A catastrophe is a devastating event resulting in serious, unpredictable damages. Suffering a catastrophic injury because of someone’s negligence leads to both physical and mental anguish. Severe injuries often lead to long-term damages felt by both the victim and his or her family.
Here is everything you need to know about New York laws regarding catastrophic injuries, and how to seek legal compensation if you or a loved one is a victim.
What is a Catastrophic Injury?
Different from typical personal injury claims, sustaining a catastrophic injury generally means that your life is permanently altered in some way. A catastrophic injury almost always requires an extensive team of medical professionals to cover all necessary care. These types of injuries disrupt vital body systems that work to keep you alive and functioning.
Catastrophic injuries typically consist of trauma to the brain and nervous system. These injuries often affect other body systems as well. Victims of catastrophic injuries are faced with long-term damages requiring extensive medical care and rehabilitation to recover. Recovery may be slow and only partial. The law acknowledges both physical and mental damages as catastrophic injury when some form of permanent disability is the outcome.
It’s possible for victims to recover from these injuries, but many endure painful challenges for the rest of their lives. Besides bodily injury, it may include any mental trauma such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety or depression. Other life-altering consequences of these injuries can include:
- Disfigurement or scarring
- Permanent disability/loss of function
- Loss of sight/hearing
- Loss of communicative/cognitive abilities
- Damage to respiratory system, urinary system, or gastrointestinal system
- Required assistance/caretaking
- Reduced lifespan
Other Factors that Make an Injury Catastrophic
Family Impact: All catastrophic injuries evoke feelings of loss. The injury may affect families by loss of income and future earning potential. Some families may need members to take time off work to help care for the critically injured. Aside from economic losses, family members may also face their own emotional suffering or diminished quality of life.
Life-Long Side Effects: It’s important to emphasize that catastrophic injuries are unlike most personal injuries because the duration of suffering can be very long, and is sometimes permanent. Often, catastrophic injuries require ongoing expenses to treat impairment and losses.
More Legal Challenges: The legal system gets more complex for those pursuing a catastrophic injury claim. Since these cases normally involve large financial claims and seek substantial settlements, victims are subject to a more challenging process. These challenges include:
- Disputes against fault and liability and challenging the fault of the victim
- Acquiring expert testimonies and references, such as an occupational therapist to assess the victim’s ability to perform job-related tasks or even live independently.
The chances of going to trial are significantly higher for a catastrophic injury case because the stakes are higher. There is a chance for settlement before trial, but victims of catastrophic injury are more often made to go before a court. It is in your best interest to rely on the support of an experienced trial lawyer.
Catastrophic Personal Injury Scenarios
Most catastrophic injuries can be linked to someone’s negligence. That is, their action or inaction lead to the catastrophic injury of another person. This means victims must file a personal injury lawsuit and must prove that their injury was someone else’s fault. Examples of such claims are as follows:
- Slip and Falls: If a victim falls on someone else’s property and sustains a catastrophic personal injury, it must be proven that the owner knew or should have known about the conditions that caused the injury. Plaintiffs typically have to prove that the conditions were long-standing and the owner failed to inspect for danger.
- Motor Vehicle Accidents: Victims must prove the negligence of the at-fault driver, usually with the aid of any police and accident reports. It’s possible that the at-fault driver is uninsured or has the smallest insurance policy required by law. In this case, it’s unlikely that their policy or the uninsured motorist coverage is enough to cover losses from a catastrophic injury. If the victim is a hit and run victim, read more about your legal options here.
- Product Malfunctions: Any severe damage caused by a product malfunction can usually be traced back to the company’s negligence. Any complaint will need to prove the company failed to detect and remove the risk of danger.
- Workplace Accidents: If a worker is catastrophically injured on the job, he or she is entitled to make a worker’s compensation claim without having to prove negligence. Construction site operators are responsible for providing essential safety equipment and protection from injury. It must be proved to the court their failure to protect employees is the cause of an injury. However, the injured may also have the right to a personal injury claim where he or she can claim additional damages. An experienced lawyer will be able to thoroughly assess all liability options surrounding the accident, such as the manufacturing of any equipment that caused injuries.
