While all injuries can disrupt a person’s ability to work, federal law classifies injuries that permanently prevent someone from performing any gainful work as “catastrophic.” The United States Department of Labor (DOL) expands the definition to include:
- Life-threatening injuries.
- Injuries that cause extensive loss of function (physical or cognitive).
- Injuries requiring a long-term recovery period.
Catastrophic injuries often require extensive medical care, specialized intervention, and ongoing treatment. These injuries are life-changing experiences; they can dramatically diminish a person’s quality of life and significantly affect the lives of their family members. The emotional impact of catastrophic injuries can result in depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Some examples of catastrophic injuries are:
- Amputations or loss of use of limbs.
- Permanent disfigurement or disability.
- Paralysis or paraplegia.
- Loss of sight, hearing, or other senses.
- Organ damage.
- Cancer (including mesothelioma).
- Developmental delays and disorders in children.
- Cerebral palsy (resulting from birth injuries).
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or other cognitive impairments.
Catastrophic injuries can be caused by a one-time occurrence, such as an automobile or motorcycle collision, pedestrian or bicycle accident, construction accident, animal attack, slip and fall, or interaction with a defective product. They can result from exposure to a hazardous environment or long-term conditions, such as lead paint or asbestos, pollution, toxic waste, poisons, and dangerously loud noises.
Liability for Catastrophic Injuries in California
Some catastrophic injuries result from unavoidable accidents or occurrences. However, many are caused by a person or company’s failure to employ the care required by law. This is called “negligence.” Others are the result of someone intentionally acting in a manner likely to cause harm, such as driving drunk. This is called “recklessness.”
California and federal laws establish obligations for individuals and corporations. If a person or company doesn’t comply with these requirements, they can be liable for resulting injuries. Liability for major accidents or environmental hazards can involve many different assignments of fault due to negligence, recklessness, or intentional harm.
To illustrate some of the different legal duties of people and organizations, consider the following examples of catastrophic injury situations.
- Companies that work with or produce hazardous materials must comply with applicable health and safety regulations. A company breaches this duty if it illegally disposes of hazardous waste in a river, causing local residents to suffer severe and significant long-term illnesses.
- Drivers on California roadways must take reasonable care to prevent collisions, including following traffic laws and not driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Companies must follow state and federal regulations applicable to their industries. Manufacturers must ensure the safety of their products. A jackknife truck collision could involve a driver’s unsafe behavior, their employer’s failure to enforce safety protocols, and the manufacturer’s fault for equipment failure.
- Doctors, nurses, caregivers, and other health professionals must use appropriate professional judgment and care. A misdiagnosis that leads to a patient’s death could be legally attributed to mistakes by the treating professionals, the healthcare organization’s dangerous policies and procedures, and the insurer’s wrongful refusal to approve additional testing.
Other relationships have legal duties as well. Parents must take proper care of their children, while employers must take reasonable steps to ensure a safe working environment for their employees. Landlords and business owners must take reasonable steps to ensure their premises are safe for customers, workers, and tenants. Owners are responsible for injuries caused by their animals.
If you’ve suffered a catastrophic injury, you may be able to pursue claims against more than one person or company. An experienced attorney can help you identify all potential avenues for recovery.
Damages in California Catastrophic Injury Cases
Various types of damages can be recovered in a lawsuit for catastrophic injuries in California. These include:
- Medical bills and related expenses (both past and projected future care), including:
- Emergency treatment and hospital bills.
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation.
- Reconstructive surgeries and procedures.
- Medical devices, implants, and accessories.
- Mobility aids.
- Transportation expenses (accessible vehicles, services, etc.).
- Home care and assistance.
- Service animals.
- Expenditures for home accessibility modifications (ramps, bathing facilities, stair lifts, etc.).
- Prescriptions and pain management therapies.
- Lost wages.
- Lost earning capacity.
- Property damage.
- Pain and suffering (emotional distress).
Injured parties may also recover punitive damages if their injuries were caused by a person or company’s intentional or reckless acts. These damages are intended to “send a message” to the wrongdoer and deter future similar behavior.
Catastrophic Injuries Resulting in Death
If a person was killed because of a catastrophic injury, their estate might be able to bring a claim for personal injury damages on their behalf. This is called a “survival” action. Their family may also be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the responsible parties for their own damages (the losses they have incurred from losing the deceased person).
Why Hire a California Catastrophic Injury Attorney
Catastrophic injury attorneys help victims of serious injuries recover as much compensation as possible for their injuries. Their role includes:
- Investigating the circumstances of an accident or hazardous environment in order to establish liability for the injuries. Investigation of an accident may involve analysis of police reports, witness statements, photographs, video, and other evidence. It may also be necessary to consult with accident reconstruction experts.
- Review of the injury victim’s medical treatment, including review of medical records and retention of any necessary medical experts.
- Communicating and negotiating with insurance companies, including filing a demand letter on the victim’s behalf.
- Filing a lawsuit and litigating catastrophic injury cases through trial, if necessary, when settlement negotiations are unsuccessful.
Catastrophic injury attorneys will evaluate the value of your case and consider a variety of ongoing and future expenses that victims may not realize they can recover. Their experience helps ensure their clients don’t accept a lowball offer or settle for less than they deserve. They are skilled in negotiating with insurers and exploring the nuances that help boost settlement offers.
Don’t wait to contact an attorney. Hiring an experienced catastrophic injury lawyer will help reduce a lot of the stress and pressure from the recovery process for both victims and their families.
If you or a loved one has suffered an accident that caused catastrophic injuries, please contact Suits Litigation, Inc. We provide trustworthy, experienced legal representation in
San Jose and throughout California. Contact us today for a free, no-obligation case consultation.