Catastrophic injuries are life-changing events that often result in permanent disability and, in some cases, death. There can be long-lasting effects because of a catastrophic injury and significantly impact not only the victim, but also their families, caregivers, close friends, and extended relatives. A victim may be able to recover compensation for their injuries, including for the following:
- Repeated hospitalization and surgeries
- Purchase of assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or handicapped-accessible systems
- Treatment for chronic pain
- Counseling for depression
After a person suffers from a catastrophic injury, there might be an extended period of disability, which means the person may not be able to work, resulting in a loss of income just as medical expenses are increasing. Because the victim and their family will be under a tremendous amount of physical, emotional, and financial distress, it is in the best interest of victims and their families to seek professional legal assistance. A seasoned catastrophic injury lawyer can provide expert help at this time.
What is a Catastrophic Injury?
There are multiple medical and legal definitions of catastrophic injury. The California Labor Code refers to a catastrophic injury as including, but not limited to, loss of a limb, paralysis, severe burns, or a severe head injury. Other catastrophic injuries include damage to internal organs and permanent loss of vision or hearing. Sexual abuse may also be considered a catastrophic injury, as it can result in long-term health effects, including severe anxiety, substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-injury, and suicide.
For persons with catastrophic injuries, the road to recovery will be long and difficult. Their pain and disability may be permanent, requiring lifelong care and expensive treatment. The lasting effects of some common catastrophic injuries include the following:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI): Severe trauma to the brain can result in decreased cognitive function, changes in behavior or personality, loss of motor skills, language difficulties, memory loss, or even death.
- Spinal cord injury: Damage to the spine can cause partial or total paralysis that may never heal and may leave victims dependent on medical equipment to breathe.
- Amputation: Serious accidents may result in loss of limb, either at the scene or later because of tissue damage; victims may suffer from serious pain and infections and will need rehabilitation.
- Burns: Second- or third-degree burns can cause severe tissue and nerve damage and may lead to infection, leaving victims with lifelong pain and disfigurement.
- Internal injuries: Injury to organs, such as the liver, spleen, kidney, stomach, or intestines, can cause internal bleeding and may require multiple surgical procedures to repair.
In addition, trauma to the eyes, ears, or brain can result in partial or total loss of one of the senses, which can make life challenging for the victim.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
The primary cause of a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury is often a sudden and violent blow to the head or spine. Nearly 1.5 million people experience TBI in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In total, more than 80,000 people suffer from long-term disability and 50,000 victims will die of TBI. Some estimates note that at present, there are more than five million Americans who are living with a permanent disability related to brain injury.
The CDC estimates that 2.6 million emergency room visits, 235,000 hospitalizations, and 50,000 deaths occur each year because of TBI. The actual incidences of TBI may be even higher because mild TBIs are often never seen in the emergency room. As such, TBI represents a substantial cause of neuropsychiatric death and disability. Greater than 30 percent of all car accidents result in TBI. Millions of dollars are necessary to care for these victims over their lifetime.
TBI is graded as mild, moderate, or severe based on the level of consciousness or Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score. Mild TBI is in most cases a concussion, and there is normally full neurological recovery, although many of these patients have short-term memory and concentration difficulties. A concussion is caused when the brain receives trauma from an impact or a sudden momentum or movement change. The blood vessels in the brain may stretch, and cranial nerves may be damaged. A person may or may not experience a brief loss of consciousness, not exceeding 20 minutes. A person may remain conscious but feel dazed or what is known as punch drunk.
In moderate TBI, the victim can be lethargic and disorganized. In severe injury, the patient is comatose, unable to open his or her eyes or follow commands. Patients with severe TBI have a significant risk of oxygen loss to their brain and swelling. If these sequelae are not prevented or treated properly, they can exacerbate brain damage and increase the risk of death. Long-term effects of TBI can include impaired amnesia, loss of consciousness, depression, confusion, memory loss, headache, dizziness, blurry vision, nausea, vomiting, sensory loss, difficulty speaking, insomnia, and personality changes. The severity of symptoms depends on the extent of the injury. Mild TBI generally presents at the time of the injury and is usually temporary. Moderate TBI is similar to mild injury but more serious and lasts longer periods of time. Severe TBI globally affects the person on a permanent basis as a true loss in quality of life.
