Answers to the important questions about catastrophic injuries and compensation
Out of all personal injuries, catastrophic injuries are the most debilitating. They can leave you or your loved ones permanently disabled and facing a lifetime of rehabilitation.
Any act of carelessness can result in a catastrophic injury. When this happens, a personal injury attorney can help you file a lawsuit to receive compensation from the individual or entity responsible.
Let's take a closer look at catastrophic injuries, including how these serious claims differ from other personal injury claims, and what damages can be recovered in a catastrophic injury lawsuit.
Is my injury considered catastrophic?
What exactly makes an injury "catastrophic" in the first place?
The thing that sets catastrophic injuries apart from other injuries is their degree of seriousness. These types of injuries are very difficult to recover from, and sometimes a full recovery is impossible.
There's no particular legal definition attributed to "catastrophic injury," but any injury that causes long-term, debilitating symptoms and requires a lengthy recovery process is usually considered to be catastrophic.
Some factors or events that can contribute to an injury being deemed "catastrophic" include:
- The need for live-in care or constant assistance
- Permanent disability (for example, paralysis)
- Permanent loss in quality of life
Some common injuries that are often considered catastrophic include:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Organ damage
Each of these injuries can require multiple surgeries, extensive rehabilitation, or cause a physical change that affects the injured person for the rest of their life.
Catastrophic injuries can be caused by a variety of circumstances and can happen pretty much anywhere at any time. In Texas, they could be the result of a car accident or an explosion at an oil refinery, for example.
Regardless of your situation, compensation may be available to help with the financial strain and emotional toll on you and those around you.
How is a catastrophic injury claim different than other personal injury claims?
Medically, we know that catastrophic injuries are different due to their long-term or permanent nature.
Legally, catastrophic injuries differ greatly from other injuries, too.
The serious nature of catastrophic injuries, and the length of the recovery process, means that medical expenses and pain and suffering are going to be higher than you would see with a less severe injury. A personal injury case involving a catastrophic injury will require more compensation to cover the higher damages suffered. Those higher damages will also require more effort to win since insurance companies are much less willing to pay higher amounts for ongoing expenses and suffering.
The best thing you can do to help ensure that you're fully compensated is to keep meticulous records. Be sure to document your medical appointments and medications, your day-to-day pain and suffering, and your lost wages.
Medication Log Sheet
Printable daily medication log template helps you track your medicines and side effects
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Damages worksheet to track expenses for your injury claim (medical treatment, property damage, lost wages, prescriptions)
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Are catastrophic injuries guaranteed to result in higher compensation?
While catastrophic injuries certainly warrant it, high compensation isn't always awarded in these types of injury cases.
Firstly, insurance plays a huge role in personal injury cases. If your case isn't being filed against a corporation, it's likely that your compensation will come from the defendant's insurance policies. If the person responsible doesn't possess enough insurance coverage, it may not be possible to receive enough compensation to fully cover your damages. If this is the case, you will likely have to file another lawsuit against that individual's personal assets.
If no valuable assets exist, compensation may not be possible.
Secondly, while there's no question that you or your loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury, some of your expenses may be seen as "unreasonable." What this means is that there are recognized "reasonable" costs for certain medical procedures or therapies, and you may not be compensated for any amount that may exceed the "reasonable" cost.
For example, if the reasonable cost of your rehab therapy is $4,000 and your bill is $6,000, you may only receive $4,000 of compensation when all is said and done.
Lastly, Texas is what's known as a modified comparative fault state.
This means that the amount of compensation you are owed will fluctuate depending on whether you were partially at fault for the accident. If you were partially at fault for the accident, your compensation will be reduced by your percentage of fault. What's more, if your percentage of fault exceeds 50%, you are prohibited from recovering any compensation.
An overview of Texas catastrophic injury law
Texas law allows people with catastrophic injuries the right to seek compensation to help pay for both economic and non-economic compensatory damages.
Economic damages are those related to the monetary losses you suffer after an accident, such as:
- Current and future medical expenses
- Lost wages and time at work
Non-economic damages are those related to losses that don't have a tangible economic value, such as:
Texas, like most states, sometimes inflicts a damage cap for personal injury cases, including catastrophic injuries.
Texas catastrophic injury law states that there are two types of damages that may be awarded in a catastrophic injury case: compensatory and punitive. Compensatory damages (economic and non-economic damages to reimburse the injured) don't have a damage cap in Texas, but punitive damages (damages designed to punish those responsible) do. Punitive damages can't exceed 2 times the amount of economic compensatory damages awarded and no more than $750,000 for non-economic compensatory damages.
Further, medical malpractice cases have their own set of rules. In medical malpractice cases, economic damages still have no cap. However, you may not be able to receive more than $250,000 in non-economic damages per defendant that can be held responsible for your injuries.
These sorts of damage caps can easily hinder your catastrophic injury case in Texas, and it can make receiving a proper amount of compensation difficult.
Finally, Texas has a strict statute of limitations of 2 years for personal injury cases. If the case is being filed against the government, the time to file your lawsuit is reduced to 6 months. Waiting to file your lawsuit past these deadlines means a forfeit of any potential compensation.
Should you hire an attorney?
Many people involved in serious accidents ask this question.
It's understandable that you may just be concerned with getting by and getting medical treatment at this point. Pursuing a lawsuit while your partner is in the ICU hanging on by a thread may seem like the last thing you want to take on. But it's important to understand that you're going to need financial help down the road, and there will likely come a time when it's too late and you wished you had the foresight to talk to an attorney.
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.
Catastrophic injuries are, by nature, very serious and life-changing in their severity. Medical treatment may cost thousands of dollars, and insurance companies aren't likely to offer this money up without a fight. Attorneys can take on insurance companies and those responsible for your catastrophic injury as well as investigate fault and make sure all the details of your case are in order.
After you've sought proper medical treatment for your catastrophic injuries, interview a few experienced attorneys to find the one who's right for you.
Personal Injury Attorney Interview Sheet
Worksheet with questions to ask a personal injury attorney to help determine if he or she will be a good fit for your case
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If you need help locating an experienced catastrophic injury attorney near you, consider taking a look at our free online lawyer directory.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.