Catastrophic Injury Lawsuits for Severe, Long-Term or Permanent Injury

When someone is severely injured and a lawsuit ensues, the large damages (amount of money) involved necessitate a lot of legal work for both sides.

Lawsuits based on catastrophic injuries can present unique issues. This article discusses what both sides of the case -- the person suing (called the plaintiff) and the person being sued (called the defendant) -- can expect in a personal injury lawsuit involving catastrophic injuries.

Catastrophic Injury Cases vs. Cases Involving Less Severe Injuries

When a defendant is found liable for a plaintiff's injuries, the defendant is required to pay damages that "make the plaintiff whole."

This means that, to the extent possible, the plaintiff receives enough money to pay for all of his or her expenses and make up for the pain and suffering and loss of quality of life that resulted from the injury. The damages are not only much higher in a catastrophic injury case, but the facts and arguments needed to prove the full extent of the plaintiff's damages are also much more complicated and elaborate.

For example, a plaintiff may just be at the beginning of a long initial recovery process, but also face a potential lifetime of specific medical care. The attorneys for both sides must have a good understanding of the medical process to realistically negotiate a settlement, and more likely than not medical experts will be required to testify to what the future medical treatment will entail and what it will cost.

Limits on Compensation

Many states limit the damages a plaintiff in a medical malpractice case can receive from a defendant doctor or other health care provider. Typically, these limits are placed on "non-economic" damages such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

The caps vary, but generally range from $250,000 to $750,000. However, many of the caps provide that plaintiffs who have suffered some form of catastrophic injury can receive more than the limit, either an unlimited amount or a higher limit, for example $1,500,000. Note that a smaller number of states have placed caps on non-economic damages and punitive damages in any personal injury case. Many of these caps also contain exceptions for severe injuries and/or a defendant's intentional conduct.

For more information on state damage caps, see this page on limits of personal injury compensation.

Catastrophic Injury Verdicts and Settlements

Here is a quick look at a few real-life personal injury cases (jury awards and out-of-court settlements) where catastrophic injuries played a part:

  • $50 million for plaintiff who suffered broken neck after defendant, who had been up all night, ran red light and collided with plaintiff's car.
  • $27 million verdict for construction worker who suffered severe brain injuries after falling from a scaffold.
  • $17 million for plaintiff who suffered severe brain injury due to lack of oxygen after physician failed to intubate him after airway closed down. Largest medical malpractice verdict in state of Ohio.
  • $11.3 million for two occupants of airplane, pilot and passenger, that was not properly maintained. Pilot suffered third-degree burns over 40% of her body and could not return to her profession as pilot. Passenger, a doctor, suffered lung and respiratory injuries, multiple orthopedic injuries due to crushed legs, and burns over 40% of his body. He was able to return to work only after years of therapy.
  • $10 million for ironworker who fell one-story off a pre-fabricated metal building due to excessive oil on the decking sheets on the roof. Plaintiff was rendered a partial quadriplegic by the fall.

Updated: 1/13/2015

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