Accidents happen in many ways and cause many different types of injury. Some injuries are quickly recovered from, while others can take much longer. Catastrophic injuries, however, generally result in the need for a lifetime of medical treatment and care. If you suffered a catastrophic injury in Fort Myers due to someone else’s negligence or recklessness, you may have to file a personal injury lawsuit to get the compensation you need for your future needs.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
Following a catastrophic injury, many people think that obtaining compensation would be easy. After all, the damages from this type of injury tend to be obvious. However, these cases can often be the most complex of all, due to the need to consult with medical experts and others who can give the court an accurate glimpse into the lifetime of care and treatment that will be required.
Compensation from a personal injury case tends to be a one-shot deal. Whatever you receive through a settlement or award is likely all of the compensation you will ever get for your injuries, and it must cover a lifetime of expenses. Having an experienced legal professional on your case will provide you with:
- A case value that takes into consideration future expenses and intangibles, such as how your injuries have altered your life.
- A skilled negotiator who will aggressively pursue all avenues of compensation and a fair settlement.
- An experienced litigator who will present all of the important details to the court to obtain the maximum damage award you can receive in your case.
What Is a Catastrophic Injury?
A catastrophic injury is defined as one that causes long-term, debilitating symptoms that require a lengthy recovery, if recovery is even possible. Often, an individual with catastrophic injuries will be unable to perform any gainful work. The victims of catastrophic injuries may have permanent disabilities that impact not only his or her financial future, but place a tremendous burden on family members and impact all facets of the injured person’s life. Some common catastrophic injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury. As explained by the Mayo Clinic, traumatic brain injuries generally result from a violent jolt or blow to the head. While the symptoms of mild brain injuries often subside after a short time, more serious injuries to the brain can result in a lifetime of medical complications and even death. These injuries produce symptoms such as profound confusion, combativeness or agitation, slurred speech, and coma or other disorders of consciousness. Widespread damage of the brain cells may cause an individual to fall into a vegetative state in which he or she may still open the eyes and make sounds, but is unaware of his or her surroundings. Many people with traumatic brain injuries also develop seizures, infections, fluid buildup on the brain, and cognitive problems—such as loss of memory or reasoning, difficulty with self-control, and the inability to effectively communicate with others.
- Blindness. The National Library of Medicine defines blindness as a permanent loss of vision that cannot be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Accidents involving chemical burns to the eyes or sports injuries are among the most common causes of blindness. Blindness can also be the result of a head injury.
- Amputation. The Amputee Coalition reports that nearly two million people live in the United States with an amputated limb, and 45 percent of limb amputations occur due to injuries suffered in accidents. Below-the-knee leg amputations are the most common type of limb amputation, with 185,000 new cases of lower extremity amputations each year. The estimated cost of amputations to the private and public insurance agencies in America is $12 billion annually.
- Severe burns. Healthline defines a severe burn as a third-degree, with widespread thickness and a white leathery appearance, or as fourth-degree, which includes the symptoms of third-degree but extends past the skin to the muscles and tendons. Some causes of severe burns include fires, scalding hot liquids, chemicals, and electrical burns. Chemical and electrical burns are of particular concern, as they can cause internal damage as well as damage to the skin, muscles, and tendons. Severe burns carry an extreme risk of scarring and disfigurement, loss of use of a joint, low body temperature, low blood volume, and infection.
- Organ damage. Organ damage suffered in a car accident may take days to detect. Common organ damage resulting from accidents includes an abdominal aorta aneurysm caused by compression on the stomach, broken ribs that can puncture or damage internal organs, such as a pneumothorax, which occurs when a broken rib punctures the lung and causes air to flood the chest cavity, or a ruptured spleen, which is responsible for internal bleeding.
- Spinal cord injury. As noted by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, most spinal cord injuries are caused by trauma to the vertebral column that impacts the body’s ability to send and receive messages from the brain to the body’s systems that control motor and automatic function below the level of the injury. Spinal cord injuries often result in partial or complete paralysis of the limbs, affecting the legs, trunk, and pelvis in paraplegic cases, and the legs, trunk, pelvis, and arms in tetraplegic (quadriplegic) cases. Spinal cord injury patients suffer many associated complications, have a shorter life expectancy, and generally require assistance and adaptive devices to complete everyday tasks.
Catastrophic injuries may occur in virtually any type of accident, including:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Work-related accidents
- Biking or pedestrian accidents
- Chemical-related accidents
The Impact of Catastrophic Injuries on Your Personal Injury Claim
Florida’s no-fault state status for personal injury claims resulting from motor vehicle accidents means that most of those who are injured must first file a claim with their own Personal Injury Protection policies to recover compensation for medical expenses and missed wages from work due to the injury. However, if the injury is considered serious or permanent, victims may also choose to recover compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, which will also consider pain and suffering-type damages. Known as the serious injury threshold, the types of injuries that pave the way for a personal injury lawsuit include:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function
- Permanent injury, within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring and disfigurement
- Significant scarring and disfigurement
Catastrophic injuries have enormous consequences on an individual’s life, including the financial impact of care. These type of injuries can affect the relationships that the victim has with his or her family, the ability to work, choices as to where the victim will live, and many other issues. This is why one of the most important aspects of a catastrophic injury claim is determining the value of the case.