If you suffer a catastrophic injury, your financial compensation will depend on the severity of the injury and ensuing complications. Additionally, some cases are not entirely someone else’s fault. The degree of your own negligence will be used to determine your compensation for loss.
The legal fight surrounding any serious injury, and especially catastrophic ones, can be grueling and burdensome. For instance, in December, 2019 a construction worker paralyzed in 2016 was finally awarded a $36 million settlement after suffering catastrophic injuries at an unsafe job site in Brooklyn, N.Y. This victim sustained a traumatic brain injury that left him confined to a wheelchair for life. It was proven that the contractors did not follow safety protocol and that this accident was 100% avoidable. His settlement compensates damages beyond the limited economic loss covered by a worker’s compensation claim.
Common Types of Catastrophic Injuries
Traumatic Brain Injury
To be considered catastrophic, a brain injury is assessed using the Glasgow Coma Scale. This test is administered to measure the consciousness of a victim. Injuries are rated on a scale of 1-15, and any assessment below 9 indicates impairment and is classified as catastrophic. A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is often caused by blunt force to the head, violent rattling, or an object piercing the skull and brain. This can happen anywhere: in any car accident, or at a construction or workplace site.
Catastrophic Spinal Injury
Most spinal cord injuries are sustained in car accidents, but also occur from incidents such as falls or construction accidents. Injuries to the spinal cord disrupt the nervous system and can cause paralysis or paraplegia. They often require extremely invasive surgeries and intense rehabilitation. Much like a TBI, spinal injuries may require specialized equipment and services for the victim to manage basic daily activities. It’s important to fight for compensation that covers any additional costs to a victim’s new normal.
Traumatic limb amputations usually occur as a necessary procedure after limbs are severely damaged in an accident. The most common amputation procedure is the removal of one or more fingers. Since amputations are permanent, victims are physically and psychologically limited for the rest of their lives.
In addition to permanent disfigurement, an amputee can expect a lifetime of services related to prosthetics and physical therapy. Amputation can be caused by a motor vehicle accident, construction accident, or as a result of medical malpractice. Whichever the cause, it is critical to recover enough compensation to stabilize your life while adjusting to a new normal.
Catastrophic burns are most typically caused by open flames, explosions, chemical spills, electrical burns and various factory operations. The severity of a burn depends on how far damage extended into the layers of skin. Severe burns can result in nerve damage in addition to disfigurement. Sometimes a functional recovery is impossible, leaving the victim both physically and emotionally impacted for life.
In certain injuries, it may take years after an accident to experience the complications of a catastrophic injury. For example, if the victim is a child, complications may surface once the child begins growing, requiring surgeries or other procedures. Burn victims may require certain reconstructive surgeries years after the accident. Therefore, it is important not to hesitate with an injury complaint. Beginning the process gives you a chance to claim for present expenses and any future medical needs. In New York, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is three years. This means you have three years from the day of your accident to start the legal process.
Catastrophic Injury Settlements
As with most personal injury claims, your settlement is determined on a case-by-case basis, meaning there is no preset settlement amount for catastrophic injury cases. Your medical bills will be the main factor in determining your settlement. The greater your bills, and the greater your pain and suffering, the larger your settlement will be. Other damages that can contribute to the value of your settlement are:
- Any permanent disability
- Loss wages
- Duration and amount of any necessary medical treatment
Due to the devastating impact catastrophic injuries have on a victim’s life, compensation values are generally quite high. You will likely be claiming damages for pain and suffering. The more you have suffered, the more you are awarded.
Legal Help for Catastrophic Injury
Since these types of claims involve large amounts of compensation, insurance companies make every effort to minimize settlements. A lawyer can help define your case as catastrophic, negotiate your settlement and serve as your representative if you go to trial. Most cases are settled outside of court, but yours may not. It is in your best interest to speak with an attorney who can help throughout the entire process.
It is important to have the support of an experienced lawyer to ensure you obtain the financial support you may need in the future.