Under Arizona common law, there are injuries and there are catastrophic injuries. But what makes the difference between the two? Any time we are injured we tend to think of it as serious, but what makes a personal injury truly catastrophic?
Here we will discuss how catastrophic injuries can happen in Phoenix and elsewhere in Arizona, their effects on you and your loved ones, and how you can recover for the harm done to you when someone else is at fault.
If you believe that you have experienced a catastrophic injury, talk with one of the Phoenix personal injury attorneys at Stone Rose Law. Call us at (480) 498-8998 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Simply put, a catastrophic injury is one that has debilitating and long-term or even permanent effects.
Catastrophic injuries can result in your being unable to work. They can also require you to undergo prolonged medical treatment, physical or occupational rehabilitation, and to suffer from long-term mental health effects like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. In especially grievous cases, a catastrophic injury can even reduce your life expectancy or lead to death.
Now that we know what catastrophic injuries are generally, we can focus on some specific kinds of catastrophic injuries and their impact on your life and your well-being.
A traumatic brain injury (or TBI) is the result of a significant impact to your head. Traumatic brain injuries can result in a range of problems, from concussions to wounds that fracture or even penetrate the skull. Long-term symptoms of a traumatic brain injury include physical and cognitive disabilities that can interfere with your ability to engage in normal life activities and prevent you from working.
Spinal cord injuries often result from severe trauma to your spinal column, such as you might experience in an auto accident, fall, physical assault, or sports injury. These injuries can affect the use of your neck, back, arms, and legs, up to the point of partial or complete paralysis.
An amputation is an injury that results in the loss of a body part, commonly a limb like an arm or leg or a digit like a finger or toe. More serious amputation injuries can affect your ability to work and to engage in normal life activities. They can also require significant medical treatment that can include prosthetic devices and physical rehabilitation.
Burn injuries range from first to fourth degree in increasing order of severity. Third- and fourth-degree burns can result in extensive soft tissue injury and destruction and are forms of catastrophic injury. Medical care for third- and fourth-degree burns can often take considerable time, and treatment can still leave significant scarring, disfigurement, and nerve damage.
Bone fractures can be open or closed, meaning the broken bone may protrude from the skin or remain contained within the skin. A single bone fracture is not usually a catastrophic injury, but an accident that results in multiple bone fractures can be, especially if the treatment requires extensive surgical repair, as with “non-clean” breaks known as spiral fractures.
After they occur, catastrophic injuries will require expensive and time-consuming inpatient medical care at a hospital or other treatment facility. Once you are able to return home, the chances are good that you will still need ongoing outpatient treatment that can include:
Catastrophic injuries frequently have spillover effects on spouses and other family members. These effects can be direct, like the loss of your financial contribution to your family or their need to take care of you.
The effects on your loved ones can be indirect, too, including the emotional distress they go through witnessing your physical pain and suffering. Whether direct or indirect, much of the emotional distress they experience is potentially actionable under Arizona personal injury law.
One potential catastrophic effect of a serious injury to you is that a loved one of yours might not recover from it. If someone else causes the injury that ends the life of a family member of yours, that is a wrongful death under Arizona law.
The cost of needlessly losing a family member because of the careless, reckless, or intentional act of someone else goes beyond no longer having that person’s economic contribution, companionship, and support. You go on losing even after the moment of death. Funeral expenses, burial costs, medical bills from pre-death medical treatment, and estate expenses all cost money that you should not have to pay if someone else is responsible for causing them.
You, other relatives of your deceased loved one, and his or her estate may have rights to recover compensation against the person or other entity like a company that was responsible for a wrongful death. These include a statutory survival action, a wrongful death lawsuit, or both. An Arizona catastrophic injury lawyer can help you to understand which of these remedies apply to you.
By their nature catastrophic injuries are, for most people, a crushingly expensive financial burden that often reduces if not eliminates your ability to make a living and dramatically increases your medical costs at the same time.
One of the first things you must do, after you have begun the process of receiving the necessary short and long-term medical treatment you will need, is to identify who was responsible for causing your severe injury.
Sometimes, knowing who caused your injury is easy. For example, let’s say a truck driver loses control over his vehicle, enters your lane, and collides with your car, causing you to experience a severe traumatic brain injury and spinal cord damage. The driver of the other vehicle is the first person you identify as a possible defendant in a personal injury lawsuit.
But does it stop there? What if the truck driver was working for his employer when the accident happened? Does the employer share responsibility, especially if the driver had a bad driving record and the employer hired him and kept him on when it found out?
What if part of the reason the driver lost control was because of a large pothole or other hazardous road condition that the local city government knew about but neglected to fix? Can you really “Sue city hall?”
What if the model of truck the driver was driving malfunctioned because of a design defect or manufacturing error, and that contributed to the accident? Can you sue the vehicle manufacturer?
What if when you are taken to the hospital for emergency treatment for an already catastrophic injury, the treating physician makes a delayed diagnosis or a diagnostic error that worsens your condition? Is that doctor accountable to you? The hospital? Both?
Whose insurance company are you going to have to negotiate with to reach a settlement—the driver’s, the employer’s, the truck manufacturer’s, the city’s, yours, the doctor’s, the hospital’s—or maybe all of them?
Figuring out who was directly and indirectly responsible for causing your injury requires an experienced Arizona catastrophic injury attorney who understands what relationships to look for in the chain of events that led to your injury. One of our Stone Rose Law Phoenix personal injury lawyers can help you clearly understand who is potentially liable to you, and why.
