What Associates a Catastrophic Injury? Legal Standards and Their Implications

Personal Injury Attorney

Long-term or permanent catastrophic injuries significantly impact an individual’s quality of life. According to the Canada Cost of Injury in 2021 report, all injuries cost Canadians $29.4 billion in 2018, or $80 million per day. 

Treatment and rehabilitation are needed for traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, severe burns, and multiple fractures.  Since catastrophic injury claims involve complex legal and healthcare issues, victims must understand the legal standards and implications.

This article addresses and compares the unique legal standards of catastrophic injury cases to standard injury claims. The article will highlight how catastrophic injury claims are decided and how a personal injury attorney helps victims receive fair compensation.

What Are the Markers of a Catastrophic Injury?

Life-altering catastrophic injuries cause significant physical, emotional, and financial hardships. These injuries usually involve:

  1. Spinal Cord Injury: Full or partial paralysis from spinal cord damage affects mobility and bodily functions.
  2. Traumatic Brain Injury: Severe head injuries can cause memory loss, cognitive impairments, and personality changes.
  3. Amputations: Losing a limb can severely impair daily life and require prosthetics.
  4. Severe Burns: Extended burns can cause disfigurement, chronic pain, multiple surgeries, and long-term rehabilitation.
  5. Multiple Fractures: Complex fractures can cause permanent disability or chronic pain and require lengthy recovery.

Common Causes

CauseDescriptionExamples of Injuries
Car AccidentsHigh-impact collisions can cause severe bodily harm.Head injuries, spinal damage, multiple fractures
Workplace AccidentsIndustrial accidents, falls from heights, and machinery malfunctions.Severe lacerations, crush injuries, traumatic amputations
Medical MalpracticeErrors during surgery, misdiagnosis, or improper treatment.Brain damage, nerve injuries, infections
Violent ActsAssaults, shootings, and other violent encounters.Gunshot wounds, stab wounds, severe blunt force trauma
Sports AccidentsHigh-risk sports activities, particularly in contact sports.Concussions, spinal cord injuries, broken bones

Implications  of Catastrophic Injury Claims

Financial Impact on Victims and Families

  • Health Care Costs: Procedures, surgeries, rehabilitation, and ongoing care are common for catastrophic injuries. Treatment costs can quickly add up and cause financial strain.
  • Costs of rehabilitation: Rehabilitation services like physical therapy, occupational therapy, and counselling help victims recover. These services are expensive and require a long time.
  • Loss of Income: Tragic injuries cause long-term or permanent disabilities that prevent victims from working again. Loss of income makes it harder for the victim and family to pay for daily expenses and future needs.

Psychological and Emotional Effects

  • Dealing with Long-Term Disability: Adapting to physical limitations, independence changes, and life expectations after a catastrophic injury can be emotionally challenging.
  • Lifestyle changes: After catastrophic injuries, changing living spaces, using assistive devices, and needing ongoing care are common.
  • Psychological Distress: As they accept permanent health and lifestyle changes, victims may feel grief, anger, frustration, or depression. 

Real-Life Case #1: Sullivan v GIO

Sullivan v GIO shows how damages are assessed when the injury significantly impacts the plaintiff’s earning capacity. When Sullivan was just three years old, he suffered a catastrophic brain injury in a vehicle accident.

  • Assessment: The judgment weighs several factors to determine fair compensation. The court considered the father’s geotechnical engineering career, the mother’s diligence, and family values.
  • Conclusion: The court believed Sullivan had above-average prospects and tertiary qualifications. Considering his father’s income, they believed Sullivan had high earning potential in his adult life. .
  • Damages Awarded: Sullivan received double the average weekly earnings plus 15% for contingencies.

Key Points of the Case

  1. Severe Injury: The serious brain injury that Sullivan sustained greatly diminished his ability to work in the future.
  2. Earnings Potential: The court referenced Sullivan’s father’s income but didn’t assume he’d follow his career path.
  3. Calculating Damages: The damages awarded were based on a prediction of Sullivan’s prospective earnings plus an extra percentage to account for uncertainties.

Real-Life Case #2: Simpson v Diamond

The plaintiff’s athetoid cerebral palsy was a result of birth defects brought about by medical mistakes. Because of the lack of oxygen during birth, this caused brain damage and problems with motor control. The plaintiff sued the error-causing medical team.

Court Rulings

  • Future Earnings Assessment: The court first examined the plaintiff’s family’s intelligence and accomplishments. Though the plaintiff wanted to be a lawyer, the court didn’t agree but recognized her business potential.
  • Damage Calculation: The court used adult average earnings rates, not just females, to determine compensation. The plaintiff received $161,623 for motor vehicle expenses, including a cheaper car.
  • Extra Allowances: An enclosed hydrotherapy pool costs $95,000 more. Experts thought this would help with therapy.
  • Education Costs: The plaintiff finished Year 10 despite communication issues. The court granted $171,628 for a special teacher in her education.