Secondary conditions may also develop because of the primary catastrophic injury. These conditions may include the following:
- Digestive and gastrointestinal problems
- Heart problems due to lack of circulation
- Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Specific secondary conditions that may arise as a result of paralysis from spinal cord injuries include the following:
- Autonomic dysreflexia, a rapid rise in blood pressure, which is potentially fatal
- Bladder and bowel problems, including urinary tract infections
- Muscle spasms and stiffness
Family members may also suffer fatigue and emotional distress because of the burdens of acting as caregivers and handling the ongoing disruption of normal daily life.
How Can a Catastrophic Injury Claim Help Victims?
More than one party could be responsible for a catastrophic injury, or it could also be the fault of one person. Those who have been the victim of a catastrophic injury because of the actions of a negligent person or willful endangerment have the option to pursue a legal option if they so choose. Such a claim can help victims recover some of finances that they lost because of the catastrophic injury they suffered. Among some of the expenses include the following:
- Medical expenses: As previously noted, treatment for a catastrophic injury can be extremely costly, and many victims require lifelong care.
- Lost wages: Injuries this severe will often prevent the injured party from returning to work and may require a loved one to leave their job to care for them.
- Pain and suffering: Victims of catastrophic injury often experience serious physical and emotional pain that may last a lifetime; they may also see changes in their quality of life, including loss of relationships and social standing, and loss of independence.
- Wrongful death: If the victim’s injuries were fatal, their family can pursue a wrongful death suit to recover compensation.
One advantage is that a catastrophic injury claim can result in significantly higher compensation than other personal injury claims; the disadvantage is that these types of cases are far more complicated. In California, there are statutes of limitation for pursuing certain types of lawsuits.
What Are Common Causes of Catastrophic Injuries?
There are many ways a catastrophic injury can occur, including the following:
- Birth injury
- Car or motorcycle accidents
- Construction accidents
- Defective products
- Exposure to hazardous materials
- Medical malpractice
- Pedestrian accidents
- Prescription errors
- Public transportation accidents
- Slip and fall accidents
- Sports or recreational accidents
- Truck accidents
The leading causes of catastrophic injuries are vehicular accidents, workplace accidents, and violent incidents, including those involving firearms.
How Common Are Catastrophic Injuries at Work?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculates the number of accidents that take place at work every year. Those annual numbers do not specifically calculate the amount of catastrophic injuries, it does specify totals for fatal and traumatic injuries. Totals for 2018 include the following:
- At least 5,250 fatal work injuries were reported in 2018, an increase of more than two percent compared with 2017.
- More than 255,000 traumatic injuries and disorders resulted in more than 30 days of missed work.
Workers facing a high risk of catastrophic injury include pilots, roofers, loggers, fishermen, and those working in construction.
Products Liability and Defective Products
On average, it costs Americans about $1 trillion in damages per year because of injury or death because of defective products, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The goal of the CPSC is to protect the consumers from products that pose risk of a fire, chemical, electrical, or chemical hazard. There have been numerous examples of wrongful death and injuries from defective products, including the following:
- More than 1,060 fatalities were associated with engine-driven tools for over a 13-year period in the United States.
- From 2014 to 2016, there were 320 deaths associated with nursery products among children under five years old.
- More than 17 toy-related deaths and 226,100 toy-related injuries were reported in 2018.
Victims and family members of victims are free to file a complaint with the CPSC for incidents where a defective product caused an injury or death. However, just because a case is filed with the CPSC does not mean that they will pursue it. They are under no obligation to investigate a case. To determine the strength of a case, a victim should consult a qualified lawyer.
When Should I File a Products Liability Claim?
In California, lawsuits involving defective products are often filed as personal injury claims. Victims should consider filing a products liability claim if they sustained serious injury that was clearly due to a defective product. A claim will be valid only if it can be shown that the defect was a substantial factor in causing the injury.
If someone was harmed because a product was used in a way that it was not intended to be used, they may not have a valid claim. For example, if an individual falls while standing on the top step of ladder, and the ladder had a label that warned users about the dangers of standing on the top step, it will be difficult to prove that the ladder was defective. However, if someone was using the ladder properly and a faulty bolt caused it to collapse, they may have a valid claim.
