Injuries termed catastrophic, as the description suggest, have devastating, life-altering effects. The definition of the word catastrophic is coined from the word catastrophe which means an event that leads to sudden damage, suffering, fear, danger or disaster.
A catastrophic injury is one that causes irreparable damage to major areas of the body, such as the spine, spinal cord or brain, as well as other vital parts of the body. Such injuries leave victims with lifetime disabilities, putting stress on family and loved ones who often need to provide financial, physical and emotional assistance to their loved one throughout his or her lifetime.
Such victims usually require medical care throughout their lifetimes, often including repeated reconstructive surgeries and extensive physical and occupational therapy. A catastrophic injury is usually one that occurs as the result of an unplanned and significant trauma, with long-term effects on the victim. If you or a loved one has experienced a catastrophic injury due to someone else's negligence, contact our Boston personal injury law office of Swartz & Swartz, P.C.
What is a Catastrophic Personal Injury?
The major factors that determine whether an injury is catastrophic are the nature of the injury, and how long it will take to heal. A catastrophic personal injury is one that can leave its victims with a permanent disability, current and future pain and suffering, loss of ability to work and remain gainfully employed, reduced life span, and even premature death. The victim is unable to do the things he or she could have done prior to suffering the traumatic event.
Recovery for a catastrophic personal injury may be slow, causing worry and undue hardship. A catastrophic injury transforms the life of its victims, their loved ones and family members. Such a transformation has a negative impact on day-to-day life, and often comes with enormous financial implications.
Catastrophic injuries are caused by many different types of activities or events, such as: sporting accidents, medical malpractice, acts of violence, defective pharmaceutical drugs and other defective products, toxic exposure, fires and explosions, workplace accidents, falls, industrial and construction accidents, and motor vehicle accidents, among others.
As stated earlier, the costs associated with a catastrophic injury can indeed be enormous, including prescriptions and medications, physical and occupational therapy, and other types of therapies such as counselling, home medical care, and follow-up surgeries.
A victim that suffers a catastrophic injury may need the care of one or more experts in the following areas: specialist surgeons (including neurosurgeons), specialists in prosthetics, neuropsychologists, psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, rehabilitation specialists. In some instances, even architects to advise on modifications to homes as well as specialty engineers to advise on modifications to motor vehicles may need to be consulted.
Catastrophic Injury Claims
Claims can be brought by victims of another person’s negligence or wrongdoing. Such catastrophic injury victims usually suffer injuries such as: quadriplegia, tetraplegia, paraplegia, the amputation of an arm, the amputation of a leg, brain injury, burn injuries, or any number of debilitating and life-altering injuries.
An injury lawyer that deals with catastrophic claims has as an in-depth understanding of the law relating to catastrophic injury claims, the needs of the victim, and the best experts address the complicated liability and medical issues necessary to advance the victim’s claim. In order to recover compensation for a catastrophic injury, and to prove that your injuries are due to someone else’s negligence, an experienced lawyer can assist with the intricacies of the often-lengthy legal process.
Those seeking to make a claim for a catastrophic injury must file a lawsuit within the limitation period set by the state with jurisdiction. Typically, the time of the limitation period begins to run from the date of the injury. In some jurisdictions, the law allows for the limitation time to run from the “date of discovery”, or the time that the injured person knew or should have known about an injury. Deadlines imposed by limitations statutes are strictly enforced, so it is important to get in touch with your lawyer as soon as possible after the injury occurs, so that all necessary steps to preserve your claims can be taken.
Types of Catastrophic Injuries
Personal injury claims in general involve allegations that the negligence of another person caused an injured party’s injuries, and that as a result, some form of some form of monetary compensation should be paid. When the injuries are so extensive as to be significantly life-altering, they are categorized as catastrophic.
Such compensation is paid to the victim by whoever is at fault, that is, the individual legally responsible for the accident. In many instances - whether a motor vehicle, workplace, or recreational activity accident – the responsible party’s liability insurance company will be directly involved in the legal process, hiring its own investigators and attorneys, with the goal of defending claims brought against its insured.
