Out of all personal injuries, catastrophic injuries are the most debilitating and damaging of all. They can leave loved ones permanently disabled and possibly facing a lifetime of rehabilitation.
Stress is high, and it can be difficult to know where to turn in the event of such a serious accident and looming financial responsibilities. You're probably wondering how you're going to be able to pay for it all, or whether you should even bother hiring an attorney. You may not even know if you or your loved one's injury is considered catastrophic or not.
Let's take a look at some questions involving catastrophic injures and how you should go about building your case for compensation to help with your injuries and damages.
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 full recovery is impossible.
There is 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.
Each of these injuries can require multiple surgeries, extensive rehabilitation, or cause a physical change that affects the injured person for the rest of his or her life.
Catastrophic injuries can come from 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 your and those around you.
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 more minor 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 legal effort to gain since insurance companies are much less willing to pay higher amounts for ongoing expenses and suffering.
Not only that, but a defendant's insurance often will not cover the amount of damages desired in the first place, and that can be challenging to overcome.
While catastrophic injuries certainly warrant it, high compensation is not always awarded in these types of injury cases.
Firstly, insurance plays a huge role in personal injury cases. If your case is not being filed against a corporation, it's likely that your compensation will come from the defendant's insurance policies.
If the person responsible does not possess enough insurance coverage, it may not be possible to receive enough compensation to 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.
This was the case for the sister of one of our editors. She was a passenger in a motorbike accident which was clearly the fault of the driver. Neither she nor the driver had any form of insurance and he also had no personal assets, leaving her with no recourse for compensation for the deep scars she would have to live with for the rest of her life.
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 any amount that may exceed the reasonable number may not be paid in compensation. For example, if the reasonable cost of your rehab therapy is $4,000 and your bill is $6,000, you may only receive four thousand dollars of compensation when all is said and done.
Lastly, Texas is what is known as a comparative fault state.
This means that the amount of compensation you are due will fluctuate depending on if you were at all at fault in the accident. If you were at fault even partially, your compensation may be limited depending on how much of the accident was your fault. (This is not the case if the concept of strict liability is in play. Learn about the major types of liability with Texas case examples.)
One of the most important steps to make your injury case successful is to save copies of all documentation you may receive. Anything from medical records and receipts to police reports need to be kept as they can be very valuable in your case.
In addition to saving existing documentation, it's also important to create your own. This means writing down any memories of the accident as soon as possible and collecting witness information in case you need their testimonies later on.
See 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, and this makes it difficult to have all your due compensation accounted for.
Texas has a strict statute of limitations of two years for personal injury cases. If the case is being filed against the government, that time is diminished to six months. Waiting to file your case past this deadline means a forfeit of any potential compensation.
Texas law allows people with catastrophic injuries the right to compensation to help cover both economic and non-economic compensatory damages.
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) do not have a damage cap in Texas, but punitive damages (damages designed to punish those responsible) do. Punitive damages cannot exceed two 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 this case, 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. (Nolo goes into details more here.)
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.
Many people involved in serious accidents ask this question.
It's understandable that you may be just concerned with getting by and getting medical treatment at this point. Pursuing a lawsuit while your husband is in the ICU hanging on by a thread may seem like the last thing you want to take on. But know 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 had wished you'd had the foresight to at least talk to a few attorneys.
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-altering in their severity. Medical treatment may cost thousands of dollars, and insurance companies are not likely to offer this money up without a fight. Attorneys can negotiate with insurance companies and those responsible for your catastrophic injury as well as investigate fault and make sure all details of your case are orderly.
After you've sought proper medical treatment for your catastrophic injuries, contact a few experienced 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 that is suffering from one:
Free personal injury guides for download to print or save. View all downloads.