Recovering After a North Carolina Catastrophic Injury
If you can no longer work, you need to know how much your lifetime of earnings would be worth.
A catastrophic injury changes your life forever. Aside from the physical pain you endure, it also means you can no longer work. So how are you going to survive or take care of your family’s bills? Many catastrophic injury accidents are from car or truck crashes, a workplace injury, sports, or other kinds of serious incidents for which you might be entitled to recover financial damages.
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Any injury feels painful and significant when it happens to you.
A “catastrophic” injury, however, is one that results in severe and life-altering impairment. Often, a catastrophic injury leaves the victim requiring life-long medical treatment or daily care needs. It can also be defined as an injury that permanently prevents you from performing any gainful work.
Some catastrophic injuries include:
- Spinal cord injury
- Traumatic brain injury
- Loss of hearing or sight
- Ruptured kidneys, spleen, liver or bowels
54 million... people in the U.S. who suffer a spinal cord injury each year.
2 million... people in the U.S. who live with limb loss.
185,000... amputations in the U.S. each year.
500,000... people in the U.S. per year who are treated in a hospital for burn injuries.
2.87 million... people who were hospitalized in the U.S. in 2014 for a traumatic brain injury.
Types of damages after a catastrophic injury
Because of its severity, a catastrophic injury is likely to result in more extensive and expensive medical treatment than other kinds of injuries. It might involve a lengthy hospital stay, surgeries, rehabilitation, ongoing therapies, and necessary assistive devices or modifications to your home or vehicle. These are economic damages.
Other economic damages include lost wages since one element of a catastrophic injury is being unable to work.
In addition to your own inability to work, you might have additional economic losses if a spouse or other family member needs to give up their income in order to become a full- or part-time caregiver. It’s not necessarily just about your income — your household financial situation can be affected in a variety of ways.
Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and other losses that don’t have a specific monetary value.
Calculating pain and suffering using the multiplier method
In North Carolina, there are a few methods that can be used to calculate pain and suffering. One is the multiplier method.
Here’s how it works:
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) calculate how many days you’ve suffered pain from the accident. So, if you earned $200 per day and the lawyers decided 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).
Using either of the multiplier or the per diem methods, the negotiations would likely hinge on these factors to determine an amount of damages for pain and suffering:
- Severity of your injury
- Effects on your daily life, which would be 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.
Although pain and suffering can’t be measured objectively, there are some things you can do to help your lawyer and the courts to quantify what you’re experiencing:
- 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.
Causes of catastrophic injuries
A catastrophic injury can happen in a variety of ways. These are some of the most common:
North Carolina contributory negligence law
In a catastrophic injury lawsuit, you need to prove that someone was negligent and that their negligence caused your injury.
But North Carolina liability laws are a little more complicated than most other states.
North Carolina is 1 of 5 states that follows the pure contributory negligence rule. If the plaintiff has any fault for the accident, they aren’t allowed to receive any damages.
If a defendant claims that the plaintiff contributed to the accident, the tables are turned and the plaintiff is in a position where they must defend against that claim. In such cases, the following legal strategies may be used:
- Gross negligence. Gross negligence is when a defendant has engaged in “willful or wanton conduct” that caused the plaintiff’s injury. “Wanton” means the defendant’s behavior involves an actual or deliberate intention to harm or indifference to safety, either their own or someone else’s. If the defendant was grossly negligent, the plaintiff would not be liable for contributory negligence.
- Last clear chance doctrine. This rule says that even if the plaintiff was contributorily negligent, if the defendant could have avoided the accident by using reasonable care at any moment up until the injury happened, the plaintiff cannot be at fault because the defendant could’ve prevented the accident. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff to provide evidence to demonstrate that the defendant knew that the plaintiff was at risk of being hurt and could’ve avoided the injury or damage and failed to do so.
- Proximate cause doctrine. The court determines whether the plaintiff’s injury was the foreseeable result of the defendant’s action, which is called “proximate cause.” In North Carolina, the court can require that the plaintiff’s contributory negligence was the proximate cause of the injury in order to bar recovery. If the court finds that the plaintiff’s action was not the proximate cause, then the plaintiff wouldn’t be barred from recovering damages.
What to do after a catastrophic injury
- Get medical treatment. Your physical recovery is the first 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 will be 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.
You can use the Enjuris law firm directory to find a North Carolina attorney who routinely handles catastrophic injury cases and who will manage yours with compassion, skill, and expertise.
Tell your story:
Tell your story
- What would you want others to know? Tell us what happened in your accident, and how life has changed for you.