Before such damages can be sought, an in-depth investigation must be pursued, to answer some critical questions, such as: the nature and cause of the injury; the effect of the injury on a victim’s work, lifestyle, and daily activities; and the effect on physical and emotional well-being. Damages recoverable for personal injuries are typically classified as compensatory.
Some compensatory damages can be specifically quantified based on accrued or expected costs incurred, while others, such as pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life, are less easily determined.
Some common damages in catastrophic personal injury cases include: compensation for the cost of medical treatment, lost income, and pain and suffering. To ensure that you are adequately compensated for damages, it is important to contact your lawyer early enough so that your rights can be protected. Time limitations for bringing personal injury claims vary from state to state. In personal injury and wrongful death law, the following examples are classified as catastrophic injuries:
Catastrophic Brain Injury/Catastrophic Brain Damage
There are several types of brain injuries. However, each kind of brain injury is unique, and the effects can vary depending on the type of event causing the injury, the precise areas of the brain affected, as well as the biology of the injured individual. For example, the nature and extent of the injury is dependent, in part, on the force applied to the head. Such an injury can affect one, some or even all areas of the brain. Many brain injuries are catastrophic, meaning they are permanent, and do not respond favourably to available medical remedies and treatments. A common form of brain injury is known as a “concussion”, the effects of which can last for months or even years. Such an injury usually causes an abnormality in the brain, limiting attention spans and memories, along with other impairments. Athletes or others who suffer multiple brain injuries, or those who suffer a single major brain injury, can eventually develop Parkinson’s disease. Please refer to an in-depth discussion about traumatic brain injury and how our law firm can help.
Catastrophic Head Injuries
A head injury is any sort of injury to the scalp, skull or brain. This can range from a mild bump or bruise to a traumatic brain injury. Common head injuries include concussions, skull fractures, and scalp wounds. A catastrophic head injury often occurs suddenly and without warning, and has serious long-term effects on the victim which can lead to permanent disability, mental impairment, and even death.
To most people, head injuries are considered an acceptable risk when engaging in sports and other types of recreational activities, however many are unaware of the potentially dire consequences of one significant impact, or many smaller impacts over a period of time. Concussions are one of most common types of sports-related head injuries with an estimated 1.6 million to 3.8 million sports-related concussions a year. A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury that happens when the brain is jarred or shaken hard enough to bounce against the skull.
Symptoms of Catastrophic Head Injury:
- Unconsciousness: where a person has collapsed and is unresponsive, even for a brief period of time
- Concussion: a sudden, but short-lived loss of mental function that occurs after a blow or other injury to the head; a person with a concussion may have a glazed look or appear confused, but won’t necessarily be unconscious
- Fits or seizures
- Difficulty speaking or staying awake
- Problems with the senses –such as hearing loss or double vision
- Blood or clear fluid coming from the ears or nose
- Memory loss (amnesia)
- Sudden swelling or bruising around both eyes or behind the ear
- Difficulty with walking or coordination
Causes of Catastrophic Head Injury
Head injuries caused by shaking are most common in infants and small children, but they can occur any time a violent shaking occurs, for example in an accident involving significant or high-speed movement. Head injuries caused by a blow to the head are usually associated with:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Physical assaults
- Sports-related accidents
Treating Catastrophic Head Injury
Catastrophic head injuries always require hospital treatment. This may involve:
- Observing the condition for any changes
- Running tests to check for further damage
- Treating any other injuries
- Breathing support (ventilation)
- Neurosurgery (brain surgery)
Spinal Cord Injuries/Spinal Cord Damage/Paralysis/Paralytic Injury
Paralysis defines a condition whereby one is unable to move one or more parts of the body, and can be temporary or permanent. Paralysis occurs when there is damage to the nervous system, such that control is lost over the affected body parts. Also, the brain loses the ability to sense touch, or to experience other body sensations.
The spinal cord is the part of the body that works as the brain’s relay system. Significant damaging injury to or severing of the spinal cord results in paralysis, since the brain’s line of communication to the rest of one’s body is lost.
There are many causes of paralysis, with stroke causing about 29% of paralysis cases, while falls, sporting injuries, car accidents, and violent acts account for 23% of aggregate paralysis cases.
