Pursuing Compensation After a Catastrophic Injury
Looking for a Personal Injury Attorney in Scottsdale
After someone has suffered a catastrophic injury, their life and the lives
of their family will change forever. At The Watkin Law Office we are committed
to assisting these individuals and their families through the complex
legal and financial process they must undergo to obtain the monetary compensation
needed to pay for their past and future medical expenses, lost earnings,
and other services they will need to go on with their lives. Whether they
have been injured in motor vehicle crashes, through medical negligence,
by defective and dangerous products, or by other negligent acts or omissions,
their catastrophic injuries (e.g., spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain
injuries) will likely require expensive future medical treatment and possibly
new assisted living or skilled nursing accommodations. Our job is to obtain
the full and fair compensation from the responsible parties to adequately
cover all of these costs, in addition to monetary damages for the client's
pain and suffering.
We encourage you to review the following general information about catastrophic
injuries and to call our law firm at 480-281-3838 to arrange a free consultation
to discuss your specific concerns.
What is a Catastrophic Injury?
When we refer to "catastrophic injuries" we mean that broad category
of extremely severe injuries that will drastically and permanently alter
an individual's life. Catastrophic injuries usually occur suddenly,
with no warning. They occur in the tragic incidents and "accidents"
we usually only read or hear about – where in a split-second a perfectly
healthy person is suddenly paralyzed because of a spinal cord injury,
rendered brain-damaged because of trauma or carbon monoxide poisoning,
severely burned or electrocuted or sustains a traumatic amputation.
Catastrophic injuries are often caused when the central nervous system
is severely disrupted, which usually has an immediate adverse effect on
the body's other physiological systems, including the gastrointestinal
system, the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the urinary system
and other systems.
Due to the severity of catastrophic injuries and illnesses, victims usually
require an extensive level of medical care—often for many decades.
They will require examinations and treatments by physicians, nurses in
facilities or their own home, physical and often speech therapists, counselors
and various other medical professionals. Although having access to the
appropriate level of medical care when sometimes allows catastrophic injury
victims to recover much of their pre-incident level of health, many other
catastrophic injury cases result in permanent, lifelong disabilities,
and some catastrophic injuries even lead to the early deaths of the victims.
If you have sustained catastrophic injuries in an "accident"
caused by someone else, catastrophic injury Clark Watkin can meet with
you, discuss your situation and provide the legal guidance you need to
take the appropriate steps to pursue compensation – money damages
– from the responsible party.
How Much Will This Cost?
Medical costs for the treatment of catastrophic injuries can be extremely
expensive, especially if long-term medical care is required. Individuals
who are injured to this level are typically unable to work and can lose
all or most of the substantial income they would have earned had they
not been injured. They obviously did not deserve this financial disaster,
and if the incident that led to the catastrophic injury was caused by
the negligence or wrongdoing of another person or entity, then Arizona
law states that the victim has a right to sue the responsible party for
the full amount of his financial losses.
Although individuals who sustain minor personal injuries can often handle
their own claims with the adverse party's insurance claims adjuster,
catastrophic Injury victims should never attempt this.
Without the services of a skilled and experienced personal injury attorney,
their already-catastrophic situation will quickly turn hopeless. Having
a skilled lawyer handling the complex legal aspects of their case is only
part of what the attorney will do; they will also interact with the defense
attorneys, insurance claims adjusters, medical providers, economists and
other expert witnesses and life care planners needed to guide the victim
and his family through this ordeal. With most catastrophic injuries and
illnesses, it can be difficult to determine the amount of future medical
costs. Sometimes the long-term effects of an injury do not become apparent
until years later.
For example, when minor children are badly injured, it can be challenging
to tell how their bodies and minds will be affected by their injuries
as they grow. Future surgeries and other medical procedures may be required;
different living accommodations might be needed; and an experienced legal
professional will be needed to work with life care planners and physicians
to better anticipate these long-term costs and help the victim collect
the full and correct dollar amount needed from the party or parties at fault.
