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Guide to Catastrophic Personal Injury Claims in Tennessee

How catastrophic injuries differ and what it means for your accident lawsuit

Many people make the mistake of grouping all injuries into a single category. However, Tennessee law defines catastrophic injuries differently, and this distinction can have a significant impact on your rights and compensation. Legally, an injury is catastrophic if the impacts resulting from the injury are likely to have a long-term or even lifelong negative effect on your life.

Unlike a standard personal injury claim, the expenses associated with a catastrophic injury can be extremely high and occur throughout a lifetime. Thus, it is important to know when or if a catastrophic injury has occurred, and to understand your rights.

Common causes of catastrophic injuries

Catastrophic injuries can occur from an array of circumstances. However, they most commonly occur when damage is done to the brain or the spinal cord. These injuries are often particularly damaging and can have a disproportionate impact on a person's life.

The primary difference between a "regular" injury and a catastrophic injury is the amount of damage that occurs. Whether or not the victim can maintain gainful employment is one of the primary factors to consider. If the damage from the injury means that the victim can no longer support themselves financially or into the future, a catastrophic injury has almost certainly occurred.

While the inability to work is a commonly cited proof of catastrophic injury, it is not the only form. In determining the degree of a catastrophic injury, the courts will look to see if the victim is incapacitated. Incapacitation can take multiple forms.

In the case of traumatic brain injuries, incapacitation typically results in the victim being unable to form logical thoughts, unable to make decisions or even the inability to talk or communicate. However, physical and situational damages can often be considered incapacitating as well.

For example, Tennessee code §29-39-102(d) cites numerous specific examples that are considered a catastrophic injury. Any spinal injury that results in paraplegia or quadriplegia is a catastrophic injury. Similarly, amputations are often considered catastrophic. If 2 hands, 2 feet, or a hand and a foot are lost in an accident, a catastrophic injury has occurred.

Burns can also be considered catastrophic. If a third-degree burn covers either 40 percent or more of your body or 40 percent of your face, then the injury will be deemed catastrophic.

Situational changes can lead to a catastrophic injury designation as well, such as the wrongful death of a parent leaving behind a minor child.

Why is it important to determine a catastrophic injury?

Unlike a common personal injury claim that may only address the immediate costs of the injury, a catastrophic injury claim can compensate victims for lifelong expenses. Thus, the amounts in question can be significantly higher given the much higher costs associated with a long-term injury.

Tennessee has no limit on economic damages for personal injury. Thus, it is not simply a matter of having medical bills paid. Rather, a catastrophic injury claim can include mental healthcare, lost earnings, loss of future earning capabilities and even burial costs.

Further, Tennessee allows for non-economic damages as well. These damages are often more difficult to classify but can include compensation for the burdens associated with physical and emotional pain, lost companionship or consortium, lost enjoyment and loss of mental health.

Unlike economic damages, there is a cap on this form of compensation. Tennessee places this cap at $750,000 in most injury cases. However, the law makes an exception for catastrophic injuries and raises the cap to $1,000,000. Thus, in countless ways, determining if your injury was catastrophic can have significant impacts on your rights.

When to consult a Tennessee catastrophic injury lawyer

Injury cases are always complex, and navigating the law by yourself is almost impossible. These complications are only enhanced in the case of a catastrophic injury. Thus, if you suspect you have been wrongfully injured and are owed compensation, it is crucial that you speak with a qualified attorney with experience in personal injury law.

Proving a personal injury case is not a simple 1-step matter. Rather, it must be shown that:

  • The alleged guilty party has a duty of care towards the victim,
  • The duty was breached,
  • The breach caused the injury, and
  • Damage occurred.

Any oversight in this process can have a significant impact on your rights and ability to collect compensation.

Further, the matter of proving whether or not an injury was catastrophic can often involve meeting a higher burden. Expert witnesses are often key in proving that a catastrophic injury has occurred. Beyond this, expert witnesses are in the best position to accurately determine the specific damages that you are owed, including medical costs, lost wages and countless other potential hidden costs associated with your injury.

At Gilreath & Associates, our experienced attorneys have access to a network of expert witnesses that can present your damages in the most accurate way possible.

Whether you have suffered an injury or someone you love has, it is paramount that you know your rights. The nuances of any injury case can be exceptionally complex, and the stakes are only raised when dealing with a catastrophic injury. Partnering with an attorney with a track record of navigating personal injury cases is the best way to protect your rights and ensure you are given the compensation you deserve.

Contact the team at Gilreath & Associates today for your free consultation.


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