How Is a Case’s Value Determined?
When you hear the words “value” or “worth” used in relation to a personal injury claim, be aware that this is not a statement of the importance of the case. Every personal injury claim is important to the injured individual and to the lawyer who takes the case. However, establishing a value or worth to a case is based on the expenses and impacts that your injury has incurred and will incur throughout your life. Plaintiffs might seek three types of damages in a personal injury case:
- Economic damages: Quantifiable expenditures, such as medical, surgical, and rehabilitative expenses, property damage, the cost of hiring someone to do household chores that the plaintiff can no longer do, lost wages and loss of future earning capacity.
- Non-economic damages: These damages are harder to put a dollar amount to and may include pain, suffering, mental anguish, permanent disability, and loss of consortium.
- Punitive damages: This type of damage is not related to the plaintiff’s injuries but is designed to “punish” the defendant monetarily for particularly egregious or repeated acts of negligence or recklessness.
While economic damages are relatively easy to figure based on the actual bills for treatment, the calculation of lost wages and estimates on future expenses are based on similar cases involving similar injuries. Non-economic damages are sometimes figured by taking the total amount of economic damages and multiplying that number by 1.5 to up to 5 or even higher in some instances. A higher multiplier is used in cases where:
- The other party’s fault in the accident is obvious and almost total
- The injuries were observed and detected by a medical evaluation
- The injuries are obviously painful and traumatic, requiring surgical treatment, or are so severe that they cannot be successfully repaired
- Recovery is prolonged, lasting more than six months
- There is a permanent consequence to the injury, such as pain, immobility, weakness, discomfort, or scarring
- Physicians clearly indicate that the injuries will result in recurring, degenerative, or future problems
Does Florida Cap Non-Economic Damages?
In the past, Florida placed a cap, or limit, on the amount of non-economic damages a plaintiff could claim in medical malpractice suits. Medical malpractice is a personal injury suit involving negligence by a health care provider. The caps that were in place were $500,000 per claimant, and up to $1 million if the injured party was in a permanent vegetative state or died as the result of his or her injuries. The caps for non-economic damages sought against a non-practitioner such as a medical facility were $750,000 per claimant, or $1.5 million in cases where the plaintiff injured a permanent vegetative state or died.
In 2017, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that these damage caps were unconstitutional, as they reduce damage awards to plaintiffs who suffer the most catastrophic types of injuries. Victims now filing medical malpractice claims in Florida may claim all damages.
Are Catastrophic Injury Lawsuits Different than Other Personal Injury Lawsuits?
Other than having a higher value and the ability to move past the no-fault phase following a car accident, a catastrophic injury lawsuit is the same as other personal injury lawsuits. Some of the highlights of Florida’s personal injury law include:
- Negligence: In all personal injury cases, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted negligently. To establish negligence, the plaintiff must show that he or she was (1) owed a duty of care by the defendant and (2) injured due to a breach in that duty of care.
- Statute of limitations: Those wishing to file a personal injury lawsuit in Florida generally have 4 years from the date of the accident to do so. This time limit is shorter in some circumstances, such as actions filed against governmental entities. You should contact an attorney immediately following your accident to ensure that you don’t miss any deadlines.
- Comparative negligence: In cases where the plaintiff was partially responsible for the accident that caused their own injuries, compensation may still be sought.
- The liable parties: In Florida personal injury cases, joint and several liability applies. What this means is that multiple parties can be found liable for the plaintiff’s injuries, and the court has a structured method of apportioning the amount of liability. Those who are found to be no more than 10 percent responsible for the accident are not required to pay for the victim’s expenses. Those who are more than 10 percent and less than 25 percent responsible are liable for up to $500,000. Those who are between 25 to 50 percent responsible owe damages to the plaintiff of up to $1 million. Parties who are over 50 percent responsible for the accident may pay up to $2 million for the victim’s damages.
- Collateral source rule: The defendant cannot use payments that your insurance provider has made toward your medical bills as evidence against you in Florida personal injury cases to reduce the amount of compensation that he or she owes you for your injuries.
Call the Fort Myers Catastrophic Injury Attorneys at Viles & Beckman Today
With offices in Fort Myers, Naples, Cape Coral, and Sarasota, the experienced personal injury lawyers at Viles & Beckman have advocated for the injured since 1995. Your rights and your recovery are our responsibility. Contact us today or dial 239-334-3933 to schedule a free consultation.