Severe Burn Injuries
First and second-degree burns affect the superficial layers of the skin. Severe burns can penetrate the entire thickness of the skin and affect deeper tissues resulting in white or blackened, charred skin that may become numb, known as third-degree burns. Fourth-degree burns extend beyond the skin into tendons and bones. Such severe catastrophic burn injuries can be devastating and have historically been defined by American Burn Association as involving burns >20% total body surface area. This level of tissue destruction is associated with increased capillary leak, which can result in hypovolemia, shock and even death.
Some of the common causes of severe burn injuries include: gas explosions, large fires, and chemical and electrical burns. Such severe burn injuries require immediate medical attention with intravenous antibiotics and fluids, and will usually require surgery, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and lifelong assisted care.
Catastrophic burn injuries can be caused by someone else’s carelessness or failure to act (negligence), or by a defective product. In instances where the injury is the result of an accident that was not your fault, severe burn injury compensation may be available. For example, many burn injuries are the result of industrial accidents at the workplace due to defective machinery or equipment, or improper safety protocols.
If you or a loved one has suffered severe, catastrophic burn injuries, and you have questions about how to proceed in order to investigate potential severe burn injury compensation, please contact our catastrophic burn injury lawyers at Swartz & Swartz.
Limb Amputation/Loss of Limb/Permanent Disabilities
Amputation means the loss of a part of the body, most often the arm, leg, hand or foot, and often completed surgically following a traumatic injury. Although diseases like Diabetes can be a contributing cause for amputation, significant accidents can cause damage to a limb, leading to a medical decision to amputate. Such a significant loss will be the basis for an “impairment rating”, which is calculated by a medical professional to indicate a percentage loss of function for the area of the body in question, as well as the “total body” rating. Such evaluations are critically important for securing disability benefits, as well as for establishment of damages in litigation against a negligent party.
Catastrophic Injuries Leading to Wrongful Death
Catastrophic injuries caused by a person’s negligence or misconduct can, of course, lead to death. If a loved one’s death is the result of another’s wrongful, the victim’s family members may sue for wrongful death.
Wrongful death lawsuits are brought by a formally appointed estate Executor or Administrator, who represents the interests of the estate for purposes of litigation arising from the wrongful death. Such a lawsuit typically involves claims for personal injury, pain and suffering, and all expenses incurred before the victim’s death, as well as damages suffered by loved ones as a result of their loss.
For a wrongful death lawsuit to be successful, the following elements must be present:
- A death caused by someone else’s negligence or intention to cause harm
- Surviving family members who suffer emotional and sometimes financial loss due to the victim’s death, and
- Retaining an experienced lawyer to investigate and pursue viable legal options in the pursuit of justice on behalf of the decedent.
Catastrophic Cardiac Event
Cardiac arrests are usually caused by an abnormal heart rhythm, leading to a disruption in the process of pumping blood throughout the body. There can be many causes of such an abnormality, including: surgical errors, defective or wrongfully prescribed medications, coronary artery disease (which is common in people above age 35), cardiomyopathy, and other heart defects.
As noted above, catastrophic cardiac arrest can be caused by medical negligence or pharmaceutical product defects. Traumatic events, such as car accidents, can also trigger catastrophic cardiac arrest or heart failure events, especially when the victim already has some of the above listed conditions.
An experienced lawyer is often needed to investigate the nature and causes of cardiac arrest, to determine how and whether such an event was caused by someone else’s negligence. Such evidence may include medical records and reports, autopsy results and death certificate conclusions, and details regarding how a particular incident occurred.
Causes of Catastrophic Injury
There are many potential cases of catastrophic personal injuries. Some categories of causes include the following.
Catastrophic Slip and Fall
Slip and fall incidents, also known as slip, trip and fall accidents, can lead to non-catastrophic but serious injuries ranging from twisted ankles, knees and wrists, to torn ligaments, broken bones, and hip fractures. However, some of these incidents, which can result from conditions such as poor lighting, violations of building codes or regulations, and surface defects, can also cause traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury and even death.
Research has shown that slip and fall accidents account for more than 95% of hip fractures, and is one of the most common causes of traumatic brain injuries. The statistics are staggering. For example, according to CDC, 1 in 4 Americans aged 65+ fall each year; every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the emergency for a fall; and every 19 minutes an older adult dies from a fall.
