What Qualifies as a Catastrophic Injury?

Any injury received in an accident has the potential to seriously upend a victim’s life. It means trips to the hospital—as well as potential follow-up visits, visits to the pharmacy for medication, or even to a physical therapist. And scheduling these visits means having to take time off work, if it’s even possible to work until after the injury has healed. When none of this is planned, it’s not budgeted for either. Injuries are as expensive as they are painful.

But some injuries are in a class of their own, both in terms of the amount of treatment they need and the disruption they cause. These are what we call “catastrophic injuries.”

“Catastrophic” isn’t like any other adjective you’d use to describe the seriousness of an injury, like “awful” or “terrible.” Catastrophic, in this sense, is a legal term to describe injuries that qualify for significantly greater compensation than other types of injuries.

Defining Traits of a Catastrophic Injury

What sets catastrophic injuries apart from other injuries is that catastrophic injuries are usually permanent injuries.

People who suffer from catastrophic injuries may never again be able to do the same work they did before being injured, or they may never be able to work again at all. Catastrophic injuries could also leave victims able to still work, but permanently impact their quality of life for the worse.

Examples of catastrophic injuries include:

  • Scarring and disfigurement, such as from severe burns
  • Loss of limbs
  • Loss of a primary sense, such as blindness or permanent hearing loss
  • Brain injuries that impact cognition or personality
  • Disabling injuries, such as spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis
  • Severe organ damage

What Type of Compensation Is Available for Catastrophic Injuries?

As previously mentioned, victims of catastrophic injuries typically qualify for significantly higher recoveries than victims of other types of injuries. That’s because victims of catastrophic injuries have lost significantly more, so need to be compensated more to make up for what was lost.

Damages for Medical Expenses: In addition to the hospital bills incurred in the emergency room, victims of catastrophic injuries often need years or a lifetime of treatment or assistance even after their life is no longer in danger.

Depending on how they were injured, they may need any of the following treatment or aid:

  • Physical therapy to relearn how to walk
  • Occupational rehabilitation to learn how to work with their new physical or cognitive capacity
  • Extensive modifications to their home to accommodate mobility aids like wheelchairs
  • Live-in caretakers
  • A service animal, such as a seeing-eye dog

These are just a few options.

An experienced personal injury lawyer can work with the victim’s healthcare team to determine what additional support or treatment may be needed in the future because of this injury, and calculate how much extra compensation is needed to cover the costs of that future aid.

Damages for Loss of Income: Because catastrophic injuries almost always impact the victim’s ability to work or do the same work they did before, compensation should cover not only the paychecks they missed while recovering, but all paychecks they will miss in the future because of their injury. If the victim can still work, but only at a lower-paying job, that should also be taken into consideration.

Compensation should also include:

  • Anticipated pay raises the victim would have earned during their lifetime
  • Anticipated bonuses the victim would have received
  • The value of any overtime or paid time off the victim would have accrued
  • The value of the health and/or life insurance provided by the employer
  • The value of stock options, profit-sharing, or 401(k) contributions the employer may provide to employers
  • The value of any additional perks the employer may provide to employees, such as cell phone or transportation allowances

Damages for Pain and Suffering: Although it can be hard to put a monetary value on something intangible like physical pain and emotional distress, an experienced personal injury lawyer like those at the Joye Law Firm can help. The ways that the victim’s catastrophic injury impacted their life may include:

  • Levels of chronic pain they experience day-to-day
  • Emotional distress caused by the injury, such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Inability to participate in things they used to enjoy, such as sports, hiking, creative pursuits, or other hobbies
  • Inability to connect with friends, coworkers, or family, such as from a brain injury that affected cognition or personality
  • Inability to enjoy physical intimacy with a partner

Punitive Damages: Punitive damages are very rarely awarded, but when they are, they’re meant to punish people who injure others through exceptionally careless behavior. For example, someone who gets in a fender-bender while following the vehicle ahead too closely would not be hit with punitive damages, but someone who collided with another car while driving at twice the legal limit for alcohol consumption might be.

Although punitive damages are intended to punish the offender rather than compensate the victim, the victim still receives the money, which makes it worthwhile to mention here. However, it’s important for people pursing personal injury claims to be aware that South Carolina caps punitive damages at $500,000, or three times the compensatory damages, whichever is greater.

We Help Victims of Catastrophic Injuries

If you or someone you love suffered a catastrophic injury through someone one’s carelessness, you are going to need a lot of compensation just to break even on your medical expenses and lost wages. And because insurance companies know how much catastrophic injuries can cost, they may be willing to make a large offer right away. However, we always caution victims to always speak to a lawyer before accepting any offer for a settlement. We have lots of experience with these types of injuries, and we know how quickly what appears to be a large settlement can run out, when the need for treatment doesn’t end.

Contact our firm today for a free consultation to go over what your case may be worth. When you hire our team, we will fight hard to get you not just compensation for all you’ve already faced, but all you will face in the future.

About the Author

Since 1968, the South Carolina personal injury and workers’ compensation attorneys of Joye Law Firm have been committed to securing compensation for accident and injury victims. Our compassionate and dedicated lawyers have nearly 250 years of combined litigation experience, and many of them have been recognized as South Carolina Super Lawyers. For many years, our South Carolina personal injury law firm has been listed with an AV rating in the prestigious Martindale-Hubbell legal directory.