Some personal injuries are catastrophic. A catastrophic injury causes great harm or destruction to the victim. In other words, the victim’s life will never be the same. An injury may be catastrophic because it is severe, because it is permanent, or because it is disfiguring.
Medical bills and pain and suffering are often much greater in catastrophic injury claims than in other personal injury claims. These injuries deserve the appropriate amount of compensation through the legal system.
The Bringardner Injury Law Firm represents victims in personal injury claims, including those involving catastrophic injuries. Trial attorney Mark Bringardner explains several issues critical to catastrophic injury claims in Charleston, SC.
Claiming Future Damages
One critical element in any catastrophic injury claim is future damages. The impact of a catastrophic injury continues long after the dust has settled on the legal case. There are likely to be future medical expenses and care needs. The pain and suffering, and emotional anguish often continue for a lifetime. The victim’s career and earning capacity may be drastically altered.
Evaluating future damages are important to achieve justice in a personal injury claim. To the extent that they are “reasonably certain to result in the future from the injury,” future damages may be a part of the compensation claim. Wilder v. Blue Ribbon Taxicab Corp., 719 S.E.2d 703 (S.C. Ct. App. 2011).
As the plaintiff, the victim must adequately prove their claim for future damages. There may be various ways to provide proof, including the testimony of the victim, medical records, and expert witnesses regarding medical issues or future earning capacity. For example, in the Wilder case, the court sustained an award of future damages where the victim testified to ongoing pain and suffering years after the accident.
Damages do not need to be proven to a mathematical certainty. Haltiwagner v. Barr, 186 S.E.2d 819 (1972) (sustaining an award for future damages where the plaintiff presented evidence of their career path and life expectancy). Because determining future damages is imprecise, it’s critical for the victim to present the information and arguments that the finder of fact needs to award the appropriate amount.
Interpreting an Insurance Policy
Catastrophic personal injury cases are often settled through insurance claims. That makes applying and interpreting an insurance policy critical to achieving a favorable result in a catastrophic injury claim.
Insurance policies follow general rules of contract interpretation. B.L.G. Enterprises, Inc. v. First Financial Ins. Co., 514 S.E.2d 327 (1999). To determine a policy’s meaning, the court looks at the plain, ordinary language of the policy and the words used in it. The policy’s language is considered as a whole, rather than just a single word or sentence taken out of context. Yarborough v. Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co., 225 S.E.2d 344, 348 (1976).
The courts aim to neither extend nor defeat coverage from the parties’ intent. Gambrell v. Travelers Ins. Cos., 310 S.E.2d 814, 816 (S.C. 1983). However, contractual terms may still be ambiguous. Bell v. Progressive Direct Ins. Co., 757 S.E.2d 399, 406 (S.C. 2014). For example, in Hansen v. USAA, the parties disputed policy coverage for an out-of-state accident where the policy called for “at least” coverage of mandatory out-of-state statutory minimums but also contained a family exclusion. The court’s interpretation of the contractual language bore great significance on the amount ultimately payable for the claim.
Anticipating contract interpretation issues and addressing them may be critical to securing fair compensation for a catastrophic injury victim. Because the defense may be looking for any reason to deny or minimize a high-value claim, effectively addressing contract interpretation issues should be particularly important in catastrophic injury claims.
Understanding Damage Caps
Recovery in a catastrophic injury claim is based on the actual damages and losses that are allowable under South Carolina law. Economic and non-economic losses may be claimed. (S.C. Code § 15-32-210). Often, these claims are satisfied through insurance policies up to the policy limits. However, another limitation to be aware of is the possibility of a damages cap.
Fortunately, South Carolina seldom imposes damages caps in personal injury claims. In general, there are no caps except in medical malpractice claims, claims falling under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act and punitive damages awards. (S.C. Code § 15-32-530). A catastrophic injury claim must be evaluated for causes of action that are not subject to caps and any exceptions to a damages cap that may be argued, such as the exceptions to the punitive damages cap iterated in South Carolina Code § 15-32-530(C)(1)-(3). In addition, the plaintiff should be aware of how damage caps may impact the compensation amount when applicable.
Jurisdiction and Applicable Law
A catastrophic injury victim may claim the compensation allowable under the law that applies to the case. Of course, an important question is what law applies to the case? Personal injury laws vary significantly among states. In addition to applicable laws, different procedural requirements may apply in different courts. South Carolina has different levels of courts and courts with jurisdiction over different types of cases. Most catastrophic injury claims in Charleston, SC, begin in Charleston County Circuit Court.
In South Carolina, jurisdiction depends on territorial jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction, and the amount claimed. A catastrophic injury victim must be aware of jurisdictional issues to prepare, plead and pursue their claim effectively.
Addressing Legal Issues in Catastrophic Injury Claims
Success in pursuit of a catastrophic injury claim requires navigation of a myriad of legal and factual issues. Future damages, insurance policy interpretation, damages caps, and jurisdictional questions are some critical questions when working towards a fair result for a victim of catastrophic injury. Effective legal representation anticipates and addresses all relevant issues to maximize the case result for the client.
Lawyers for Catastrophic Injury Claims
Mark Bringardner and his legal team have received some of the top reported personal injury verdicts in South Carolina over multiple years. Many of those results involved catastrophic injuries. Bringardner Injury Law Firm is proud to represent community members in complex personal injury claims, including those involving catastrophic injury. Call Bringardner Injury Law Firm today for a consultation regarding your case.