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Catastrophic Injury Claims in Tennessee

Are catastrophic injuries treated differently than less-serious injuries under the law?

Find out what you need to prove to win a catastrophic injury claim, what damages you can recover, and what laws might impact your claim in the Volunteer State.

All injuries are not created equal. It’s no wonder then that the law treats minor injuries different from catastrophic injuries.

If you suffered a catastrophic injury, you may be able to recover additional damages to help you on your road to recovery. There are, however, some things you should keep in mind.

Without further delay, let’s take a look at catastrophic injuries and catastrophic injury claims in Tennessee.

Gilreath & Associates
Gilreath & Associates

Representing injured victims in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis
(800) 637-7024 Specialty: Personal injury


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Common catastrophic injuries

The term “catastrophic injury” is a broad term typically used to describe any injury that leaves the victim with permanent damages. Common catastrophic injuries include:

  • Blindness
  • Deafness

Facing factsIn 2017, there were 18,024 TBI-related emergency room visits, 5,262 hospitalizations, and 1,485 deaths in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

In Tennessee, “catastrophic injury” also has a specific legal definition when used in the context of determining which damages cap applies to a personal injury lawsuit (more on this later). In this specific context, the term “catastrophic injury” includes the following injuries:

  • Spinal cord injuries resulting in paraplegia or quadriplegia
  • Amputation of 2 hands, 2 feet, or 1 of each
  • Third-degree burns covering 40% or more of the total body
  • Third-degree burns covering 40% or more of the face
  • Wrongful death of a parent leaving a surviving minor child

Causes of catastrophic injuries

Tennesseans spent a total of roughly 3.7 million days in Tennessee hospitals in 2019. Though any accident can result in a catastrophic injury, there are certain accidents that are more likely to cause catastrophic injuries, such as:

When can you sue for a catastrophic injury?

A personal injury lawsuit is an option for you if someone else was “at fault” for your catastrophic injury. The terms “at fault” and “liability” refer to a negligent or intentional failure to act reasonably or according to a specific legal duty.

Let’s take a quick look at lawsuits based on negligence and lawsuits based on intentional acts:

Catastrophic injury claims based on negligence

When someone is careless and their carelessness causes an injury to another person, the person may be held liable under the legal principle of negligence.

To prove negligence in Tennessee, a plaintiff must establish that:

  1. The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care (in most cases, the duty of care owed is a duty to act as a reasonably prudent person would act under the circumstances),
  2. The defendant breached the duty of care (by, for example, acting unreasonably), and
  3. The breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injury.
Real Life Example: In Bartlett, Tennessee, a 12-year-old boy went to his bus stop to be picked up for school by a bus operated by Durham School Services. However, the bus arrived early and left the stop 7 minutes before the boy’s scheduled pick-up.

Realizing that he had missed the bus, the boy grabbed his bicycle and started to bike to school. During the bike ride, the boy was hit by a truck and sustained catastrophic brain damage.

The boy’s parents sued Durham, arguing that the bus company was negligent for failing to take steps outlined in its own internal policies to ensure that the bus driver waited until the scheduled pick-up time before leaving the stop.

The court found that Durham was negligent and partially at fault for the boy’s injuries.

Catastrophic injury lawsuits based on intentional acts

A catastrophic injury can be caused by an intentional act (sometimes called an intentional tort). The most obvious example is when someone commits battery or assault, but there are other intentional acts that may cause catastrophic injuries—including:

  • Arson
  • Homicide
  • Sexual abuse/sexual assault
  • Fraud/deceit

Real Life Example: Daniel Wilkey, a former deputy with the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office, was charged with more than 40 counts ranging from rape and sexual battery to extortion stemming from his time as an officer.

To date, the former deputy has been named in 4 civil lawsuits.

Notably, an injured person can sue a police officer, but there are some legal limitations to keep in mind.

Catastrophic injuries at work

If you suffered a catastrophic injury as a result of a workplace accident, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays financial benefits to employees who are injured while performing their job duties. Most catastrophic injuries are covered so long as the injury occurred during the course of employment. What’s more, most employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.

The biggest difference between a workers’ compensation claim and a personal injury lawsuit is that you don’t have to prove that anyone was “at fault” to receive financial benefits through a workers’ compensation claim.

Enjuris tip: There are a number of specific steps you must take to successfully file a workers’ compensation claim in Tennessee.

Compensation for a catastrophic injury

Unfortunately, catastrophic injuries almost always mean catastrophic costs. Though most injuries result in medical expenses, catastrophic injuries often result in substantial long-term medical expenses. These expenses might include the cost of:

  • Surgeries and treatments
  • Therapy (physical and mental therapy)
  • Medication
  • In-home care or nursing home

There’s also usually a lost income component to a catastrophic injury. For example, a professional ballet dancer who suffers a catastrophic spine injury will most likely lose income as a result of no longer being able to perform the job they performed prior to the injury.

When it comes to recovering damages for a catastrophic injury in Tennessee, there’s both good and bad news.

The good news is that Tennessee allows plaintiffs to recover economic, non-economic, and punitive damages:

  • Economic damages represent the monetary losses associated with your injury (medical expenses, lost wages, etc.)
  • Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary damages associated with your injury (pain and suffering, etc.)
  • Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are available in cases where the defendant’s actions were malicious, fraudulent, or reckless.

The bad news is that Tennessee places a damages cap (i.e., a limit to the amount you can receive in a lawsuit) on both non-economic damages and punitive damages.

Non-economic damages are capped in the amount of $750,000. In cases where the plaintiff suffers “catastrophic injuries,” the cap is increased to $1 million.

Additionally, Tennessee places a cap on punitive damages in the amount of $500,000—or twice the amount of the compensatory damages awarded, whichever is greater.

Enjuris tip: Learn more about calculating the value of your claim in Tennessee.

Resources for survivors of a catastrophic injury

Catastrophic injuries are traumatic. Research has long shown that strong support services are vital in recovering from a traumatic event. With that in mind, here are some resources for catastrophic injury victims in Tennessee:

If you suffered a catastrophic injury, you may have legal recourse that can help you get the financial support you need. Use our free online directory to locate an experienced attorney in your area.

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