Catastrophic Personal Injury Cases
The purpose of this article is not to suggest that injuries that are not "catastrophic" do not justify substantial compensation. Instead, the purpose of this article is to highlight the long-term effects that can be associated with particularly severe injuries, and the importance of obtaining quality legal representation for those injuries.
By "catastrophic," I mean to refer to injuries which require significant medical treatment, and which usually have a long-term or permanent effect on an injured person's life. Some injuries are catastrophic, but with good medical attention the injured person can make a good or excellent recovery. Others cause permanent disability, significant suffering, and may substantially shorten an injured person's lifespan.
It is often a good idea to seek specialized legal assistance with catastrophic injury cases. For example, some attorneys have a much better understanding of closed head injuries or burn injuries than others. A catastrophic injury can necessitate a lifetime of medical care, or repeated reconstructive surgeries. It is helpful to have an attorney who understands the treatment and recovery process. A severely burned child may require repeated surgeries to accommodate growth, in addition to various cosmetic surgeries. A child with a bone fracture that affects a growth plate may face difficult bone-stretching procedures, and may never have normal use of an affected limb. If an attorney understands the long-term effects of an injury, the attorney will be better able to argue for just compensation.
Additionally, Michigan imposes special rules for certain types of litigation, such as Dram Shop Act litigation for injuries caused in part by a bar's provision of alcoholic beverages to a visibly intoxicated person, or for medical malpractice actions. It is almost always beneficial to consult with a lawyer who knows those rules, and any special statutes of limitation that may apply.
When a person suffers a spinal cord injury, the person may face a life of disability and dependency. An active person can suddenly become an invalid, with injuries that cannot be treated by even the most advanced medical treatments. While there is always hope of a future medical advance which will ameliorate or even cure spinal cord injuries, at present medical science is limited. A parent whose child suffers a brain or spinal cord injury may suddenly find that the child requires full-time care. A brain injury may cause a personality change, causing a spouse, parent or child to suddenly seem like a different person.
A serious burn injury will often result not only in the need for prolonged and painful medical treatment, but also may require numerous reconstructive surgeries, skin grafts and extensive rehabilitation, and usually result in permanent disfiguring scars. The most important considerations for a burn injury patient are physical and emotional recovery.
An amputation injury usually results from a traumatic injury, such as a motorcycle or automobile accident, or a factory or construction site accident. As with other serious or disfiguring personal injuries, an amputation injury often triggers a severe grief reaction. Even those who have achieved significant success following an amputation injury, such as retired U.S. Senator Max Cleland, usually describe that they suffered from severe depression after their injuries.
When a person is killed as the result of the wrongful action of another, the legal system refers to the incident as a "wrongful death". An action for damages is usually brought by the decedent's legal heirs, most typically the deceased's spouse, children, parents, grandparents, or brothers and sisters.
When children suffer serious injury, their entire family can suffer. A child's rehabilitation or disability can consume the time and energy of both parents and siblings. When injuries cause changes in a child's abilities or personality, there can be a significant effect on the child's relationship with family members and peers. With very young children, the full extent of injuries may not be apparent for years, as learning or behavioral difficulties become apparent as the child's schooling and relationships become more sophisticated.
One of the true tragedies of life is that many people are catastrophically injured, but cannot recover adequately for their injuries. Under the guise of "tort reform", legislatures throughout the country have imposed caps on "non-economic" damages, which can be ridiculously low. Ironically, studies indicate that huge jury verdicts are rare, and that most injury victims are undercompensated. By misrepresenting the exceptional case as the norm, insurance companies have successfully protected their wealth at the expense of society's most vulnerable injury victims.
The worst and most dangerous drivers often carry the lowest possible amount of insurance that the law allows, or carry no insurance at all. Few people would voluntarily allow themselves to suffer even a simple fracture of a bone, even for tens of thousands of dollars. The amount of suffering that results from living a lifetime with disfiguring scars, or with a spinal cord or brain injury, is inconceivable. Our society really should do more to take care of its own -- to make sure that people who suffer catastrophic injuries do not effectively lose their right to a reasonably normal life, just because an insurance company successfully lobbied for damages caps on personal injury or malpractice actions.
If you or a loved one face recovery from a catastrophic injury, seek assistance from an attorney who has experience with your type of injury, and who knows how to find every possible source of recovery. Even if you don't have a legal cause of action, an attorney may be able to assist you in obtaining government benefits.
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