A catastrophic injury can turn your whole life upside down in a second. While financial compensation can’t turn back time and undo what happened, it can cover the ongoing costs of medical treatment, your lost wages, and other losses. Read on to learn what factors contribute toward catastrophic injury settlements.
What Is a Catastrophic Injury?
Unlike some other states, California doesn’t have a precise definition of a catastrophic injury. A catastrophic injury is any severe bodily injury that causes long-term or life-altering consequences, such as:
- Significant scarring
- Cognitive impairment
- Loss of hearing or vision
- Loss of use of an organ or limb
- Reduced quality of life
- Inability to maintain gainful employment
- Lifelong need for medications, rehabilitation, or assistance
- Lifelong need for prosthetics and assistive devices
Depending on your lifestyle, what qualifies as a catastrophic injury can be quite broad. If you’re a professional surfer, for instance, an injury that renders you unable to surf again could qualify as catastrophic, even though you may be able to walk and maintain other types of gainful employment.
Because these injuries require more medical treatment and have a drastic impact on your life, catastrophic injury settlements tend to be larger than the average personal injury compensation.
Examples of Catastrophic Injuries
Common types of catastrophic injuries include:
- Brain injuries, including traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Spine and spinal cord injuries
- Severe burns
- Severe organ damage
- Loss of limbs and internal organs
- Injuries that cause loss of hearing or vision
- Certain occupational illnesses like mesothelioma
Common Causes of Catastrophic Injuries
Virtually any accident can cause catastrophic injuries. Common types of catastrophic accidents include:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Workplace accidents
- Construction accidents
- Sports-related accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Accidents caused by unsafe premises
- Accidents caused by defective or dangerous products or equipment
What Compensation Is Available in Catastrophic Injury Claims?
The same types of compensation (“damages”) are available in catastrophic injury cases as in “regular” personal injury claims. Depending on the nature, severity, and long-term effects of your injuries, you may be able to recover the following damages:
- Medical bills, both past and future
- Lost income, including both past and future lost wages, commissions, bonuses, vacation days, and other work-related perks
- Reduced earning capacity or inability to maintain gainful work
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Property damage
- Punitive damages, in cases with clear evidence of fraud, oppression, or malice
Medical bills and lost wages typically make up the bulk of a catastrophic injury settlement, but noneconomic damages like pain and suffering can be substantial as well, depending on the facts of the case.
Note that in medical malpractice claims, you can only recover up to $250,000 in noneconomic damages. Other than that, there is no cap on the damages you can seek in personal injury cases. However, in practice, your injury settlement will be limited by the at-fault party’s insurance limits and assets.
Factors That Contribute to Catastrophic Injury Settlements
Catastrophic injury cases are complex. There are many factors that may contribute to the value of your case and the potential settlement amount, including:
- The type, severity, and long-term effects of your injuries
- Your medical bills so far, as well as your long-term health care needs
- Any income you have lost due to your injuries
- Your earning capacity after the accident
- Your lifestyle prior to the accident
- Your age, gender, education, and earning capacity
- The available insurance coverage and policy limits
- The strength of your claim, including whether liability is clear or shared
When calculating the value of your case, you should also consider the following:
Your Projected Future Damages
A catastrophic injury settlement factors in the losses you have already suffered as well as your projected future damages like medical and home care, lost earnings and employment benefits, home adaptations, and more.
The value of your future needs and losses is extremely difficult to calculate. That’s why catastrophic injury attorneys work with professionals who can arrive at an informed estimate and provide expert testimony in court.
For instance, a physician can testify about the nature and severity of your injuries, the treatment and rehabilitation you will require going forward, and the limitations you will encounter in your daily life. A forensic accountant or another financial expert can likewise calculate the value of your future earnings and other benefits you would have earned but for the injury.
Whether the Case Is Decided by a Jury
Catastrophic injury claims usually settle out of court. While out-of-court settlement amounts are confidential, jury verdicts are associated with larger, multi-million-dollar awards — especially if you can seek punitive damages. However, trials are considerably more expensive and time consuming than out-of-court negotiations, which can offset the potentially higher award.
Whether You Are Partially at Fault for the Accident
California has a pure comparative negligence system. That means you can recover damages even if you contributed to the accident, regardless of your share of the fault. However, the court will reduce your final award proportionately by your assigned percentage of fault. For instance, if you suffered a total of $100,000 in damages and the jury determines that you were 40% to blame for the accident, you can only recover a maximum of $60,000.
What Is the Average Catastrophic Injury Settlement in California?
Because settlements are confidential, it’s impossible to calculate a true average. Besides, each case is unique and involves multiple factors that could sway your final award one way or the other.
That said, it’s not uncommon for a catastrophic injury case to end in a multimillion-dollar settlement. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation estimates that the average cost of paraplegia is $518,904 for the first year and $68,739 for each subsequent year in 2014. These estimates only include health care and living expenses. When you factor in indirect costs like lost wages, fringe benefits, and productivity, the figures would be much higher.
Talk To a Catastrophic Injury Lawyer in Orange County, CA
At Khalil Law Group, our catastrophic injury attorneys can help you seek compensation for your catastrophic personal injury. Call (714) 617-7870 to book your free consultation and learn more about catastrophic injury settlements.