While there is no universal definition of a catastrophic injury, a catastrophic injury is a disabling injury with long-term and potentially permanent effects on the victim. Typically, they result in permanent disability, impairment, loss of a vital body part or function, and diminished quality of life. The injury can also prevent you from maintaining employment and requires years of medical treatment, rehabilitation, counseling, and sometimes surgical inventions. Understanding a catastrophic injury is essential if you seek compensation after an auto accident. In this article, G. Dallas Horton & Associates, a seasoned personal injury law firm in Las Vegas, discusses different types of injuries, their causes, and what to do to receive your deserved compensation.
Causes of Catastrophic Injuries Leading Auto Accidents
Numerous causes of the accident include human error and external causes that do not have any person’s direct fault. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that driver error is the primary cause of auto collisions in the county.
Anything that takes your attention from driving is a distraction. There are three main types of distraction: visual, manual, and cognitive. It can be talking to passengers, reading billboards, sending a text message, or eating. According to the Chicago Tribune, one of four motorists used a phone before causing an accident.
Reading or sending a message takes the driver’s eyes off the road for approximately five seconds.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 29 people in the U.S. die in car accidents involving drunk drivers. That is approximately one death in every fifty minutes. Alcohol impairs muscle coordination, reasoning, and thinking, which are fundamental to operating a motor vehicle safely. Consequently, drivers can make mistakes they would not otherwise, including speeding and failing to comply with traffic rules.
Driver fatigue can result in reduced attention on the road and a slower reaction rate. In extreme cases, the driver can fall into microsleep and lose consciousness on the road. Even a second of inattention on the road is enough to cause a collision.
Other driver-error causes include the decision to tailgate, make a hazardous pass, or speed. Poor decisions often result in unsafe speeds considering visibility, road conditions, and weather conditions. One of three auto accident deaths in the country involves speeding.
Collisions Unrelated to Motorist Error
Road conditions can play a significant role in causing an accident. An unmaintained roadway can reduce wheel traction or make it challenging for the vehicle to stop on time to avoid a hazard. Additionally, weather conditions can impair visibility or make the road slippery, affecting driving conditions. Finally, the vehicle’s mechanical performance can cause an accident. For instance, failing to maintain tires or the brake system can impede the capability to stop a car timely.
Determining Liable Parties
Determining the liable party helps you know who will bear financial responsibility for your catastrophic injury resulting from the auto accident. In other words, the defendant will pay for your injuries and property damage. The at-fault driver will not pay the money themselves; their auto insurance provider will.
There are several parties that you, the victim, can have a negligence claim against, and you can sue them all. These parties include:
- The driver
- The city, if poor signage or road maintenance caused your injuries
- The last mechanic who serviced your vehicle if their action caused your car to become defective
- The at-fault driver’s employer, if the motorist was on duty during the accident
Your qualified personal injury lawyer can assist you in identifying the defendant.
To receive compensation from the defendant, you must prove the defendant was negligent. The first step of establishing that defendant had a responsibility to avoid causing you harm. For instance, all drivers have a duty of care to drive carefully and abide by traffic rules so other road users are safe. You will then show how the defendant failed to meet the duty (the defendant’s behavior breached their duty of care). Once you prove the breach, the last step is verifying the breach caused your injuries and damage.
Different Types of Catastrophic Injuries
Sometimes life can change within a fraction of a minute. That is the case with sudden auto accidents that result in catastrophic injuries. A catastrophic injury is severe, disabling, and permanent. It leads to lifestyle changes for the victims. Even after rehabilitation, the victim could not engage in daily activities. Typically, patients require ongoing personal and medical care throughout their life.
Discussed below are some of the catastrophic injuries.
Traumatic Brain Injury
A traumatic brain injury occurs when the human body or head suffers from a blow or violent jolt that leads to bruising, bleeding, tearing, or swelling of your brain tissue. Your brain is central to the body functioning appropriately, and damage to it can significantly change how the body operates.
A TBI can come in several forms. Potential complications and required treatments will significantly depend on how the injury is obtained, the location of your injury, and the seriousness of your brain damage.
While there are degrees of seriousness in brain injuries, the same injury in one victim can produce different signs and symptoms in another. You can still sustain severe and enduring impact even when you think your injuries are mild, making it essential to consult a doctor.
Typical forms of traumatic brain injuries are:
- Concussions — Minor brain injuries caused by an impact on your head, sudden changes in movement, or shaking. While a concussion cannot be seen through imaging testing, it should be deemed severe and treated so. The injuries can cause concentration challenges, memory loss, disorientation, and headaches.
- Brain Contusion — A bruise of your brain tissue resulting from breaking and leaking of small blood vessels, causing issues associated with pressure build-up. An impact on your head can cause brain contusion. A severe contusion can cause unconsciousness, fatigue, agitation, confusion, brain swelling, and emotional distress.
- Penetrating Brain Injury — Open head or penetrating injuries occur when there is a break in the skull.
Costs related to enduring debilitating TBI can reach into the millions. Some injuries require lifetime medical attention and surgeries. The victim can also be unable to return to work or continue working in the same profession. The victim can even lose senses and abilities that substantially affect the ability to enjoy life.
Burn injuries are the last thing that can come to mind. However, if hot chemicals or liquid like oil or gas come into contact with the skin after a collision, you can suffer severe burns. Sometimes, cars catch fire after a crash, and any person trapped inside or nearby can be burned. You can also sustain friction burns.
If you sustained burn injuries, a medical practitioner should examine you to determine the injury’s severity.
Burns are classified based on their depth and the size of your burned area. Types of burn injuries include:
- First-degree burns — Damage to the epidermis (outer skin layer), causing pain and redness. The skin heals on its own.
- Second-degree burns — Damage to both the dermis and epidermis, causing skin redness, pain, blisters, and swelling
- Third-degree burns reach the skin’s innermost layer and can appear blackened or charred.
- Fourth-degree burns damage all skin layers, ligaments, bones, and muscles.
Treatment of burn injuries depends on the injury’s severity. Doctors can cover your burned area using a sterile bandage or apply creams to fight infections and prepare your wound to close. Treatment of severe burns can include painkillers, IV fluids, and surgery. Suppose the burn injury covers at least 10% of the body or involves major joints, genitalia, feet, or hands. In that case, your physician can recommend that you be admitted to a burn center for specialized care. You can require skin grafts and months of rehabilitation.
Severe burns can also alter your appearance. Even with plastic surgery or skin grafts, you could not go back to how you looked before your accident, resulting in a loss of self-confidence or self-consciousness.
Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI)
A spinal cord is a bundle of nerves encased within the spinal column. Nerves transmit messages to and from your brain and various body parts.
Generally, spinal cord injuries happen due to trauma. In other words, it is difficult for your spinal cord to be injured without significant force. Then the fractured bones damage the spinal cord and its nerves. If nerves fail to communicate with your brain, the body will lose essential functions like:
- Bowel and bladder function
- Muscle movement
- Heart rate
There are two categories of spinal cord injuries, namely:
- Complete — Causes total paralysis below the injury level, affecting all sides of the body. It can result in paralysis of the lower half of the body (paraplegia) or all four limbs (quadriplegia).
- Incomplete — Causes the loss of some functions.
SCI symptoms depend on the location of your damage and the type of injury. You should seek immediate medical treatment if your notice the following symptoms after your car accident:
- Weakness in your legs or arms
- Decreased sensations in legs or arms
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Pressure or severe pain in your back or neck
- Challenges breathing
- Unusual lumps along your spine
Most SCI patients require rehabilitation to assist them using assistive devices, recover skills needed for daily living activities, or regain mobility and strength in the body with nerve function.
Due to extensive hospital stays, huge medical bills, and personal assistance costs linked to this catastrophic injury, you deserve maximum benefits from filing a personal injury claim.
