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.
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.
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.
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: