Pursuing Compensation After a Catastrophic Injury

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After someone has suffered a catastrophic injury, their life and the lives of their family will change forever. At The Watkin Law Office we are committed to assisting these individuals and their families through the complex legal and financial process they must undergo to obtain the monetary compensation needed to pay for their past and future medical expenses, lost earnings, and other services they will need to go on with their lives. Whether they have been injured in motor vehicle crashes, through medical negligence, by defective and dangerous products, or by other negligent acts or omissions, their catastrophic injuries (e.g., spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries) will likely require expensive future medical treatment and possibly new assisted living or skilled nursing accommodations. Our job is to obtain the full and fair compensation from the responsible parties to adequately cover all of these costs, in addition to monetary damages for the client's pain and suffering.

We encourage you to review the following general information about catastrophic injuries and to call our law firm at 480-347-9804 to arrange a free consultation to discuss your specific concerns.

What is a Catastrophic Injury?

When we refer to "catastrophic injuries" we mean that broad category of extremely severe injuries that will drastically and permanently alter an individual's life. Catastrophic injuries usually occur suddenly, with no warning. They occur in the tragic incidents and "accidents" we usually only read or hear about – where in a split-second a perfectly healthy person is suddenly paralyzed because of a spinal cord injury, rendered brain-damaged because of trauma or carbon monoxide poisoning, severely burned or electrocuted or sustains a traumatic amputation.

Catastrophic injuries are often caused when the central nervous system is severely disrupted, which usually has an immediate adverse effect on the body's other physiological systems, including the gastrointestinal system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the urinary system and other systems.

Due to the severity of catastrophic injuries and illnesses, victims usually require an extensive level of medical care—often for many decades. They will require examinations and treatments by physicians, nurses in facilities or their own home, physical and often speech therapists, counselors and various other medical professionals. Although having access to the appropriate level of medical care when sometimes allows catastrophic injury victims to recover much of their pre-incident level of health, many other catastrophic injury cases result in permanent, lifelong disabilities, and some catastrophic injuries even lead to the early deaths of the victims.

If you have sustained catastrophic injuries in an "accident" caused by someone else, catastrophic injury Clark Watkin can meet with you, discuss your situation and provide the legal guidance you need to take the appropriate steps to pursue compensation – money damages – from the responsible party.

How Much Will This Cost?

Medical costs for the treatment of catastrophic injuries can be extremely expensive, especially if long-term medical care is required. Individuals who are injured to this level are typically unable to work and can lose all or most of the substantial income they would have earned had they not been injured. They obviously did not deserve this financial disaster, and if the incident that led to the catastrophic injury was caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of another person or entity, then Arizona law states that the victim has a right to sue the responsible party for the full amount of his financial losses.

Although individuals who sustain minor personal injuries can often handle their own claims with the adverse party's insurance claims adjuster, catastrophic Injury victims should never attempt this.

Without the services of a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney, their already-catastrophic situation will quickly turn hopeless. Having a skilled lawyer handling the complex legal aspects of their case is only part of what the attorney will do; they will also interact with the defense attorneys, insurance claims adjusters, medical providers, economists and other expert witnesses and life care planners needed to guide the victim and his family through this ordeal. With most catastrophic injuries and illnesses, it can be difficult to determine the amount of future medical costs. Sometimes the long-term effects of an injury do not become apparent until years later.

For example, when minor children are badly injured, it can be challenging to tell how their bodies and minds will be affected by their injuries as they grow. Future surgeries and other medical procedures may be required; different living accommodations might be needed; and an experienced legal professional will be needed to work with life care planners and physicians to better anticipate these long-term costs and help the victim collect the full and correct dollar amount needed from the party or parties at fault.

Compensation Issues

Unfortunately, in many cases involving catastrophic injuries there just is not enough insurance money to cover the damage done. For example, if a car accident victim was hit by a driver with inadequate auto liability insurance coverage (or no coverage at all) and nominal personal assets, that victim might be able to make a claim under his own uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage benefits, assuming he even carried such coverage under his own auto insurance policy. But even then, UM/UIM coverage provides only limited coverage that might still be well below the actual amounts of the medical, economic and pain and suffering damages sustained by the victim.

In other situations, the victim might receive a jury verdict that simply does not cover the costs—especially since huge jury verdicts are a rarity, in contrast to popular belief. A knowledgeable attorney can help victims explore all of their options for obtaining other forms of compensation, including government assistance. Below are a few examples in which an experienced injury lawyer can help his victim clients:

Severe Burns—Victims of very serious auto accidents often discover there is insufficient insurance coverage to pay the full value of their injury claims. Consider an auto collision in which the at-fault and the faultless driver both receive severe burns. An inexperienced injury lawyer might assume, incorrectly, that the only compensation that can be obtained is the amount available under the drivers' liability insurance coverage limits (which often range between $15,000 and $100,000.) However, a more experienced lawyer will continue investigating and will dig deeper r in search of other compensation options. This more experienced legal professional will first determine if any "med pay" coverage exists; he will also investigate not only the cause of the collision, but in the burn case will also investigate whether there are additional third-parties parties who can be held responsible.