Internal Organ Damage
Internal organ damage is an injury that affects the interior of your body. While these injuries are mainly linked to damage to numerous organs in the torso, like the kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs, they can include organs from other areas like the abdomen and brain.
Approximately 60,000 Americans succumb to blood loss annually. You can get a lethal hemorrhagic shock if you lose a lot of blood. Organs fail, and you can suffer from permanent damage and multiple disabilities or even die. Several treatments and surgical interventions can save your life and reduce the severity of the damage caused by the injuries.
However, surgical procedures and medical treatments are expensive. You can miss out on your income as you recover and lose job opportunities due to disabilities due to these catastrophic injuries.
Typically, the symptoms of internal organ damage are invisible, and victims often overlook the importance of seeking medical attention. It can be dangerous. Some of the symptoms to watch out for include:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in the urine
- Rapid pulse
- Tenderness in the injured site
- Cold sweaty skin
- Low blood pressure
On top of seeking immediate medical assistance, keep your medical records to establish that the car collision caused the injuries.
If a negligent person caused the car accident, you should bring a personal injury claim against the defendant. A successful claim will help you to recover compensation for the medical expenses and lost income, among other damages suffered.
The eye is a sensitive body part without protection from the accident's impact. Trauma-related eye injuries are prevalent after accidents. A blow to the face or head can result in physical trauma to your brain or the eyes that can affect eyesight and cause long-term or short-term injuries. Common eye-related issues after an accident include:
- Eyelid lacerations — Debris and flying glass can result in severe cuts to your eyelid. Eyelid laceration complications include infections, bleeding, irregular eyelid contours, corneal injury, septal perforation, and eyelid notching.
- In an auto wreck where an airbag has been deployed, victims can experience a chemical burn to their eyes because of powder or vapor escaping from the airbag. The chemical burn can result in alkali keratitis, causing permanent vision loss if left untreated.
- Orbital fracture — It is a break in an eye socket bone. Its symptoms include double vision, challenges focusing, blurred vision, challenges moving your eyes, swelling, and sensitivity to light.
- Retinal detachment — This happens when the tissue that makes up the retina is torn from the neighboring tissues, depriving it of nutrients and oxygen. Its symptoms include seeing flashes of light, floaters in the field of view, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light. It is wise to seek medical care if you experience these symptoms since retinal detachment requires immediate surgery to prevent permanent damage and vitreous hemorrhage.
- Vitreous hemorrhage — An accident-related trauma can damage the blood vessels in your eyes, causing blood to leak into your vitreous humor (the transparent, jellylike substance in the eyes). Vitreous hemorrhage can cause vision loss and glaucoma.
- Optic nerve damage — Head injuries can cause increased pressure in your skull, damaging your optic nerve and affecting blood circulation to your optic nerves. It can also result in permanent blindness or vision damage.
For some victims, vision loss is temporary, while others never regain full vision in the affected eye(s). If you sustained an eye injury, please contact G. Dallas Horton & Associates. We believe in bringing the negligent party to justice so you can be made whole again.
Soft Tissue Injuries
An injury to the body’s soft areas like muscles, tendons, blood vessels, lymph vessels, and ligaments is categorized as soft tissue injury. Common soft tissue injuries include tenosynovitis, sprains, strains, contusions, lipoma, bursitis, myalgia, and medial collateral ligament.
A soft tissue injury can result in discomfort and severe pain manifesting as swelling, stiffness, bruising, and soreness. These catastrophic injuries happen in auto accidents due to the impact of the accident between the automotive and the force it causes on the car occupants. Depending on the accident's severity, the exerted force can cause the passengers to be violently jolted or thrashed around.
Of all forms of car accident-related soft tissue injuries, whiplash is the most severe. Whiplash is hyperextension injury or cervical strain. Whiplash happens when an impact from a collision forces the neck and head to move back and forth violently. Its symptoms include back challenges, severe neck pain, neck stiffness, and cognitive issues like concentration and memory problems.
