Answer the important questions about receiving damages and covering medical bills
Catastrophic injuries are called that for a reason. They are the most debilitating, the most life-changing and the most damaging of all. They can leave loved ones permanently disabled and possibly facing a lifetime of rehabilitation.
The situation can be very stressful, and in that event, it can be difficult to know what to do or how to handle financial responsibilities. Should you hire an attorney? How are you going to pay for everything? Is the injury even considered ‘catastrophic’?
How do I know if my injury is considered catastrophic?
So, what makes an injury catastrophic, anyway?
It’s the degree of seriousness that sets these injuries apart from a normal fracture or other incident. They are difficult to recover from, and sometimes full recovery is impossible. While there is no agreed-upon legal definition, injuries that cause long-term, debilitating symptoms and require a lengthy recovery are usually considered catastrophic. If someone needs live-in care, constant assistance, 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:
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Organ damage
- Spinal cord injuries
- Severe burns
- Loss of limb or disfigurement
These injuries can require extensive rehabilitation, multiple surgeries or cause a physical change that affects the injured person for the rest of his or her life.
Catastrophic injuries come from a number of circumstances and can happen pretty much anywhere at any time. (Comforting, right?) In Florida, they could be the result of a car accident or a theme park ride gone wrong for example.
Regardless of what happened or your personal situation, compensation may be available to help with the financial strain and emotional toll on you and your family.
How does catastrophic injury make my Florida claim different?
On a medical level, 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 serious nature of these injuries and the length of the recovery process means that medical expenses (as well as personal pain and suffering) are going to be greater than normal. A personal injury case involving a catastrophic injury is going to require more compensation to cover the higher damages suffered.
This will likely cause a fight with the defendant’s insurance company, as they will not want to pay for the amount of damages desired in the first place. Meanwhile, the victim’s insurance company may not want to pay for the ongoing cost of medical care.
So am I guaranteed a ton in damages if my injuries are severe?
Always read the fine print of a lawyer’s contract: “Past results do not guarantee future performance.” While catastrophic injuries would seem like a slam-dunk type of case, juries are unpredictable and high awards are not always awarded.
Insurance policy limits play a huge role in this type of case. If you are not filing against a corporation, then you are likely filing against an individual, and that person won’t have a huge policy limit. 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 that was clearly the fault of the 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 recognized "reasonable" costs for certain medical procedures or therapies, and any amount that may exceed 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 only receive four hundred dollars in compensation.
Lastly, Florida is what is known as a no-fault state. Drivers are 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.
How can I help my case succeed?
Make sure to save copies of documentation that you receive: medical records, receipts, police reports, literally anything that might be helpful to your case.
In addition to this, you can create your own. This means writing down your memories of the accident as soon as possible afterward and collecting 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.
Florida has a statute of limitations of four years for personal injury cases. If the case is being filed against the government, that time is diminished to three years with a 180-day investigatory period. Waiting to file your case past this deadline means forfeiting potential compensation.
Florida catastrophic injury laws
Florida’s courts follow the pure comparative negligence system, meaning that damages are apportioned based on the percentage of fault of each party. So if someone is 10% responsible for an accident and is awarded $100,000, that award would be reduced by 10%.
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. The Florida Supreme Court recently did away with damage caps for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, though the caps on punitive damages still remain.
Should I even bother with a lawsuit?
It’s a serious consideration. Many people ask this question.
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.
For some, it can seem easier to handle the legal process yourself, but hiring an attorney should always be on your radar, especially after a catastrophic injury. 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 a few attorneys for a free consultation and see how you may receive compensation. 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:
- "The Truth About Recovering from a Brain Injury"
- "Emotional and Psychological Trauma"
- "Grieving Chronic Illness and Injury – Infinite Losses"
- Brainline – "For Family and Friends"
- "Understanding and Improving Body Image after Burn Injury"
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.