Such third-parties might include the automaker who installed a dangerous or defective car part, or the State, County or City responsible for improperly designing or failing to properly maintain an intersection or roadway. And of course, his in-depth investigation might uncover additional policies of insurance and additional assets of the defendant that can be obtained through pre-judgment attachment or post-judgment execution. The "bottom line" is that the right attorney can often greatly enhance the ability of an accident victim to maximize his settlement, judgment or other award of compensation after a very serious accident.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) —Traumatic brain injuries are usually caused by a person's head slamming into/against another object with great force. These types of injuries can occur through various types of incidents including construction accidents, motorcycle and bicycle crashes – even when riders are wearing helmets – auto accidents, slip and falls and workplace accidents. For example, if a painter falls from a scaffold that collapses and sustains a high-impact closed head injury, he might suffer a traumatic brain injury. And while most work-related incidents and injuries are resolved through workers' compensation claims, the benefits available in work comp cases are quite limited and employees are prohibited by state laws from filing injury-related lawsuits against their employers.

Thus, although the painter referenced above would be unable to bring a claim against his employer for his pain and suffering, an experienced personal injury lawyer might be able to pursue compensation for the injured painter through by proving that the scaffolding equipment was defectively designed or manufactured, or that the scaffolding was supplied and assembled by third-parties not working for the same painting contractor. Any design or manufacturing defects might give rise to a product liability claim against the scaffold manufacturer; and the improper assembly claim might give rise to a straight negligence claim against the non-employee third-party.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning—When a person is exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide gas for a prolonged period of time serious medical problems are almost certain to result. If the exposure is not fatal, the victim might suffer serious and permanent mental and physical impairment, including: impaired motor skills and speech, impaired cognitive abilities and brain function, paralysis in the arms and legs (either partial or full) and severe and extreme fluctuations in behavioral or emotional functions that are both bizarre and dangerous. Because the full extent of a carbon monoxide survivor's impairments may not manifest right away, personal injury claims for carbon monoxide-related injuries should only be settled after a full diagnosis and prognosis of the physical and mental injuries (and the economic consequences of those injuries) have been determined by physicians, life care planners and possibly economists.

If the carbon monoxide poisoning victim or his attorney is too hasty and fails to wait for the medical condition to fully manifest, any settlement recovery might end up being far too low. Again, an experienced and capable attorney can provide assistance in determining the full amount of the damages and the best time to proceed with the settlement negotiations.

Drunk Driving—Compensation issues can arise when individuals are severely injured in drunk driving accidents in which the responsible driver has no liability insurance. At first glance, it could seem that the victim is limited to receiving compensation only from this or her own uninsured motorist coverage benefits. A knowledgeable and hard-working attorney, however, will be able to help the accident victim look into other possible compensation options. The lawyer can conduct further investigation into the case to answer the following questions: Did the bar or restaurant that served the driver alcohol do so while it was clear that the individual was already drunk and likely to pose a safety threat to others? Were there any defects with either of the vehicles involved in the accident? When the answer is yes to questions such as these, it could be possible to seek damages from additional defendants. Sadly, there are some lawyers who will ignore these options simply because they are expensive to litigate.

Fully Understanding Costs of Care & Damages

Determining what types of medical and other costs a catastrophic injury victim will face in the future is a vital step for that person's financial and physical recovery. In addition to the initial medical treatment, other more long-term needs will also have to be factored into the total amount of a victim's damages. Medical evaluations are used to determine the degree of a person's injury and impairment, as well as what his or her future needs for care will be. In addition to the injury itself, here are some other factors that will likely be considered in the medical evaluation:

  • The victim's ability to work
  • The types of physical therapy that could be used to improve the victim's medical condition
  • Whether independent living is a possibility
  • The victim's right to different forms of economic compensation
  • Whether the individuals is eligible for protection against certain types of discrimination

Another factor that will need to be considered is the victim's transition from undergoing acute hospitalization to living in his or her home or community again. When an interdisciplinary coordinated care approach to rehabilitation is taken, the victim usually has a better chance of recovery.

Life Care Planning

The needs of a catastrophic injury victim today will likely not be the same as that individual's needs 10, 20 or 30 years from now. This is why life care planning after an injury or this type is so important. Life care planning is an in-depth analysis of the medical-related goods and services the victim will need in the various stages of his or her life (as a result of the injury). This is not a simple process—it requires a systematic approach that incorporates the input of experts, such as those who work in medical specialties and in rehabilitation. The types of data that could be used in determining life plan include the following: medical, psychological, social, rehabilitative, vocational and educational. Medical literature is used to help ensure that up-to-date concepts of patient care management are being used. Important things to take into account when forming a life care plan are how the patient's needs will change due to his or her aging or due to the progression of his or her impairment, as well as the desires and goals of the patient and his or her family.

