How do catastrophic injury claims differ from other personal injury claims?
There are no “good” injuries, but most would agree that some injuries are worse than others.
The American Medical Association (AMA) defines a “catastrophic injury” as a severe injury to the spine or brain. The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research (NCCSIR) has a much broader definition that includes fatalities, temporary or transient paralysis, cardiac arrest, and other serious injuries.
However you choose to define the term, there are a few things you should know about catastrophic injuries and how they’re treated under Indiana law.
What are the common types of catastrophic injuries?
The easiest way to think about catastrophic injuries is that they’re injuries that cause long-term damage. Common examples of catastrophic injuries include:
- Severe burn injuries
What are the common causes of catastrophic injuries?
An American is accidentally injured every second and killed every 3 minutes by a preventable event, according to the National Safety Council.
Although there are countless ways in which you can suffer a catastrophic injury, there are certain accidents that are more likely to cause catastrophic injuries than others. These include:
Indiana University cheerleader Kelly Craig was a passenger in a Ford Taurus heading east on County Road 240. At the same time, a GMC truck driven by a drunk driver was heading west. The truck drifted into the eastbound lane at 70 miles per hour and collided with the Ford Taurus.
Kelly was paralyzed from her neck down as a result of the accident.
Despite the tragic crash, Kelly became a successful teacher and recently released her memoir Fractured Not Broken.
Who can be sued for a catastrophic injury?
As is the case with all personal injury cases, you must prove that someone is at fault for your injury in order to recover damages. Who’s at fault depends on the nature of your accident.
Let’s take a look at some common defendants:
|Type of accident||Potential defendants|
|Motor vehicle accident||Another driver, a motorcyclist, a bicyclist, a pedestrian, or the town or a private property owner who failed to properly maintain the road|
|Slip and fall accident||Owner or manager of the property|
|Dog bite accident||Dog owner|
|Medical malpractice||Doctor, nurse, or another healthcare professional|
|Plane crash or aviation accident||Pilot, plane owner, manufacturer of the plane or plane component, maintenance or repair facility|
|Defective product injury||Manufacturer, distributor, or seller of the defective product|
|Swimming pool accident||Property owner, town or city, or pool occupant|
In most catastrophic injury cases, the legal theory used to prove liability is negligence. Negligence requires the plaintiff to establish that:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty,
- The defendant breached the duty, and
- The breach was the direct and proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
What happens if a catastrophic injury is sustained at work?
In Indiana, most employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance under the Workers’ Compensation Act.
Workers’ compensation covers most injuries so long as the injury occurs while you’re performing a work duty. For example, you’ll be covered if you fall from a ladder while working at a construction site, but you probably won’t be covered if you get into an accident on your way home from work.
Workers’ compensation provides benefits depending on the nature of your injury. Catastrophic injuries will pay out significantly more than minor injuries, but all injuries are subject to certain state caps. If, however, you’re injured by a third party (someone other than your employer or colleagues) while at work, you may be able to file a third-party lawsuit against the at-fault party and recover damages above and beyond what you receive under workers’ compensation.
What compensation can I recover for a catastrophic injury?
The goal of a personal injury claim is to make the plaintiff “whole.” To put it another way, personal injury lawsuits are supposed to return the plaintiff to their pre-accident condition, financially speaking.
With catastrophic injuries, it’s impossible to return the plaintiff to their pre-accident condition. As a result, catastrophic injury claims generally result in large damage awards intended to ease the burden of the injury over the course of the plaintiff’s life.
In Indiana, plaintiffs can recover both economic and non-economic damages:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by an accident and include things like medical expenses, lost income, and property damage.
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by an accident and include things like pain and suffering and emotional distress.
If the defendant acted intentionally or with gross negligence, the plaintiff may also be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and deter them and others from engaging in similar behavior.
Damage caps for catastrophic injuries
Like many other states, Indiana places limits on the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover in a personal injury case. Though damage caps don’t impact lots of personal injury cases, they’re more likely to impact catastrophic injury cases.
In Indiana, the following damages are capped:
- Punitive damages are capped at 3 times the amount of the compensatory (economic and non-economic) damage award or $50,000, whichever is greater.
- Medical malpractice damages are capped at $1.8 million.
- If your lawsuit is filed against a government entity, the total amount you can recover is capped at $700,000.
- Jurors awarded Gregory Smith $35 million in a lawsuit against a drunk driver who left Gregory a quadriplegic.
- Jurors awarded a woman $15 million after a radiologist failed to detect her cancer on a CT scan. The medical malpractice damage caps didn’t apply to the case because the radiologist was an independent contractor not covered under the damage cap laws.
- Jurors awarded a Lafayette woman $157 million in a lawsuit against the manufacturer of a tree stand that malfunctioned, resulting in her husband’s death.
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