A basic guide to Florida’s catastrophic injury laws
If you get into a car accident and hurt yourself – a “regular” injury, let’s say, that heals within a normal timeframe – you might spend a few weeks or a few months healing, and then you’re back in the game, walking down the Florida beaches like nothing ever happened.
But what about catastrophic injuries? What if that facial scar you got during the car accident never faded? What if your arm needed to be amputated?
These sorts of injuries – disfigurements or amputations – are permanent reminders of the worst days of your life. They face the financial burden of someone else’s negligence.
Amputations or disfigurements are irreversible, though scientific studies are leading to promising surgeries that might allow some semblance of normalcy for patients.
Many individuals can succeed with prosthetics or reconstructive surgeries after suffering catastrophic injuries, though they must relearn even the most basic of tasks: brushing their teeth, walking, combing their hair, or even eating.
The accident itself might also cause a new amputee or disfigurement victim to go through severe situational depression, which can take months or even years to overcome.
What is considered amputation or disfigurement?
Amputation occurs when someone experiences the removal of a limb or digit because of an external trauma, like a car accident, or because of medical intervention, like if someone is suffering from a bacterial infection. An amputation can stop the spreading of a virus, for example – and sometimes chopping off a limb is the only way to do it.
Disfigurement is permanent damage or scarring to bone or soft tissue, such as fascia, skin, ligaments or muscles. This can present as outwardly visible damage like burns or scarring, or it can be inside the body as nerve damage, like intense pain or numbness.
Both disfigurement and amputation fall into the category of “catastrophic injuries,” which require lifelong rehabilitation. These injuries will likely always have an effect on the patient in some manner.
Here are some typical cases that the court system has seen:
- Dog bites: A dog’s owner is responsible for any scarring or injuries resulting from a dog’s attacking of a human.
- Fires/chemical burns/hot liquids: Plastic surgery might be the only way to fix these potentially severe disfigurements.
- Road rash: Hitting pavement or being hit by an air bag can cause burns, abrasions or skin peeling.
- Fractures and amputations from accidents: These can result in bodily restriction and physical rehabilitation. Accidents can frequently occur among the following:
What makes amputation or disfigurement cases different?
Amputation and disfigurement cases are, by their very nature, expensive. They last for the patient’s entire life. The medical care involved is extensive and involved. Keeping track of it all is, to say the least, complicated. (Using something like a Damages Worksheet can help make sense of it.)
A catastrophic injury patient will need medications, medical equipment, doctors’ visits, physical therapy, psychological care, and much, much more over the course of his or her lifespan. Additionally, there will be mountains of medical testimony and expert witnesses in a negligence case – proving fault can be a battle in and of itself. Many amputation cases also require naming third parties, because machinery was involved that was defective in its safety warnings (just to name an example).
These cases can be a strange blending of the law. Here are some other examples:
- Medical malpractice (if the injury was caused by a doctor or in a hospital)
- Motor vehicle cases (if the injury was caused on the road)
- Workers’ compensation law (if the injury happened on the job)
- Product liability law (if the injury was caused by faulty machinery)
What laws exist in Florida relating to amputation and disfigurement?
In Florida, the statute of limitations for negligence claims is four years. While product liability claims are also four years, medical malpractice claims have a two-year limit. Depending on how your accident happened, you will want to keep this in mind. (The statute means you have to file your paperwork with the court by that time, or you lose your right to file.)
Florida is a pure comparative fault state, which apportions damages based on the percentage of fault. This means that you can recover damages even if you are 99% at fault for your injuries – you can still get that 1%.
There are also damage caps in Florida, but they are for punitive damages. Damages are divided into non-economic and economic categories (also known as special and general). Here are some examples of both:
- Current and future medical expenses;
- Lost wages;
- Property damage;
- Funeral costs or wrongful death;
- Pain and suffering;
- Loss of companionship;
- Emotional trauma; or
- Loss of quality of life.
The next steps you should take
A lawsuit of this caliber will take a lot of mental preparation. You are going to need to be in a place where you can handle it. While your attorney is going to be doing most of the grunt work, you will need to participate, whether in depositions, medical exams or testimony. If you need to preserve your claim but can’t face the rest of it yet, have an attorney simply file the paperwork so that your rights are protected.
When actually pursuing the claim, though? You’ll want an expert. Have a loved one help you gather relevant documents like medical records, bills, outstanding expenses, police reports and anything else you feel might be helpful. Once your attorney has determined liability and how much compensation you’re owed, you can attempt to reach a settlement with the defendant. If you can’t reach a settlement, then you’ll have to proceed to trial – in which case, you’ll want a heavyweight lawyer in your corner. Read some of the resources below and speak with some of Enjuris’ Florida attorneys, who are well versed in this area. They will be able to help you through this.
Helpful resources to help you hire the best Florida personal injury lawyer
- How to find a good Florida personal injury lawyer
- What does a Florida personal injury lawyer actually do for you?
- Choosing a personal injury attorney – interview questions
- How to talk to a lawyer
- Negotiating lawyers’ fees - how do accident lawyers charge? Are there any hidden costs?
As much as your family and friends love you, they aren’t going to understand what you are experiencing. It helps to speak with people who understand your situation, so check out the following resources:
- The Amputee Coalition
- "Handling Reactions to Facial Disfigurement"
- "The Psychology of Losing a Limb"