Life care plans serve as important tools for preventing or reducing the likelihood of complications occurring down the road. This involves discussing any potential complications related to the principal diagnosis so that the appropriate care needs for those problems can be projected. A few factors that can be used to perform cost analysis include the range of services available in a particular region or geographic area, as well as prevailing standards and costs.

The life care planning process usually involves using present-day costs that are determined by drawing from the best data and resources that are available.

Life care plans serve as logical blueprints for meeting an injury victim's needs in the future. These plans serve as important resources for health care providers, case managers and family members. It is important to remember that these plans are not prescriptions for care, but rather templates that are meant to help those caring for the individual reach the best outcomes possible. Furthermore, lawyers can use life care plans to improve their chances of success in obtaining maximum compensation for catastrophically injured individuals. The plans may also even be used in the determination of investment strategies for best protecting the victim's resources throughout his or her lifetime.

Who is liable?

One of the most fundamental aspects of your personal injury claim will be determining who is liable for your accident—or, basically, who is responsible for causing it. While many cases only involve one liable party, there are many other situations in which there are multiple parties responsible for the accident that resulted in an injury. Liability by additional parties can be easy to miss, so it is important that the accident be fully investigated so that all at-fault individuals are entities can be held accountable. Failing to do so can place the injured individuals at risk of not receiving the full monetary damages to which he or she is entitled.

It is vital that victims of catastrophic injuries work with a competent attorney when trying to determine who is at fault in an accident. Such a lawyer will have full-fledged professional knowledge about how to best identify all the responsible parties.

When a person's financial stability and physical recovery are on the line, it is not worth the risk to try and handle the situation without the guidance of a skilled professional.

Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Catastrophic Injuries

Which injuries are "catastrophic"?

An injury is usually considered to be "catastrophic" when it is extremely severe and results in the need for extensive, and often long-term, medical treatment. Because catastrophic injuries usually cause damage to the central nervous system, various other systems and functions of the body can be affected and the victim's life can be drastically altered. Here are just a few of the many different types of catastrophic injuries that can affect accident victims:

  • Amputations
  • Brachial plexus injuries (affecting the nerves around the shoulder, chest and arm)
  • Brain injuries
  • Burns affecting a large portion of the victim's body
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Multiple fractures
  • Paralysis (monoplegia, paraplegia or quadriplegia)
  • Vision loss or loss of an eye

Those who suffer from catastrophic injuries might also suffer from other problems resulting from their conditions, such as depression and other types of emotional problems. This often occurs when the victims have difficulty adjusting to their new physical limitations.

Are catastrophic injuries permanent?

While some catastrophic injuries result in permanent impairments, others are only temporary, though they will probably require lengthy recovery periods. These periods might last for months or years. When a child is injured, the effects of the injury might not fully manifest until an extended amount of time has passed, considering that the child's body is still developing. There are also other types of scenarios in which the victim might not fully experience the effects of an injury until much later. Sometimes a victim's physical injuries will heal before the person has recovered from his or her emotional injuries.

What causes catastrophic injuries?

Just about any types of accident can lead to a catastrophic injury, including accidents in which mechanical malfunctions occur. Here are a few potential causes:

  • Construction accidents
  • Defective products
  • Farm machinery accidents
  • Faulty boilers, heaters, engines, etc. (causing carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • Faulty ventilation & HVAC systems
  • Fires
  • Motor vehicle collisions
  • Sports injuries
  • Workplace accidents

Accidents can occur at any time and any place, regardless of how careful the victim might be. All it takes is the negligent act of one other person to lead to an accident that can significantly change one's life. There is unfortunately no telling when an accident will lead to more minor injuries or catastrophic injuries.

What type of compensation can I obtain if I am able to prove that the other party in my accident was negligent, particularly when that party has insurance and/or other assets?

These are the types of damages, or compensation, that an injured individual can be awarded through a personal injury case:

  • Medical expenses (current and future)
  • Lost income (current and future)
  • Expenses needed to care for the victim
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium (or spousal relations)
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

In addition to forms of compensation, there are certain cases in which punitive damages might be awarded to the victim. These are damages that a court awards for the purpose of punishing the negligent party, rather than simply making the individual or entity reimburse the victim for specific expenses. The public often hears about victims who receive extremely large verdict and settlement amounts after their accidents occur. It is important to keep in mind that this is not compensation obtained for frivolous purposes. Rather, it is payment that these victims truly need to receive quality medical care, to support themselves when they cannot work, to be compensated for the severe pain and suffering they will have to endure throughout their lives, and more.

For a free confidential consultation to understand your rights, contact our office online or call at 480-347-9804 to arrange a consultation. When results matter, choose The Watkin Law Office, PC.

The Watkin Law Office, PC is a Scottsdale personal injury and wrongful death law firm that specializes in truck and car accidents, motorcycle accidents, boating accidents, and other serious personal injury and wrongful death claims throughout Arizona, including Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Peoria, Cave Creek, Carefree, Fountain Hills and Paradise Valley.

IMPORTANT: If an insurance claims agent for the person at fault calls to "interview" you, decline -- at least until you have spoken with an attorney. Despite what the insurance representative might tell you, he or she is NOT "just trying to help."

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