Typically, these injuries are not evident initially and are challenging to identify. Most soft tissue injuries do not appear in x-rays, and victims can require more specific imaging tests like CT scans or MRIs. Therefore, professional medical care is essential for treating and diagnosing your soft tissue injuries.
If you sustained soft tissue injuries, your damages are not immediately apparent. Your physician can assist with your injuries. To recover compensation, a skilled personal injury attorney can aid you in determining the at-fault party and whether you can collect damages.
Sustaining an injury in a vehicle crash can be devastating when your body cannot absorb the impact causing bones to break. Some ways you can sustain a bone fracture include being thrown from your car, hitting an object, and falling. Typical types of broken bone injuries include:
- Closed bone break
- Open bone fracture
- Traverse fracture
- Comminuted fracture
- Compound break
- Stress break
- Buckle break
- Avulsion fracture
- Oblique fracture
- Distraction fracture
- Hairline fracture
When a victim arrives at an emergency room, experienced doctors will perform imaging testing to identify fractured bones and other internal injuries. Broken bones are painful and take months to heal. Generally, victims require surgical intervention that can include metal rods and pins to pin bones in place during recovery.
Without proper medical treatment and sometimes surgical repair, a broken bone injury can result in complications, including infections and non-union recovery.
What is the Average Settlement Amount?
Every seasoned personal injury attorney will tell you that all potential clients ask what their average catastrophic injury settlement is during their initial consultation. As much as the legal expert would like to give you an answer, it is not always cut and dry. There are numerous factors when it comes to determining the settlement amount. Usually, the G. Dallas Horton & Associates legal team looks at all claims in detail and offers plaintiffs comprehensive and educated opinions.
These factors include:
- Value of your economic damages — Economic damages are the financial losses you experience or will experience in the future due to an auto-related catastrophic injury. Substantial medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and lost earning capacity affect the value of the economic damages suffered. Consequently, increasing the compensation amount you are entitled to.
- The degree of your non-economic damages — Non-economic damages include reduced quality of life, emotional distress, loss of consortium, and pain and suffering. Generally, severe physical injuries result in significant non-economic damages. Also, the worth of your damages can be based on your activity level, parental status, and age.
- The fault of the involved parties — Nevada uses modified comparative negligence laws. You are eligible to receive compensation from the defendant, provided the liable party was more than 50% accountable. That means if you are found 50% or less responsible, your award will be reduced by a proportion equivalent to your percentage of accountability.
- Insurance coverage in place — Even if your injuries are severe and you deserve millions, there may be no source from which to recover the amount of money if there is inadequate coverage.
- Admitting fault
- Failing to notify the insurer of your accident in time
- Posting conflicting text or images on social media
While you cannot change factors like your degree of accident liability or the amount of insurance coverage in place, there are some things you can do to increase your claim outcome, including:
- Seeking immediate medical attention
- Collecting and preserving evidence like police reports and photos of the injuries and accident scene
- Noting down the names and contact information of your accident witnesses
- Understand the value of your claim
- Failing to accept the insurance company’s initial offer
- Including your future damages in your demand letter
- Staying off social media
- Hiring a competent personal injury attorney immediately
- Filing your claim in time (The statute of limitations to pursue a claim for injuries is two years from the date of the accident. If the victim succumbed to the collision, the SOL is also two years)
- Putting your settlement agreement in writing
Find a Competent Personal Injury Attorney Near Me
Generally, car accidents happen suddenly, resulting in catastrophic injuries and suffering to victims. Reaching a full recovery does not always happen, leading to substantial medical expenses, loss of income, and long-term care for life-changing disabilities. Recovering fair compensation from the defendant’s insurance provider only adds to the burden. Since a lot is at stake, you should consult an experienced Las Vegas personal injury attorney. At G. Dallas Horton & Associates, we have a masterful command of the law. We can handle your case with attention to detail and with an end goal of helping you recover your deserved compensation and make you whole again. Please contact us at 702-820-5917 to schedule your initial no-obligation consultation.