Another research study has shown that slip and fall injuries are the second largest cause of accidental death in the U.S., and the major cause of deaths resulting from injury for individuals between ages 65 years and older. A 2013 study by the Center for Disease Control has also shown that at least one in 3 adults experience injury from such a fall. This has in turn led to 2.5 million non-fatal falls treated yearly in hospitals. Among these incidents, 734,000 cases led to hospital admissions, while 25,500 older adults died from their injuries that year.
Some causes of catastrophic slip and fall injuries include: uneven or unsafe conditions both within and outside a building; slippery floors due to wet, sloped or polished wax surfaces; weather conditions such as rain, sleet, ice, snow, hail and frost; poor lighting; poorly maintained swimming pool decks; uneven or defective walkways, sidewalks, or stairs; poor work conditions; torn or worn carpets; and obstacles such as electric cords or cables, potholes, food items or unattended carts left in store aisles.
When a slip and fall injury occurs, an experienced lawyer will investigate, in part, by arranging for an inspection of the site, documenting conditions with photographs or video, securing evidence, obtaining witness statements, and determining whether there is a history of prior complaints or incidents. At the conclusion of such an investigation, a determination must be made whether the negligence of a third party contributed to causing the injuries.
Football injuries account for 69% of head-related deaths, 16.3% of cervical spinal injuries and 14.7% of other injuries. Apart from football, other sports have also caused head-related deaths and other permanent disabilities, including wrestling, track and field, and baseball. Many head injuries can lead to traumatic brain injury and are quite common in sports that involve contact with other individuals. Football leads to about 250,000 concussions yearly. When these concussions occur regularly within a short period, their impact can be life-altering or even fatal over time.
Another common effect of head injuries from football or other sports is rapid brain swelling. The National Centre for Catastrophic Sports Injury at the University of North Carolina identified several cases of brain swelling among football players.
In addition, another statistic showed that at least 300,000 sport-related brain or head injuries occur yearly in the U.S. Such injuries are suffered by teenage high school student-athletes, as well as adults who participate collegiate, professional, or amateur and club leagues.
Cheerleading teams represent another category of sport, having evolved from a complementary role at other sporting events, into highly competitive and physically challenging endeavour. From 1982 to 2009, cheerleading accounted for 65% of all direct catastrophic injuries to female high school athletes, and 70.8% at the college level. In fact, cheerleading causes more than half of the catastrophic injuries that are suffered by female athletes. Such injuries include: skull fractures, cervical spine injuries, brain injuries, paralysis and even death. A report authored by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons has concluded that cheerleading is among the top 20 sports that cause head injuries. In general, head injuries accounted for more than 36 percent of cheerleading-related injuries. Other studies have shown that cheerleading is riskier when athletes are learning new skills, compared to when participants are engaged in formal competitions.
Work injuries happen in many different contexts, including construction job sites, office settings, and even incidents occurring during travel for work-related purposes. Some examples of work-related injuries include:
- Overexertion - pulling, lifting, carrying and even throwing. Injuries like this are among the most common workplace injuries, representing extensive personal and business costs.
- Slipping/Tripping – wet, icy, uneven and obstructed surfaces and pathways can lead to incidents.
- Falls - stairs, elevators and escalators, scaffolding and ladders represent some of the potential hazards in workplaces.
Other causes include machine entrapment or entanglement (especially for those working in factories, at construction sites, or for contractors), work-related vehicle accidents, and falling objects.
Work injuries can be reduced through proper training and supervision, and implementation of adequate safety protocols, safety equipment, and proper maintenance and repairs in the workplace.
When catastrophic work injuries occur, it is important to get in touch with an experienced lawyer as soon as possible not only to help ensure that appropriate workers compensation insurance payments are received, but also to initiate a detailed investigation into the causes of the incident giving rise to the injuries.
Car Accident Injuries
Car accidents are among the most common causes of injuries. In 2012, over 5.6 million car accidents occurred in the United States, with more than 30,000 of such accidents resulting in fatalities. About 1.6 million of such accidents resulted personal injuries. In addition to causing grievous and often long-lasting injuries for victims, car accidents can also lead to years of medical and other economic costs.
