This page details what a “catastrophic injury” is and whether or not a victim should take legal action for the injury. While this page details the laws regarding catastrophic injuries, it is not a substitute for speaking with an experienced injury lawyer. Our office provides free consultations and hope for seriously injured people.
This page details:
- The definition of a catastrophic injury
- Examples of catastrophic injuries
- Damages for victims of serious injuries
- Special damages
- General damages
- Damages are for the past and the future
- When should you take legal action for a serious injury?
Definition of a Catastrophic Injury
A catastrophic injury is usually a severe injury to the spine, spinal cord, or brain. This may also include skull or spinal fractures. Lawyers, courts, and judges use the term “catastrophic injury” as a general phrase to describe serious injuries that have long lasting effects on the person. While there is no exact legal definition for catastrophic injury, they usually have a difficult recovery process, multiple procedures or surgeries, and possibly a lifetime of medical treatment. A victim suffering from a catastrophic injury may also be unable to return to work.
Examples of Catastrophic Injuries
This can include, but is not limited too, the following types of injuries:
- Severed spinal cord
- Head trauma leaving one brain dead
- Broken neck
- Severe brain injuries
- Serious burn injuries
Damages in Serious Injury Cases
A person who has suffered injury through the fault of another is entitled to “be made whole.” This means they should be restored to his or her preinjury condition through a compensatory damages award. Obviously, money is does not ever make one “whole” if your back is broken, but the justice system is not perfect. The law tries to get you as close to “whole” as possible with monetary rewards.
Every person who suffers detriment from the unlawful act or omission of another, may recover from the person in fault a compensation therefor in money, which is called damages. CA Civil Code § 3281. Detriment is a loss or harm suffered in person or property. § 3282.
The injury victim is entitled to recover an amount of money that will reasonably compensate for all physical, mental and emotional detriment attributable to the injury. The justice system will not pay someone a million dollars for a minor injury. The award must be reasonable.
“Special” damages consist of all economic (out-of-pocket) losses occasioned by the injury that can be proven and documented by bills, receipts, cancelled checks, business, and wage records. Special damages generally include medical and related expenses, loss of income, and the loss or cost of services. Berman v. Burling. Special damages can include money for long term medical care, nursing care, medications, etc.
As one can easily imagine, if you are involved in a serious accident and are hospitalized for several months with a brain bleed or severed spinal cord, the medical expenses are enormous. Beyond that, in some circumstances, victims will likely require a lifetime of intense medical treatment. These damage models frequently get into the tens of millions of dollars.
“General” damages consist of noneconomic or “intangible” losses naturally flowing from the injury and which are not quantifiable by reference to bills or receipts. These are typically damages for pain and suffering and emotional distress. General damages involve intangible damages such as permanent disfigurement, disability, loss of enjoyment of life, susceptibility to future harm, and shortened life expectancy. These damages can be especially high in a catastrophic injury.
Juries have significant discretion in determining the amount of general damages. As you can imagine, if you were a professional baseball player at the height of your career, and suddenly you are confined to a wheelchair, your pain and suffering will probably be immense. But juries can’t go crazy with these damages. Their verdict is reviewable by the judge on a motion for new trial on the ground of excessive (or inadequate) damages. Seffert v. Los Angeles Transit Lines.
Past and Future Damages
The victim’s recovery is not only limited to the damages that have taken place up to the time of trial or settlement. The law also allows recovery for damages reasonably certain to be suffered in the future on account of the injury. This is commonly called future pain and suffering, loss of future income, and similar terms.
Damages may be awarded, in a judicial proceeding, for detriment resulting after the commencement thereof, or certain to result in the future. CA Civil Code § 3283.
However, damages awards for future pain and suffering must be “discounted” to their present cash value. You’re catastrophic injury lawyer will explain this economic concept.
When to Take Legal Action
This is a difficult question to answer because there are thousands of variables. To simplify, you should contact a lawyer if you feel your catastrophic injury was caused by another person, company, or thing. If you were in a traffic accident and suffered a serious injury, you should contact a lawyer to see if legal action is right for you. If you were injured on someone else’s property, you should visit our premises liability page to see if legal action is warranted. If you feel like you were seriously injured by a defective product, part, or thing, educate yourself about product defect law and then contact a lawyer.
While simply reading the information on this website is a good start, it is not a substitute for speaking with an experienced San Diego personal injury lawyer. Our office always provides free consultations. If we take your case you don’t pay us anything out of pocket. You pay our attorney on a contingency fee, meaning we only get paid if we’re successful on your behalf.
Don’t wait to call. We provide hope for seriously injured people.