Understanding Catastrophic Injury Laws and Regulations by State

When you’ve been severely injured in an accident in Southern California, the medical bills can pile up quickly, and you may never fully heal. The catastrophic injury laws and regulations in California are the same as the typical personal injury laws. The primary difference is the amount of compensation that you can pursue for your injuries as a victim of catastrophic injury.

Learning more about catastrophic injury, what damages you can pursue, and how to prove negligence by a liable party can help you prepare to work with a catastrophic injury attorney to build your case.

What Is a Catastrophic Injury?

The U.S. Department of Labor describes work injuries as “catastrophic” if the injuries were life-threatening, led to the loss of a limb or organ or the function thereof, or require long-term or indefinite recovery. However, many catastrophic injuries don’t occur at work. 

California uses a definition of catastrophic injury in personal injury cases that includes conditions such as:

  • Disfigurement
  • Third-degree burns
  • Limb amputation
  • Paralysis
  • Permanent partial or total loss of hearing or vision
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Loss of an organ or organ function
  • Wrongful death

These common catastrophic injuries often require long-term medical care and thousands of dollars in medical bills. Victims of catastrophic injury often never fully recover from their injuries, living with scarring, nerve damage, limited function, and an inability to work or enjoy life as they once did.

Common Causes of Catastrophic Injuries in California

People can suffer catastrophic injuries due to any number of reasons. Common accidents or incidents that lead to catastrophic injuries include:

  • Car accidents
  • Truck accidents
  • Train accidents
  • Pedestrian or bicycle accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Dog bites or animal attacks
  • Work injuries
  • Construction accidents
  • Defective products
  • Fires
  • Boat accidents
  • Medical malpractice
  • Assault
  • Criminal acts

These incidents often involve a negligent party failing to adhere to the rules, either written laws or the rules that society generally agrees upon as proper behavior to keep each other safe. Unfortunately, rule-breakers often harm others in their negligence, leading to injuries that could affect someone for the rest of their life.

Damages to Pursue in a Catastrophic Injury Case

Injury cases are civil suits, meaning that if the court determines that the defendant is liable for your injuries, the defendant can only compensate you monetarily for your losses. Compensation awards include individual damages for different aspects of your case.

You can pursue economic, non-economic, and even punitive damages in your case. While some states place a cap on punitive damages, California does not. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that punitive damages must be reasonable according to the Fourteenth Amendment. Generally, the court applies a multiplier to the compensatory award to calculate punitive damages in a case.

Potential damages you could pursue in your catastrophic injury case include:

Economic Damages

  • Medical bills (past and future)
  • Rehabilitation and physical therapy bills
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Transportation expenses for medical appointments and procedures
  • Childcare expenses
  • Cost of services (lawn care, house cleaning, handyman services, etc.)

Non-Economic Damages

  • Pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Traumatic stress disorders (PTSD, anxiety, etc.)
  • Loss of companionship
  • Loss of consortium
  • Scarring, disfigurement, or loss of a limb or limb function

Economic losses might include costs incurred due to your injuries, new costs you had to pay for services you once provided yourself, lost opportunities for earnings and promotions, and associated costs that you wouldn’t have incurred except for your injuries. These damages have a calculable value based on invoices, pay stubs, and receipts.

Calculating non-economic damages includes estimates for what might be fair for your pain, suffering, mental condition, and loss of quality of life. These issues still have value, although determining the value is a complex estimation.

Proving Negligence in a Catastrophic Injury Lawsuit

In any personal injury case, the plaintiff (the injured person) must prove negligence by the defendant. Catastrophic injury laws and regulations require that the plaintiff prove negligence by demonstrating:

  • The defendant owed you duty of care
  • The defendant breached their duty
  • You suffered an injury and losses
  • The defendant’s actions were a cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and losses

For example, if another driver caused the car accident that led to your spinal injury by running a red light, you can likely prove negligence. The defendant owed other drivers on the road duty of care, breached their duty when they broke the law, and caused your injuries when their actions led to a car crash.

Comparative Negligence in California

California is a pure comparative negligence state. That means that if you were partly at fault for the accident, the court would reduce the compensatory award by the percentage of fault. If the court determines that you were 20% at fault for the incident that caused your injuries and the original award was $300,000, you would collect $240,000.

How an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Can Help Your Catastrophic Injury Case

Your insurance likely won’t cover the full extent of your medical expenses for a catastrophic injury. As soon as you can after your injury, you should contact an experienced catastrophic injury attorney to help you with your insurance claim and prospective lawsuit. Your attorney can:

  • Take photos of the accident scene
  • Request security camera footage from nearby businesses
  • Collect witness statements
  • Contact an expert medical witness to review your medical history from before the accident
  • Have an accident reconstructionist simulate the events of the accident according to the evidence gathered

Statute of Limitations for Catastrophic Injuries

The statute of limitations for injury cases is typically two years from the date of the accident, unless you didn’t discover the injury immediately. You then have one year from the date of discovery to start the claim process. If your injury occurred due to medical malpractice, you have one year, unless the medical practitioner attempted to conceal the mistake. Then you have three years to file.

Contact a Catastrophic Injury Attorney in Orange County

Catastrophic injury laws and regulations are complex. Contact us at Khalil Law Group today at (714) 617-7870 to schedule a no-obligation consultation at our office in Newport Beach, CA.

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