A claim must establish that the product was legally defective owing to how it was manufactured or designed; or that warning labels, signs, or other instructions for safe use were inadequate. There are several legal theories that may be brought in a products liability claim, including the following:
- Strict liability
- Risk/benefits test
- Consumer expectations
Manufacturers are strictly liable when they place products on the market that cause injury. The victim does not necessarily need to prove that the defendants acted with intent or were negligent. This is one characteristic that makes products liability cases different than traditional personal injury claims. There are typically three types of defects under strict liability, which include manufacturing defects, design defects, and a failure to warn.
Cost of Care in the Aftermath of Catastrophic Injuries
Dealing with the needs of a person who has just suffered a catastrophic injury can be extensive and will not be a simple fix. The treatment will require a few different types of services, equipment, and support systems. The need for all those treatments means that there will be a significant cost that the victim and their family will have to fund. The cost of care can be substantial and may include paying for any combination of the following:
- Home renovations including ramps and bathroom remodeling
- Wheelchairs or other assistive devices
- Home nursing care
- Purchasing a handicapped-accessible van or paying for medical transport services
- Ongoing medical treatments
Patients may not have health insurance to cover these costs. Medicaid may be available to cover some costs; however, less than three percent of catastrophic injury victims are covered by Medicaid.
How is Negligence Determined in California?
California civil code states that a person is responsible for injury caused to another by want of ordinary care or skill in the management of their own property or person. That means that if a defendant, using reasonable care, skill, or judgment, should have expected that the possibility of causing harm to someone, the defendant will be found to have been negligent. Most states have similar definitions of negligence. However, when both parties are partially at fault, the states differ on how they treat that joint responsibility.
California’s civil code allows for comparative negligence in situations in which both parties are partially at fault. For example, if the plaintiff is 40 percent at fault and the defendant 60 percent at fault, the plaintiff may be ordered to pay 40 percent of the defendant’s damages and the defendant may be ordered to pay 60 percent of the plaintiff’s damages.
State laws are always subject to change. Victims of catastrophic injuries should seek the counsel of an experienced lawyer who knows the law to ensure they obtain the best possible outcome for their case. Although financial compensation cannot undo the suffering endured by victims and their families, it can help relieve the financial burden so they can focus on rebuilding their lives.
How Much Time Do I Have to File a Case?
In California, a victim of a catastrophic injury or the family members of a person killed has two years to file a lawsuit from the time of the accident. A person has standing in a lawsuit if they are involved in an action that includes an assault, battery, or injury to or death of an individual that was caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.
Should a person attempt to file their case after the two-year timeframe has expired, they will automatically lose the case unless they can demonstrate so extraordinary or unusual circumstances, but even in these situations, it will have to be a significantly convincing argument.
If a person plans a case against an entity of the city, county, or state government, the victim has only six months or 180 days to file.
How Much Can Victims Receive for Catastrophic Injury Claims?
There is no set amount of money that a victim will receive because of a catastrophic injury claim, and the amounts can differ greatly on a case-by-case basis. Each case is different, and because the result is decided by a jury, there is no guarantee as to the result.
The experienced Encino catastrophic injury lawyers at ACTS Law have collectively recovered more than $500 million for personal injury victims. The following represent examples of past cases that were successfully handled by our firm:
- More than $10.5 million for a plaintiff shot at a hotel
- More than $9 million to a bicyclist severely injured after being hit by a truck
- Nearly $3 million in a wrongful death suit against a tire manufacturer
- Approximately $1.5 million to a plaintiff struck by a left-turning vehicle
Encino Catastrophic Injury Lawyers at ACTS Law Work to Obtain Fair Compensation for Accident Victims
If you or a loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury, contact the Encino catastrophic injury lawyers at ACTS Law. We have the knowledge and resources to investigate your case and fight to ensure that you are receiving the appropriate compensation to which you are entitled. Our legal team has vast experience in these types of cases, and we are dedicated to making this process as easy as possible. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 833-ACTS-LAW or contact us online.
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