In Arizona, you have two years from the time of the occurrence of your injury to file a legal claim in court to recover for it. This is the state’s statute of limitations for personal injury. Under some circumstances, such as an injury that did not show symptoms until after the accident, the statute of limitations can begin on the day you discover your injury.
Catastrophic injury cases are like any other personal injury case. A personal injury victim must show four basic elements to prove negligence to a jury, judge, or arbitrator to rule in your favor:
There are many kinds of duties in society which people owe to one another that, if breached, can lead to a catastrophic injury. Your first step must be to show that someone owed you a reasonable duty to avoid causing you harm.
Some of these duties we all owe to each other are safety-related. For example, you are probably familiar with the “Rules of the road” in Phoenix, in Arizona, and everywhere else in the United States. These rules impose duties on all drivers, like:
It follows that to obey a duty not to harm another person is reasonable behavior, and to breach such a duty is unreasonable. In our automobile-related example above, if another driver is driving while intoxicated, crosses into your lane, and hits you head on, causing you catastrophic injuries, then those behaviors were unreasonable and that driver breached his or her duty to you not to harm you.
This element you normally prove with evidence of your injuries from the accident or other event that caused your injury. You can prove your physical and emotional injuries through medical records of treatment, regular and expert witness testimony, police reports, insurance investigation reports, and more.
You can also prove related property damage costs by repair bills or estimates or costs of replacement.
Under Arizona personal injury law, proving this element usually involves a “but for” test: But for the breach of a duty reasonably owed to you by the other person, you would not have been harmed.
In the example above, but for the other driver’s being intoxicated, which led to crossing into your lane and colliding with you, all of which were duties that person owed you under the circumstances, you would not have suffered a catastrophic injury.
Proving your case in a catastrophic injury can be complex when negotiating settlement with one or more insurance companies, all of which will have their own experienced Arizona catastrophic injury lawyers and all of which will be looking for ways to minimize or even avoid making an insurance settlement payout to you if they can.
If your catastrophic injury claim must go to trial in an Arizona court, litigation can quickly become a complex maze involving your claims, counterclaims against you, cross-claims among the parties you are suing, and court motions seeking to dismiss your claims. If you are being represented by a lawyer your insurance company provides you, you should know that the insurance attorney is being paid by the insurer and cannot be oblivious to the desire of the insurer to keep your costs down.
This is why we recommend that you retain a Phoenix catastrophic injury attorney at Stone Rose Law. We know the kinds of evidence you will need to prove your case in settlement or in court. We know where to look for it, and how to get it. We know how to prepare the strongest case possible for maximum settlement or for the highest judgment award possible for you.
And we are not intimidated by insurance companies, their lawyers, or other defense attorneys that the person or people at fault for your severe injuries might hire. We are as tough in negotiations as we are in the courtroom, and – importantly – you are our only client, not an insurance company that is calling the tune from far away.
Most catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases in Phoenix and in Arizona generally settle out of court. But whether your compensation takes the form of an insurance company settlement check, an arbitral award, or a judgment from an Arizona court, the kinds of relief you receive must generally be convertible into a sum of money.
What your settlement amount or judgment award should consider are all the medical treatments and other costs connected with the catastrophic injury—not just up to the present, but anticipated future costs, too. Catastrophic injuries are frequently long-term if not permanent, so you must not short-change yourself when it comes to the long-term treatment you will need and the long-term consequences to you if you cannot return to work.
In some especially bad situations, such as ones in which your catastrophic injury was the result of extreme negligence, reckless behavior, or intentional harm, you may also be able to seek punitive damages from the person or people responsible.
Here are some of the costs to keep in mind when negotiating your catastrophic injury settlement or calculating your claims for financial compensation in court:
Two things to remember about catastrophic accidents are that they can be complex to settle or to litigate, and the stakes to you in what you get in an insurance settlement or judgment award are high because of the long-lasting or permanent disabilities on your life from such an injury.
What is more, because catastrophic injury settlement payouts are often significant, insurance companies will often fight these personal injury cases harder when it comes to settlement negotiations in the hope that you will settle for less.
Because of this, it is in your interest to have an aggressive and experienced personal injury attorney of your own when you are dealing with insurers and insurance lawyers. That is the service our Phoenix catastrophic injury lawyers provide at Stone Rose Law. Here are some of the services an experienced catastrophic injury attorney can provide to a personal injury client like you:
We represent clients with catastrophic injury claims on a contingency fee basis, meaning that if we do not win your catastrophic injury case for you, you owe us nothing.
You can find out much more about our personal injury law firm services on our personal injury page.
Every catastrophic injury case is different. At Stone Rose Law, we see not only your devastating injuries, but also you as a person. Our caring and empathetic team is committed to working with you, so that we can understand the myriad ways that your injuries have affected not only you, but also the psychological trauma your loved ones have experienced. We will use our skill and courtroom experience to obtain the maximum compensation you deserve.
If you or a loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury call Stone Rose Law now at (480) 498-8998 for a free consultation. Our Phoenix catastrophic injury attorneys are passionate about helping others who have serious injuries, possess the skill and experience necessary to do so, and would love the opportunity to assist you.
Remember, you only have two years to take action on your catastrophic injury claim. There is no benefit to waiting on your catastrophic accident claim. Call Stone Rose Law today, (480) 498-8998, to talk with a quality Phoenix catastrophic injury lawyer. If you prefer to contact our legal team online to ask a question or to set up a free initial consultation about your personal injury claim, you can reach us here.