In the world of personal injury, the term ‘catastrophic injury’ comes up all too often. The phrase may seem straightforward, as the word ‘catastrophe’ is a clear indication of a situation that is devastating, but is there a clear and definitive meaning or situation where it is used?
Though there is no specific legal meaning to the term catastrophic injury, the term has come to be used to describe an injury from which there is no chance of a return to normal function or the ability to return to meaningful, gainful employment. A person who has suffered a catastrophic injury is one who is no longer able to support themselves or their family, and that is why the term carries so much weight in a personal injury lawsuit.
When a person has suffered an injury that so affects them that it leaves them with no hope of being able to support themselves or their family in the future, or in need of retraining and assuming a different wage-earning role, it makes a significant change in how damages are calculated. Rather than determining and compensating for actual economic damages like lost wages and medical costs, a jury will be asked to determine the value of the person’s lost economic contribution and support. If they were already working and earning a wage, how much longer would they have worked, and how much might their income have increased over the years? If they had not yet reached working age, what was their potential? A personal injury attorney will often bring in an expert witness such as a forensic accountant to help figure out what that number should be.
It is important to remember that in addition to calculating the financial impact that a catastrophic injury has on income, there will also be a valuation in terms of quality of life. If the person who was injured had been an accomplished athlete or traveler and is now unable to walk or run; if they were a person who was a hobbyist who worked with their hands and they suffered an amputation that leaves them unable to pursue their craft; if they were an avid reader who suffered a traumatic brain injury and can no longer comprehend written words on a page, this will also be reflected in a jury’s compensation determination.
When a personal injury has been so catastrophic that it leaves the victim permanently unable to return to the life that they had before, the compensation that a jury is asked to provide should reflect that loss. For assistance in navigating the legal complexities of catastrophic injury, contact our experienced personal injury attorney.