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Personal Injury Law: What is a Catastrophic Injury?

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Thessaloniki , Greece – April 9, 2017: First aid, victim liberation in an car accident and helmet removal demonstration by the Hellenic Red Cross rescue team

Many terms within the legal and healthcare professions have very specific meanings that denote equally specific circumstances. The term ‘catastrophic injury’ is one of them. The law and healthcare define catastrophic injury differently, yet the implications of both definitions are the same.

From the standpoint of personal injury law, a catastrophic injury is defined as one with consequences that permanently prevent the victim from performing any sort of gainful work. For example, a spinal injury incurred as the result of a car crash may leave a person permanently disabled as a quadriplegic. Because that person can never work again, the injury is legally considered a catastrophic injury.

The healthcare sector defines catastrophic injury slightly differently. From their standpoint, a catastrophic injury is a severe injury to the brain, spine, or spinal cord. It can also be an injury that results in severe trauma to the head or neck, with or without permanent disability.

 

  • Causes of Catastrophic Injuries

 

Catastrophic injuries as defined by the healthcare sector can be caused by everything from accidents to illnesses. That is not true in the legal arena. In personal injury law, catastrophic injuries are caused by things like motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice, construction accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, and defective products.

Again, the differences between healthcare and law are very subtle. The more important thing is to understand what can be done from a legal standpoint when a catastrophic injury is incurred. Laws relating to this sort of thing vary by state.

 

  • Injuries Following Car Crashes

 

How states deal with catastrophic injuries depends a lot on insurance laws. For example, Florida is among 12 states with no-fault car insurance models in place. Under Florida law, drivers cannot sue following motor vehicle accidents that resulted only in minor injuries. A legitimate catastrophic injury automatically qualifies for a lawsuit, according to the VG Law Group.

In the event of an auto accident injury that meets the legal threshold for catastrophic, retaining a Florida personal injury lawyer would be appropriate. But even some serious injuries that do not qualify as being catastrophic could still warrant a lawsuit in Florida.

The laws in 35 states revolve around the at-fault insurance model. In such states, tort law determines who is at fault in a car crash regardless of its seriousness. It is easier to justify a catastrophic injury claim in the states because their systems are designed to assign fault one way or another.

 

  • Covering Catastrophic Injury Costs

 

The legal profession relies on a very specific meaning for catastrophic injury in order to properly litigate cases. They have to. The definition largely determines whether or not a client has a legitimate catastrophic injury claim.

Note that catastrophic injury lawsuits are generally intended to accomplish three things: cover medical costs, replace lost income, and compensate victims for pain and suffering. Once again, how compensation is determined varies from state to state. Some states have very liberal laws while others are more conservative in their approach.

If you were involved in an accident resulting in catastrophic injury, your health insurance policy would likely not cover all of your medical expenses. It certainly would not cover long-term care made necessary by a permanent disability. The award from a personal injury suit could help defray some of the costs of your care. The same is true for lost income.

Catastrophic injuries are well named. They are significant enough to result in catastrophic consequences for those who incur them. Thankfully, there are legal procedures in place designed to protect those who suffer catastrophic injuries due to the negligence of others.