There are many types of injuries that can be caused by car accidents, ranging in severity. Some of the common injuries that occur as a result of car accidents include: head, neck and brain injuries (including concussions), torso injuries, back injuries, injuries to limbs and extremities, and paralysis. Other common injuries due to car accidents can be due to seat belt or impact trauma, including broken ribs and other fractures, vocal cord paralysis, collapsed lungs, internal bleeding and damage to critical organs. Psychological and emotional distress damages may also result from such traumatic incidents.
Car accident injuries, like other types of catastrophic injuries, can form the basis of damages claims by victims who can prove their damages resulted from someone else’s negligence. For this reason, a car accident lawyer should be contacted as soon as possible after such an incident occurs, so that early investigations and contact with insurance companies can be initiated. Getting a lawyer involved is an important decision, which can impact one’s ability to fully recover all related damages.
Catastrophic Injury Damages
The aim of damages recoverable in a catastrophic injury case, as in all cases involving compensatory damages, is to make the victim whole again. Of course, the physical and mental effects of such injuries are often permanent, but the law attempts to provide a reasoned method of determining money damages commensurate with the harm caused to individuals and family members. Thus, in catastrophic injury cases, although it is impossible for the victim to return to his or her pre-accident condition, it is possible is to provide victims with funds that can help them live their lives more comfortably, and with the medical care needed.
Depending on your state or jurisdiction, generally there are three major categories of recoverable damages for victims:
Special Damages or Pecuniary Damages
Special or pecuniary damages cover financial costs incurred as a result of the incident, including past, present and future. Also recoverable are lost opportunities, medical costs and other related expenses which can be reasonably and specifically calculated. In order to recover special damages, a lawyer will compile a detailed record, including financials, wages and earnings, medical bills, and economist reports regarding the expected future impact of the injuries.
These damages reference those that are not able to be calculated so precisely, but nevertheless are a critically important component of any damages claim, determined by a judge or jury based on witness and documentary evidence. Commonly referenced elements of general damages include a victim’s pain and suffering, or a spouse’s loss of consortium. It covers things that cannot be measured such as loss of enjoyment or fulfilment in life.
Punitive damages are not recoverable in every case, and their availability depends upon the laws of each individual state. In Massachusetts, for example, such damages may be sought only in certain wrongful death cases. The purpose of punitives, different from damages previously described, is to punish or deter the wrongdoer, rather than to compensate the victim of negligence. Typically, there is an enhanced level of proof, beyond standard negligence, that must be shown, such as gross negligence or recklessness. Thus, the recovery of punitive damages is less common than awards of compensatory damages.
The determination of how much should be awarded for a catastrophic injury may involve: comparative or contributory negligence, or consideration of how or whether a victim’s actions or inactions contributed to cause his or her injuries; the victim’s age; employment and earning capacity; amounts required for medical care; and the victim’s health prior to the accident.
The facts of every case are different, and there is no guarantee of a precise amount that would be paid as damages for a catastrophic injury, once liability or fault is proven. An important first step in assessing the value of any such case is to contact an injury lawyer as soon as possible, since preservation of evidence and meeting claim deadlines are among the most important first steps toward establishing recoverable catastrophic injury damages.
Catastrophic injuries - brain injuries, head injuries, spinal cord injuries, and limb amputations - present significant challenges to every aspect of daily living. Not only must a person live with pain and uncertainty, but also, tasks that were once easy to perform-tasks like dressing, bathing, moving up and down stairs, doing simple math, communicating with friends and family - may now require a huge effort to accomplish.
Recovery from catastrophic injuries can take significant time, even years, and even then, recovery likely will be incomplete. When a full recovery will not be possible, the injured person will enter into a physical therapy and rehabilitation program to learn how to maximize independence and functioning.
If you or a loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury due to someone else's negligence such as a serious burn injury, brain injury, spinal cord damage or paralysis, or loss of a limb resulting in permanent disabilities, contact the law office of Swartz & Swartz, P.C. in Boston, Massachusetts.
Finding the proper legal representation in serious injury cases is especially critical. The costs of long-term care and unemployment can mount rapidly. Your best course of action when you need financial compensation for past and future financial costs is to seek representation from experienced personal injury trial attorneys with a track record of success.