Catastrophic Injury: Canadian Legal Standard

Canada uses several criteria to classify injuries as catastrophic:

  1. Injury severity and Permanence: To be catastrophic, an injury must be severe and long-lasting. It must cause severe physical or cognitive impairments that are unlikely to improve.
  2. Effect on Victim’s Daily Life and Work: Catastrophic injuries often impair daily tasks and employment. Disabilities that prevent walking, dressing, eating, or working are examples.
  3. Need for Long-Term Healthcare and Rehabilitation: Such injuries require extensive treatment, including surgeries, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. Ongoing healthcare emphasizes the duration of the injury.

Jurisdictional Definitions and Variations

Provincial regulations and guidelines control the definition of catastrophic injury in Alberta, which may differ from that of other provinces. Alberta’s insurance regulations define catastrophic impairments in detail in motor vehicle accidents.

Motor Vehicle Accident Insurance Regulations

The Insurance Act of Alberta defines catastrophic impairment. These criteria ensure catastrophic injury victims receive adequate compensation and benefits for their long-term needs.

  • Paraplegia or quadriplegia.
  • Blindness in both eyes.
  • Loss of limb function due to amputations.
  • Significant cognitive or behavioural impairments from severe brain injuries.
  • Other severe impairments that permanently impair function.

Importance of Healthcare Evaluations and Expert Witness Evidence

Healthcare evaluations and expert testimony are essential for proving catastrophic injuries:

  1. Detailed Healthcare Evaluations

To document injury severity, doctors perform thorough assessments. This includes diagnostics, imaging, and cognitive and physical function tests.

  1. Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCE)

These assessments determine the victim’s functional limitations and accommodation needs by measuring work-related and daily living activities.

  1. Expert Testimony

In court, neurologists, orthopedic surgeons, and rehabilitation specialists may testify. Their advice clarifies the injury’s long-term effects, the need for ongoing care, and the victim’s expected challenges.

  1. Vocational Experts and Occupational Therapists

These professionals evaluate the victim’s ability to return to work or perform alternative employment and suggest vocational retraining or adjustments.

Difference Between Catastrophic and Standard Injury Claims

AspectStandard Injury ClaimsCatastrophic Injury Claims
Severity of InjuriesTemporary or less severe long-term injuriesSevere and permanent injuries
Loss of WagesShort-term loss of wagesLong-term or permanent loss of earning capacity
Pain and SufferingTemporary pain and sufferingSignificant, long-term pain and suffering
RehabilitationShort-term rehabilitationLong-term rehabilitation and therapy
Assistive DevicesGenerally not requiredOften required (e.g., wheelchairs, prosthetics)
Documentation and EvidenceClear-cut and straightforwardExtensive, detailed, and complex
Home ModificationsRarely necessaryFrequently necessary (e.g., ramps, specialized equipment)

Types of Compensation

  • Lost Wages: Standard claims cover recovery wages, while catastrophic claims cover permanent disability income.
  • Pain and Suffering: Pain and suffering compensation is much higher due to long-term serious injuries.
  • Decreased Life Enjoyment: Catastrophic injury claims include compensation for lost activities and enjoyment.
  • Future Healthcare Costs: Unique to catastrophic claims, these costs cover long-term care, including home care, equipment, and living space modifications.

Level of Case Complexity

  1. Expert Witnesses: This personal injury lawsuit requires rehabilitation, and financial experts to testify about the injuries and costs.
  2. Financial Forecasts: Calculating a complete compensation package for future expenses and losses requires long-term financial projections.
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Consult A Personal Injury Lawyer Today

Understanding catastrophic injuries and legal standards is essential for helping victims get support and compensation. From the nature and extent of damages claimed to the complex legal process of proving liability and negotiating fair settlements, catastrophic injury claims require thorough understanding and diligent representation. 

Consult Sidhu Personal Injury Lawyers Calgary immediately if you or a family member endured a catastrophic injury. Our attorneys focus on personal injury law and can help you navigate the legal process and get the compensation and justice you deserve.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the process for filing a catastrophic injury claim?

  1. Initial Consultation: A personal injury lawyer should be retained for a catastrophic injury. Our personal injury law firm offers free consultation by reviewing the merits of your case and offering competent legal counsel on a contingency fee basis.
  2. Investigation: Finding records, accident reports, and witness statements.
  3. Filing: Providing detailed evidence of the injury, damages, and victim’s life impact.
  4. Notification: Telling the at-fault party and insurer about the claim.
  5. Negotiating and Settlement: The victim’s experienced personal injury lawyers facilitate settlement negotiations with the at-fault party or insurance company.
  6. Personal Injury Litigation: A personal injury case may go to trial if fair settlements fail.

Do catastrophic injury victims have legal protections or accommodations in workplace and public settings?

Yes, disability rights laws like the Accessible Canada Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act may protect catastrophic injury victims. These laws prohibit disability discrimination and require employers and public entities to make reasonable accommodations for people with disability.

How do catastrophic injury claims affect insurance and policyholders?

Insurance premiums, policy limits, and coverage restrictions may increase due to catastrophic personal injury claims. Based on the frequency and severity of a personal injury claim, insurers may reassess their risk exposure and adjust premiums, changing policyholder coverage terms and pricing.

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