Catastrophic Personal Injuries
Catastrophic personal injuries are life-altering events. When personal injuries are caused by the negligence or misconduct of another party, the victim is entitled to pursue a claim for monetary damages.
Actual or “special” damages are calculated by the amount of the loss. For example, medical expenses are based on the actual cost of medical care – whether or not the expenses were paid by health insurance. Loss of income is based on the period of time when the injured party was unable to work, including the value of sick leave or vacation leave that was used as a result of the injury.
However, the most severe damages in a catastrophic personal injury case are more difficult to calculate. “Pain and suffering” damages may include compensation for physical discomfort, mental stress, anxiety, physical disabilities, mental impairment, loss of a capacity to work, or any reduction in the quality of the victim’s life. It is impossible to precisely calculate the appropriate compensation for these damages. Unless a personal injury claim is settled by agreement, the measure of these damages is “the enlightened conscience of a jury.”
Evidence of damages in a catastrophic personal injury case must be thoroughly investigated and carefully preserved. Expert witnesses may be called upon to provide specialized testimony on unusual or difficult issues. For example, a life care planner may confirm the difficulty and hidden costs of coping with a permanent disability. An economist may confirm the future impact of monetary damages or the present cash value of future damages.
The jury has a lot of discretion in awarding compensatory damages for pain and suffering at trial. To obtain a fair settlement, the firm must effectively explain and demonstrate these damages to the opposing party during settlement negotiations. To obtain an adequate verdict at trial, the firm must effectively present physical evidence, demonstrative exhibits and arguments to the jury that determines and awards these
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Wrongful death claims arise when someone is killed as the result of the misconduct of another party. A wrongful death claim is substantially different from a personal injury claim because the victim is unavailable to testify and the damages are less tangible. The loss of a family member has far-reaching consequences that are difficult to measure. The value of this claim cannot be precisely determined, as it is based upon the “full value” of the victim’s life.
The Howard Law Firm recognizes the complexity of establishing the maximum value of a wrongful death claim. The firm must frequently call upon the expertise of other specialists to pursue such a claim. A probate attorney may be called in to handle a dispute or difficulty with estate matters. An economist may confirm the present value of the decedent’s future earnings. A psychologist may establish the traumatic impact of the wrongful death.
Future earnings provide a significant, yet inadequate, valuation of a person’s life. The Howard Law Firm has developed the experience and expertise to obtain adequate compensation for this unique form of
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Medical malpractice is a specialized area of law that frequently overlaps with wrongful death and other catastrophic injuries. Medical malpractice is the failure of a hospital, physician or nurse to meet the standard of care required of such a medical practitioner in treating a patient under comparable circumstances. There is no guarantee that a medical patient will recover or benefit as a result of medical treatment. On the other hand, a patient may have a legitimate and substantial claim if he is seriously injured as a result of substandard medical care.
In 1989, James and Sharon Howard received a substantial jury verdict in O’Neal v. Georgia Osteopathic
Hospital, their first medical malpractice trial against one of the largest defense firms in Atlanta. The defendants did not offer any settlement prior to the DeKalb County trial, but the case was resolved during the appeal.
Since then, The Howard Law Firm has successfully litigated a number of medical malpractice
cases resulting in substantial settlements and jury verdicts for
In 1997, the firm received a $1,425,000 jury verdict in Williams v.
Warren, a federal medical malpractice case in Rome, Georgia. We believe this remains the largest medical malpractice verdict in that jurisdiction, although the case settled for a lesser amount prior to an appeal. Again, the defendants did not offer any settlement prior to trial.
Despite the firm’s successes, it is often difficult to settle medical malpractice cases for a number of reasons. Although physicians are usually insured, they
may retain the right to refuse any settlement. Thus, a physician may block a settlement to avoid higher insurance premiums even when he is clearly at fault. The Georgia legislature recently enacted “tort reform” legislation specifically intended to create more obstacles and to limit recoveries for medical malpractice claims. We anticipate that this legislation and the lobbying efforts of medical insurers will make it increasingly difficult
to fairly resolve these cases.
Defense firms also have highly skilled attorneys, readily accessible expert witnesses and substantial resources to defend a medical malpractice case. There are many “gray areas” in the practice of medicine, so a good defense firm can develop a credible defense in virtually any medical malpractice case. Defense firms are accustomed to winning the majority of these cases at trial, so it is difficult to negotiate a fair settlement without extensive litigation. Thorough preparation has allowed The Howard Law Firm to negotiate early settlements in some difficult medical malpractice cases, but a client should never anticipate an early settlement.
A medical malpractice action must generally be filed within two years of the resulting injury, although specific facts or claims may alter this statute of limitations. However, medical malpractice claims require extensive preparation before a legal action can be filed. In other civil actions, the supporting facts can be developed after a legal action is filed. In a medical malpractice action, the initial complaint must be supported by an affidavit from a medical expert. Therefore, the medical records and evidence must be carefully reviewed before an informed decision can be made about pursuing the claim. This preparation must occur long before the two-year statute of limitations expires to create an opportunity to settle the claim before filing suit.
A medical malpractice claim cannot be evaluated without the underlying medical records. The client should try to obtain these records as quickly as possible. The Howard Law Firm has handled several cases in which medical records were altered by medical providers. Therefore, it is critical to obtain the records before the doctor or hospital recognizes that the patient is considering a legal
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Products liability is a specialized area of law that may overlap with wrongful death and other catastrophic personal injuries. A manufacturer is legally obligated to manufacture products that meet technologically feasible safety standards at a reasonable cost. A manufacturer may be liable for damages if it manufactures a defective product, or if it cuts corners to produce a hazardous product just to save a few dollars in production.
In 1997, The Howard Law Firm received a $3,800,000 jury verdict in Blake v. General
Motors, its first products liability trial against the largest law firm in Atlanta. The client was injured because a defective seatbelt failed to protect her in a collision. The defendants did not offer any settlement prior to the Fulton County trial, and the defendant’s settlement offers were inadequate during the appeal. The judgment collected interest during a lengthy appeal, so the final recovery was $4,800,000. Since that time, the firm has carefully selected and litigated viable products liability claims
Products liability actions are usually time-consuming and expensive ventures against major corporations. A defendant’s failure to abide by established production standards and scientific principles must be established by expert witnesses. A manufacturer usually has immediate access to experienced attorneys and qualified expert witnesses. A products liability defendant may also be willing to expend enormous resources to avoid the cost and legal implications of correcting a defective product or production procedure.
A products liability action must generally be filed within two years of the resulting personal injury or death, although specific facts or claims may alter this statute of limitations. However, products liability claims require extensive preparation before a legal action can be filed. The firm will only accept one or two products liability actions at the same time due to the enormous investment of time and
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