Unfortunately, in many cases involving catastrophic injuries there just
is not enough insurance money to cover the damage done. For example, if
an auto accident victim was hit by a driver with inadequate auto liability
insurance coverage (or no coverage at all) and nominal personal assets,
that victim might be able to make a claim under his own uninsured/underinsured
motorist (UM/UIM) coverage benefits, assuming he even carried such coverage
under his own auto insurance policy. But even then, UM/UIM coverage provides
only limited coverage that might still be well below the actual amounts
of the medical, economic and pain and suffering damages sustained by the victim.
In other situations, the victim might receive a jury verdict that simply
does not cover the costs—especially since huge jury verdicts are
a rarity, in contrast to popular belief. A knowledgeable attorney can
help victims explore all of their options for obtaining other forms of
compensation, including government assistance. Below are a few examples
in which an experienced injury lawyer can help his victim clients:
Severe Burns—Victims of very serious auto accidents often discover there is insufficient
insurance coverage to pay the full value of their injury claims. Consider
an auto collision in which the at-fault and the faultless driver both
receive severe burns. An inexperienced injury lawyer might assume, incorrectly,
that the only compensation that can be obtained is the amount available
under the drivers' liability insurance coverage limits (which often
range between $15,000 and $100,000.) However, a more experienced lawyer
will continue investigating and will dig deeper r in search of other compensation
options. This more experienced legal professional will first determine
if any "med pay" coverage exists; he will also investigate not
only the cause of the collision, but in the burn case will also investigate
whether there are additional third-parties parties who can be held responsible.
Such third-parties might include the automaker who installed a dangerous
or defective car part, or the State, County or City responsible for improperly
designing or failing to properly maintain an intersection or roadway.
And of course, his in-depth investigation might uncover additional policies
of insurance and additional assets of the defendant that can be obtained
through pre-judgment attachment or post-judgment execution. The "bottom
line" is that the right attorney can often greatly enhance the ability
of an accident victim to maximize his settlement, judgment or other award
of compensation after a very serious accident.
Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) —Traumatic brain injuries are usually caused by a person's head
slamming into/against another object with great force. These types of
injuries can occur through various types of incidents including construction
accidents, motorcycle and bicycle crashes – even when riders are
wearing helmets – auto accidents, slip and falls and workplace accidents.
For example, if a painter falls from a scaffold that collapses and sustains
a high-impact closed head injury, he might suffer a traumatic brain injury.
And while most work-related incidents and injuries are resolved through
workers' compensation claims, the benefits available in work comp
cases are quite limited and employees are prohibited by state laws from
filing injury-related lawsuits against their employers.
Thus, although the painter referenced above would be unable to bring a
claim against his employer for his pain and suffering, an experienced
personal injury lawyer might be able to pursue compensation for the injured
painter through by proving that the scaffolding equipment was defectively
designed or manufactured, or that the scaffolding was supplied and assembled
by third-parties not working for the same painting contractor. Any design
or manufacturing defects might give rise to a product liability claim
against the scaffold manufacturer; and the improper assembly claim might
give rise to a straight negligence claim against the non-employee third-party.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning—When a person is exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide
gas for a prolonged period of time serious medical problems are almost
certain to result. If the exposure is not fatal, the victim might suffer
serious and permanent mental and physical impairment, including: impaired
motor skills and speech, impaired cognitive abilities and brain function,
paralysis in the arms and legs (either partial or full) and severe and
extreme fluctuations in behavioral or emotional functions that are both
bizarre and dangerous. Because the full extent of a carbon monoxide survivor's
impairments may not manifest right away, personal injury claims for carbon
monoxide-related injuries should only be settled after a full diagnosis
and prognosis of the physical and mental injuries (and the economic consequences
of those injuries) have been determined by physicians, life care planners
and possibly economists.
If the carbon monoxide poisoning victim or his attorney is too hasty and
fails to wait for the medical condition to fully manifest, any settlement
recovery might end up being far too low. Again, an experienced and capable
attorney can provide assistance in determining the full amount of the
damages and the best time to proceed with the settlement negotiations.
