damages.
Alabama workers’ compensation benefits for a catastrophic injury
The exception to the fault rule is if your injury happened at work.
Workers’ compensation benefits are no-fault insurance. In other words, if you suffer a catastrophic injury at work or while performing tasks related to your job, you can make a claim for workers’ comp benefits without proving negligence.
Workers’ compensation benefits include:
- Medical treatment
- Transportation to medical appointments
- A portion of lost wages
If you make a claim for workers’ compensation, you are not permitted to then file a lawsuit against your employer for that injury. However, there are instances when a personal injury lawsuit is your best recourse.
Specifically, you can file a 3rd-party claim if your injury was caused by the negligence of someone other than your employer. This could apply if the injury involved issues such as:
- A hazardous property condition on property not owned by your employer
- A defective product or safety equipment
- A car accident
Alabama statute of limitations for a catastrophic injury lawsuit
The statute of limitations is the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit.
Most personal injuries in Alabama must be filed within 2 years from the date of the injury. If you don’t file your lawsuit within that time, the court can refuse to hear your case.
What to do after a catastrophic injury
- Get medical treatment. Your physical recovery is the 1st priority after a major accident or injury. Before you begin to worry about anything else, see what you need to do in order to speed your recovery process by seeking medical care.
- Preserve evidence. After a serious injury, you’re probably not in a position to begin gathering evidence, but a trusted friend or family member might be able to help. If you were in a place where there was surveillance video or witnesses, you want to be sure that evidence is preserved until your attorney can review it.
- Consult a lawyer. Before you interact with an insurance company, find a lawyer who can handle negotiations and communications on your behalf. A catastrophic injury is serious and will result in high medical costs. Your lawyer is a trained negotiator who will work to prevent you from being liable for the accident and get you the highest possible settlement or damage award.
While these important logistical steps will make it easier for you to recover damages for a catastrophic injury, it’s important to keep track of your mental health, too.
Unlike a “simple” injury like a broken bone, a catastrophic injury will impact every aspect of your life, including your mental health.
You can help your case by keeping track of how the injury has affected your daily life:
- Keep a record each time you take a prescription painkiller and save the bottles. This can help show your level of pain based on how much medication you require to keep it controlled.
- Make sure to tell your doctor about any mental health issues you experience. Even if you don’t think you need therapy or medication to deal with the pain, it’s important for your medical record to show that you were experiencing emotional difficulty as you recovered from your injury.
- Seek out a mental health professional if necessary. Your physician can provide a referral to someone who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions you might be feeling.
- Keep a record of your use of mental health medications like antidepressants or anti-anxiety prescriptions.
- Maintain a daily journal of how you’re feeling. Any feelings or pain—no matter how large or small—can be important to record. You might forget a year from now how you felt today, and a journal is the best way to prove how an injury has affected you. Be sure to include how you feel physically and emotionally. Also, include if there were any activities you wanted or attempted to do and couldn’t because of your injury.
If you’ve suffered a catastrophic injury—or you’re the caregiver for someone who has—don’t miss an opportunity to receive the damages you deserve. Life has changed forever and irreparably—and that matters.