Injured People

Managing a catastrophic injury claim

Spinal injury compensation claims require a significant focus on future needs.

IMPORTANT: Major changes to South Australia’s compensation scheme start from 1 July, 2013. For people injured in accidents from 1 July onwards, entitlements change significantly. Click here to find out how.

Any injury that changes a person’s life dramatically is mostly known as ‘catastrophic’.  This is usually a significant spinal or brain injury. Some victims sadly sustain both from the accident.

Many catastrophic injuries are caused by motor vehicle accidents. Collisions may not only leave the driver injured but also passengers. Whether or not the injured people in the car were wearing a seat belt can also impact on the significance of the injuries. Pedestrians in particular are exposed to catastrophic injury because they don’t have any protection. Some accidents can seem innocuous but still cause spinal injury.

Claims involving catastrophic injury are complicated and usually play out for two years or more because a claim cannot be finalised until the injuries have stabilised, and the future impact predicted with a reasonable degree of confidence by the doctors.  

Before the legal process gets underway a person with spinal injuries typically spends some time in hospital and at the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre. The first three to six months are vital to a person’s recovery, so gaining professional medical treatment should be the first priority.   

A person with a spinal injury will need a significant amount of assistance and care initially, but their needs will inevitably continue into the future. This might include modifications to a home, such as lowering bench tops, building extensions and altering the bathroom. This involves securing funding and a lawyer helps ensure the injured person’s needs are met by the insurer. The goal is to have the person living as independently as possible.

Unlike most other injury claims, catastrophic injuries require specialist opinion on many issues. The lawyer is constantly liaising with doctors, specialists, occupational therapists and the insurer to manage ongoing needs. The person’s condition is regularly monitored because those needs can change very quickly.

In these cases, a lawyer gathers information so the damage can be assessed properly. This includes obtaining accident details and photographs from the Police and information from the hospital about the person’s initial condition. The injured person would have a very difficult time going through this process alone.

The lawyer also gives advice about the amount of compensation. In catastrophic claims, the damages can be in the millions of dollars. It is important to get the claim right the first time, because once the final release documents have been signed there’s no coming back later and requesting additional funds.

It’s about assessing future needs, including equipment replacements and treatment for secondary injuries, such as shoulder problems which wheelchair users often develop. A lawyer must break down what the person’s costs will be each week for the rest of their lives.

Economic loss (lost income) is also assessed, for the past and the future. There’s a lot of work to be done before the claim can be resolved.   

More often than not, a lawyer understands the future needs before the person affected does. After all, they usually haven’t known someone who has been in this position before, but experienced lawyers have.

Many people who suffer catastrophic injuries also suffer emotionally. In a single moment, they go from being active to severely restricted. It’s very rare for someone to go through such a significant change of life and not be impacted by some psychological reaction at some point.

These type of accidents also put a lot of pressure on relationships and families. Such issues may not technically fall within the parameters of a claim, but a lawyer should still certainly provide as much support as possible.

Having said that, I am constantly amazed by people who somehow stay positive and find a way to manage, despite going through such physical and psychological trauma. The human spirit is a remarkable thing.  

TGB is a leading personal injury law firm with significant experience in catastrophic injury claims. If you were injured in a motor vehicle accident in South Australia, Northern Territorty or Western Australia, contact your nearest TGB office or register for a free initial appointment here.

You can support the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre by making a donation. Contact (08) 8222 1600.