Drunk Driving—Compensation issues can arise when individuals are severely injured
in drunk driving accidents in which the responsible driver has no liability
insurance. At first glance, it could seem that the victim is limited to
receiving compensation only from this or her own uninsured motorist coverage
benefits. A knowledgeable and hard-working attorney, however, will be
able to help the accident victim look into other possible compensation
options. The lawyer can conduct further investigation into the case to
answer the following questions: Did the bar or restaurant that served
the driver alcohol do so while it was clear that the individual was already
drunk and likely to pose a safety threat to others? Were there any defects
with either of the vehicles involved in the accident? When the answer
is yes to questions such as these, it could be possible to seek damages
from additional defendants. Sadly, there are some lawyers who will ignore
these options simply because they are expensive to litigate.
Fully Understanding Costs of Care & Damages
Determining what types of medical and other costs a catastrophic injury
victim will face in the future is a vital step for that person's financial
and physical recovery. In addition to the initial medical treatment, other
more long-term needs will also have to be factored into the total amount
of a victim's damages. Medical evaluations are used to determine the
degree of a person's injury and impairment, as well as what his or
her future needs for care will be. In addition to the injury itself, here
are some other factors that will likely be considered in the medical evaluation:
- The victim's ability to work
- The types of physical therapy that could be used to improve the victim's
- Whether independent living is a possibility
- The victim's right to different forms of economic compensation
- Whether the individuals is eligible for protection against certain types
Another factor that will need to be considered is the victim's transition
from undergoing acute hospitalization to living in his or her home or
community again. When an interdisciplinary coordinated care approach to
rehabilitation is taken, the victim usually has a better chance of recovery.
Life Care Planning
The needs of a catastrophic injury victim today will likely not be the
same as that individual's needs 10, 20 or 30 years from now. This
is why life care planning after an injury or this type is so important.
Life care planning is an in-depth analysis of the medical-related goods
and services the victim will need in the various stages of his or her
life (as a result of the injury). This is not a simple process—it
requires a systematic approach that incorporates the input of experts,
such as those who work in medical specialties and in rehabilitation. The
types of data that could be used in determining life plan include the
following: medical, psychological, social, rehabilitative, vocational
and educational. Medical literature is used to help ensure that up-to-date
concepts of patient care management are being used. Important things to
take into account when forming a life care plan are how the patient's
needs will change due to his or her aging or due to the progression of
his or her impairment, as well as the desires and goals of the patient
and his or her family.
Life care plans serve as important tools for preventing or reducing the
likelihood of complications occurring down the road. This involves discussing
any potential complications related to the principal diagnosis so that
the appropriate care needs for those problems can be projected. A few
factors that can be used to perform cost analysis include the range of
services available in a particular region or geographic area, as well
as prevailing standards and costs.
The life care planning process usually involves using present-day costs
that are determined by drawing from the best data and resources that are
Life care plans serve as logical blueprints for meeting an injury victim's
needs in the future. These plans serve as important resources for health
care providers, case managers and family members. It is important to remember
that these plans are not prescriptions for care, but rather templates
that are meant to help those caring for the individual reach the best
outcomes possible. Furthermore, lawyers can use life care plans to improve
their chances of success in obtaining maximum compensation for catastrophically
injured individuals. The plans may also even be used in the determination
of investment strategies for best protecting the victim's resources
throughout his or her lifetime.
Who is liable?
One of the most fundamental aspects of your personal injury claim will
be determining who is liable for your accident—or, basically, who
is responsible for causing it. While many cases only involve one liable
party, there are many other situations in which there are multiple parties
responsible for the accident that resulted in an injury. Liability by
additional parties can be easy to miss, so it is important that the accident
be fully investigated so that all at-fault individuals are entities can
be held accountable. Failing to do so can place the injured individuals
at risk of not receiving the full monetary damages to which he or she
It is vital that victims of catastrophic injuries work with a competent
attorney when trying to determine who is at fault in an accident. Such
a lawyer will have full-fledged professional knowledge about how to best
identify all the responsible parties.
