Answer the important questions about receiving damages and covering medical bills
Catastrophic injuries are the most debilitating, life-changing and damaging of all — hence their name. They can leave you or a loved one permanently disabled and or facing a lifetime of grueling rehabilitation.
This can obviously be very stressful, and in that event, it can be difficult to know how to proceed. Should you hire an attorney? How are you going to pay for those unending medical bills? Is the injury even categorized as “catastrophic”?
Is my injury catastrophic?
The way to tell if an injury is “catastrophic” is by its degree of seriousness; that’s what sets these injuries apart from a normal fracture or other cut. They are tough to recover from, and sometimes total recovery is impossible. While there is no agreed-upon legal definition (and indeed, the answer can be subjective), injuries that cause long-term, debilitating symptoms and require a long recovery are normally considered catastrophic. If someone needs constant assistance, live-in care, is permanently disabled (i.e. paralyzed) or suffers a permanent loss in his quality of life, that will label an injury as catastrophic.
The following injuries are common:
- Organ damage
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Severe burns
- Spinal cord injuries
- Loss of limb or disfigurement
Injuries of this magnitude can require multiple corrective surgeries, extensive rehabilitation or cause a physical change that affects the injured person for the rest of his or her natural life.
Catastrophic injuries come from a number of circumstances and can happen pretty much anywhere at any time. In Colorado, they could be the result of a car accident or a ski trip gone wrong, for example.
No matter what happened, compensation may be available to help with the financial strain and emotional toll on you and your family.
What makes my Colorado claim different?
We know that catastrophic injuries are different because of their long-term or permanent nature.
They also differ on a legal basis as well.
The grim nature of these injuries and the length of the recovery process mean that medical expenses (as well as pain and suffering) are going to be much higher than normal. A personal injury case involving a catastrophic injury is going to require more compensation to cover the higher damages suffered.
This will more likely than not cause a fight with the defendant’s insurance company, as they will not want to pay for the amount of damages desired. Meanwhile, the victim’s insurance company may not want to pay for the ongoing cost of medical care. This will leave the victim in a very precarious lurch.
Am I guaranteed damages if my injuries are catastrophic?
All lawyers include the same fine print in their contracts: “Past results do not guarantee future performance.” While catastrophic injuries would seem like a hole-in-one type of case, juries are as unpredictable as the weather and high awards are not always doled out, no matter what the circumstances were.
Insurance policy limits play a huge role in this type of case, and people tend to forget that part. If you are not filing suit against a corporation with deep assets, then you are likely filing against an individual, and that person won’t have a huge policy limit unless he happens to be Scrooge McDuck. It might be that you don’t receive enough to cover your damages, and you’ll have to file another lawsuit against the defendant’s personal assets.
If those don’t exist, compensation might not be possible.
This was the case for the sister of one of our editors. She was a passenger in a motorbike accident, and liability was clear on the part of the other driver. Neither she nor the driver had any form of insurance, and he also had no personal assets. This left her with no recourse for compensation for the deep scars she would have to live with for the rest of her life.
Additionally, while there's no question that you or your loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury, some of your expenses may be viewed as "unreasonable."
There are certain "reasonable" costs for recognized medical procedures or therapies, and any amount that exceeds the reasonable number may not be paid in compensation. For example, if the reasonable cost of your physical therapy is $400 and your bill is $600, you may have to pay that remaining difference.
Lastly, Colorado is what is known as a fault state. It was no-fault until 2003; before, drivers were expected to turn to their car insurance for medical bills, not to the other driver, in an effort to make the court system more efficient. After the law changed, drivers were expected to pick up more insurance ($25,000 per person for bodily injuries, $50,000 per accident, $15,000 for property damage at minimum).
In addition to this, Colorado also follows comparative fault, meaning that a victim can also be held responsible for his portion of the accident and damages lowered accordingly. If the victim is found to be more than 50% responsible, he or she cannot recover damages. So, if a victim were awarded $100,000 but was 30% responsible, the take-home would be $70,000.
Claimants can recover for damages like:
- Emotional trauma
- Current and future medical expenses
- Lost wages and time at work
- Pain and suffering
There are, however, damage caps. For pain and suffering, the amount is $250,000 plus inflation, unless there is clear and convincing evidence for an exception or permanent damage. There is a total cap at $500,000.
How can I help my case succeed?
At this point, it helps to become your own secretary or have a loved one help you. Save copies of documentation that you receive: bills, medical records, receipts, police reports, anything that might assist your case.
In addition to this, write down your memories of the accident and collect witness information in case you need to get their testimonies later on.
Here’s a checklist of 30 documents that can help your personal injury case. When you decide to file your case can also either help or hinder its success. Filing too early means that your medical problems or other damages may not yet be fully assessed. This makes it difficult to have all your due compensation accounted for. Wait until you reach what is called “maximum medical improvement,” which is doctor speak for “you’re getting as better as you’re going to get.”
Colorado has a statute of limitations of three years for personal injury cases. If the case is being filed against the government, however, that time is diminished to 180 days. Waiting to file your case past this deadline means forfeiting potential compensation.
Should I even bother with a lawsuit?
It’s understandable that you are just concerned with getting medical treatment at this point, and healing is certainly a priority. However, there are going to be bills down the road. Catastrophic injuries have a tendency to hang around.
Don’t even try handling this sort of case yourself. It’s not like a fender bender. These injuries are massively complicated and require voluminous medical records, expert testimony, exams and much more.
It’s better to let an attorney handle all that so you can just focus on healing in the meantime.
After you’ve sought proper medical treatment for your injuries, contact some attorneys for a free consultation. Suffering a catastrophic accident or watching a loved one’s pain and suffering can take its toll. Here are a few resources and articles to help you cope with a catastrophic injury or care for someone who is suffering from one:
- Brainline – "For Family and Friends"
- "The Truth About Recovering from a Brain Injury"
- "Grieving Chronic Illness and Injury – Infinite Losses"
- "Emotional and Psychological Trauma"
- "Understanding and Improving Body Image after Burn Injury"