Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
June 24, 2024

Understanding Catastrophic Injury Claims: A Comprehensive Guide

Personal injury cases that involve severe injuries can have substantial impacts beyond the victims themselves. Their families and others can also suffer from the victim’s loss of income and quality of life. Advocating for people who have suffered catastrophic injuries often presents distinct challenges, such as greater litigation expenses and limits on damage awards. 

The personal injury lawyers at Kelley | Uustal have taken on difficult catastrophic injury cases for more than ten years. The firm has successfully handled demanding claims in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area and throughout the country.

Why Kelley | Uustal?

In addition to their years of experience in numerous areas of personal injury litigation, Kelley | Uustal’s attorneys have obtained more than $1 billion in compensation for their clients. Examples of the firm’s successes include:

A $27 million settlement in a Fort Lauderdale product liability claim involving a pressure cooker that exploded and caused severe burns to a 3-year-old child; andA substantial settlement in a case where a defective automobile and improper home construction caused the tragic death of a Boca Raton couple by carbon monoxide poisoning.

What Is a “Catastrophic” Injury?

The legal definition of a catastrophic injury varies from one state to another. Florida law defines it as an injury that has a permanent or long-lasting impact on one’s livelihood and quality of life. Using this definition, a person is unlikely to recover fully from a catastrophic injury. It often includes injuries that result in disability or disfigurement.

Types of Catastrophic Injuries

Almost any type of injury can be catastrophic if the circumstances are severe enough. The following are some of the most common types of injuries seen in catastrophic injury claims:

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs): Injuries to the head and brain can cause cognitive problems and difficulties with speech and mobility.

Spinal cord injuries: Neck or back injuries that damage the spinal cord can result in partial or total paralysis and numerous other complications.

Amputation: A person might lose an appendage or limb, such as a hand, arm, foot, or leg, in the course of an accident, or they could lose it later because of severe damage or infection.

Compound fractures: While a broken bone can heal in most cases, given enough time and rest, multiple broken bones are often much more difficult to treat. Even if they do heal, the patient often loses some amount of mobility or function.

Burn injuries: Scarring is only one of the challenges presented by severe burns. They can leave a person vulnerable to infection and may require ongoing painful treatments.

Injuries to internal organs: Catastrophic injuries can affect organs or systems in ways that might not be immediately apparent, but can cause debilitating or fatal complications.

Common Causes of Catastrophic Injuries

Severe accidents, such as a collision between a large commercial truck and a smaller passenger vehicle, can lead to catastrophic injuries, but they are far from the only cause. Catastrophic injuries may also result from negligence on the part of someone with a high level of responsibility for the safety of others. Someone who should be looking out for the safety of a patient, customers, or members of the public can cause severe harm by neglecting their duties. Catastrophic injuries commonly result from the following causes:

-Car accidents

-Truck accidents

-Motorcycle accidents

-Medical malpractice

-Construction accidents

-Defective products

-Assault or other intentional violent acts

Damages in Catastrophic Injury Cases

The same types of damages are available in catastrophic injury claims as in less severe cases. The main difference is that the amount of damages in catastrophic injury cases tends to be much larger. Claimants might find that their damages exceed the at-fault party’s insurance policy limits, calling for creative legal solutions.

Each state’s laws determine which types of damages are available in personal injury matters. Common types of damages include the following:

Economic damages: Also known as compensatory damages, this type of damages compensates injured people for direct losses. This might include medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, and rehabilitation costs. In wrongful death cases, it also includes funeral expenses.

Non-economic damages: These compensate an injured person for the negative impact of their injuries on their quality of life. Examples include pain and suffering, emotional anguish, disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Punitive damages: Some states allow the recovery of damages intended to punish the at-fault party for their actions or negligence. This typically requires evidence that a defendant intentionally caused the plaintiff’s injuries or acted with wanton negligence.

Challenges That Catastrophic Injury Claims Could Present

Catastrophic injury cases can present challenges that are not present as often in personal injury cases with less severe injuries. These may include the following:

Substantial medical expenses: Catastrophic injuries might require long hospital stays and multiple surgeries.

Long-term or permanent disability: Injury victims could need ongoing medical care without the ability to work.

Difficult non-economic damage calculations: How does one quantify the impact of life-changing injuries as a dollar amount?

Large damage demands: The bottom line, after calculating all damages, is often a very large number.

Complicated evidence: Catastrophic injury cases require extensive medical records to show the extent of the injuries and prove liability for negligence.

Resistance from insurance companies: Adjusters can dispute liability or make lowball offers to drag cases out and encourage claimants to settle.

Insurance policy limits: The maximum amount that a single insurance policy could pay is often not enough to cover damages.

Legal Concerns in Catastrophic Injury Lawsuits

State laws and court rules can also present challenges in catastrophic injury claims:

Statutes of limitations: An injured person might have as little as two years to file a lawsuit, leaving little time to prepare an insurance claim and lawsuit.

Litigation costs: Catastrophic injury cases require more evidence and expert witnesses, which means greater expense.

Damage caps: Some states have enacted “tort reform” laws that make personal injury claims more difficult by limiting the amount people may recover or setting other restrictions. Florida, for example, enacted a law in 2023 that shortened the statute of limitations and limited the recovery of medical expenses.

Refer Difficult Cases to an Experienced Personal Injury Law Firm

At Kelley | Uustal, our personal injury attorneys are dedicated to representing catastrophic injury victims with care and respect. We handle difficult cases involving severe injuries and complicated damages in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas and nationwide. 

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