When a person's financial stability and physical recovery are on the
line, it is not worth the risk to try and handle the situation without
the guidance of a skilled professional.
Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Catastrophic Injuries
Which injuries are "catastrophic"?
An injury is usually considered to be "catastrophic" when it
is extremely severe and results in the need for extensive, and often long-term,
medical treatment. Because catastrophic injuries usually cause damage
to the central nervous system, various other systems and functions of
the body can be affected and the victim's life can be drastically
altered. Here are just a few of the many different types of catastrophic
injuries that can affect accident victims:
- Brachial plexus injuries (affecting the nerves around the shoulder, chest and arm)
- Brain injuries
- Burns affecting a large portion of the victim's body
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Multiple fractures
- Paralysis (monoplegia, paraplegia or quadriplegia)
- Vision loss or loss of an eye
Those who suffer from catastrophic injuries might also suffer from other
problems resulting from their conditions, such as depression and other
types of emotional problems. This often occurs when the victims have difficulty
adjusting to their new physical limitations.
Are catastrophic injuries permanent?
While some catastrophic injuries result in permanent impairments, others
are only temporary, though they will probably require lengthy recovery
periods. These periods might last for months or years. When a child is
injured, the effects of the injury might not fully manifest until an extended
amount of time has passed, considering that the child's body is still
developing. There are also other types of scenarios in which the victim
might not fully experience the effects of an injury until much later.
Sometimes a victim's physical injuries will heal before the person
has recovered from his or her emotional injuries.
What causes catastrophic injuries?
Just about any types of accident can lead to a catastrophic injury, including
accidents in which mechanical malfunctions occur. Here are a few potential causes:
- Construction accidents
- Defective products
- Farm machinery accidents
- Faulty boilers, heaters, engines, etc. (causing carbon monoxide poisoning)
- Faulty ventilation & HVAC systems
- Motor vehicle collisions
- Sports injuries
- Workplace accidents
Accidents can occur at any time and any place, regardless of how careful
the victim might be. All it takes is the negligent act of one other person
to lead to an accident that can significantly change one's life. There
is unfortunately no telling when an accident will lead to more minor injuries
or catastrophic injuries.
What type of compensation can I obtain if I am able to prove that the other
party in my accident was negligent, particularly when that party has insurance
and/or other assets?
These are the types of damages, or compensation, that an injured individual
can be awarded through a personal injury case:
- Medical expenses (current and future)
- Lost income (current and future)
- Expenses needed to care for the victim
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium (or spousal relations)
- Loss of enjoyment of life
In addition to forms of compensation, there are certain cases in which
punitive damages might be awarded to the victim. These are damages that
a court awards for the purpose of punishing the negligent party, rather
than simply making the individual or entity reimburse the victim for specific
expenses. The public often hears about victims who receive extremely large
verdict and settlement amounts after their accidents occur. It is important
to keep in mind that this is not compensation obtained for frivolous purposes.
Rather, it is payment that these victims truly need to receive quality
medical care, to support themselves when they cannot work, to be compensated
for the severe pain and suffering they will have to endure throughout
their lives, and more.
For a free confidential consultation to understand your rights,
contact our office online or call at 480-281-3838 to arrange a consultation. When results
matter, choose The Watkin Law Office, PC.
The Watkin Law Office, PC is a Scottsdale
personal injury and
wrongful death law firm that specializes in truck and
car accidents, motorcycle accidents,
boating accidents, and other serious personal injury and wrongful death claims throughout
Arizona, including Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale,
Peoria, Cave Creek, Carefree, Fountain Hills and Paradise Valley.
IMPORTANT: If an insurance claims agent for the person at fault calls to
"interview" you, decline -- at least until you have spoken with
an attorney. Despite what the insurance representative might tell you,
he or she is NOT "just trying to help."