Let’s face facts: car insurance is so boring that insurance companies dress up their brands with memorable spokespeople to distinguish themselves along with their rates and service. Regardless of whether it’s Flo from Progressive, the Geico Gecko or Jake from State Farm motivating your call, ALL Michigan drivers get to choose from a tiered benefits system or the traditional unlimited medical benefits as part of their traditional auto no-fault car insurance.
In 2019, the Center for Disease Control reported almost 40,000 accidental injury deaths related to motor vehicle accidents. From these accidents, there were 29.4 million emergency room visits. Calculating the costs of these visits as well as all of the care for catastrophic injury survivors can be jaw-dropping. Paying out of pocket would bankrupt the average family.
Due to changes in the Michigan Auto No-Fault Laws, every driver in Michigan must now choose between six medical benefits options:
- Unlimited coverage
- Up to $500,000 in coverage
- Up to $250,000 in coverage
- $250,000 in coverage with PIP Medicaid exclusions
- Up to $50,000 in coverage
- PIP Medical Opt-Out (Only available to Medicare recipients)
While the issue may look cut and the numbers dry, the simplicity of the tiered system is deceptive. Especially, when a “simple” car accident can lead to a devastating catastrophic injury.
What Is a Catastrophic Injury?
A catastrophic injury usually occurs suddenly and can leave a person suffering from permanent disabilities for the rest of his/her life. These injuries have serious, long-term physical and mental effects on the survivor. Catastrophic injuries can put serious strain on a survivor’s family because they might require supervision or assistance for the rest of their lives – and the lifetime of rehab and medical bills that accompany them.
Common Causes of Catastrophic Injury:
- Car Accidents
- Truck Accidents
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Bike Accidents
- Dog Bites
- Workplace Accidents
- Explosive Blasts
- Sports/Recreation Accidents
What Are Some Examples of Catastrophic Injuries Common to Auto Accidents?
Traumatic Brain Injuries
Traumatic brain injury can have wide-ranging physical and psychological effects. Some signs or symptoms may appear immediately after the traumatic event, while others may appear weeks or months later. Generally caused by a blow to the head, survivors can expect to suffer a variety of symptoms. Often TBIs go undiagnosed if there is no obvious physical trauma to the skull. While some brain injuries can be overcome and fade in time, others cause such extensive damage that there is little hope of recovery.
Physical Symptoms of Brain Injuries Include:
- Loss of consciousness from several minutes to hours
- Persistent or worsening headache
- Vomiting or nausea
- Convulsions or seizures
- Dilation of one or both pupils of the eyes
- Clear fluids draining from the nose or ears
- Inability to awaken from sleep
- Weakness or numbness in fingers and toes
- Loss of coordination
Cognitive or Mental Symptoms:
- Profound confusion
- Agitation, combativeness or other unusual behavior
- Slurred speech
- Coma and other disorders of consciousness
Spinal Cord Injuries
A survivor’s ability to control their limbs after a spinal cord injury depends on two factors: the location of the injury on the spine and severity of the injury. The lowest normal part of the spinal cord is referred to as the “neurological level” of injury. The severity of the injury is often called “the completeness” and is classified as either:
Complete. If all feeling (sensory) and all ability to control movement (motor function) are lost below the spinal cord injury, the injury is called complete.
Incomplete. If the survivor has some motor or sensory function below the affected area, the injury is called incomplete.
Additionally, paralysis from a spinal cord injury may be referred to as:
Tetraplegia. Also known as quadriplegia, this means that your arms, hands, trunk, legs and pelvic organs are all affected by your spinal cord injury.
Paraplegia. This paralysis affects all or part of the trunk, legs and pelvic organs.
Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms Include:
- Loss of movement
- Loss or altered sensation (including feeling heat, cold and touch)
- Loss of bowel and/or or bladder control
- Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
- Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity and fertility
- Pain or an intense stinging sensation caused by damage to the nerve fibers in your spinal cord
- Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from your lungs
Symptoms to Watch for After an Accident
- Extreme back pain or pressure in neck, head or back
- Weakness, incoordination or paralysis in any part of body
- Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in hands, fingers, feet or toes
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty with balance and walking
- Impaired breathing after injury
- An oddly positioned or twisted neck or back
After a serious burn in accident, the immediate goals of treatment are to control pain, remove dead tissue, prevent infection, reduce scarring risk and regain function.
People with severe burns may require treatment at specialized burn centers. They may require skin grafts to cover large wounds. They will most likely also need emotional support and months of follow-up care.
Medical treatment for burn injuries are always advancing. At present, medical care may include medications and products intended to encourage healing:
- Water-based treatments.Ultrasound mist therapy to clean and stimulate the wound tissue.
- Fluids to prevent dehydration.Intravenous (IV) fluids to prevent dehydration and organ failure.
- Pain and anxiety medications.Healing burns can be incredibly painful. Opiates along with anti-anxiety medications — particularly for dressing changes – are highly advisable.
- Burn creams and ointments. To help prevent infection and prepare the wound to close the care team may select from a variety of topical products, such as bacitracin and silver sulfadiazine. These assist in infection prevention and prepare the wound to close.
- The survivor’s care team may also use various specialty wound dressings to prepare the wound to heal.
- Drugs that fight infection.If the survivor develops an infection, s/he may need IV antibiotics.
- Tetanus shot.The doctor might recommend a tetanus shot after a burn injury.
Other Surgical and Other Procedures May Include:
- Breathing assistance
- Feeding tube
- Easing blood flow around the wound
- Skin grafts
- Plastic surgery
Physical and Occupational Therapy
If the burned area is large and especially if it covers any joints, the survivor may need physical therapy. These exercises can help stretch the skin so that joints remain flexible. Other types of exercises can improve muscle strength and coordination. And occupational therapy may also help if the survivor has difficulty doing normal daily activities.
Loss of Limbs and Vital Organs
Without a doubt, the loss of a limb can be one of the most horrific and traumatic experiences in an accident. According to the National Limb Loss Information Center, more than 185,000 amputations are performed each year with 70% of amputations due to trauma involve the upper limbs. Loss of limb and/or vital organs require years of physical, occupational, psychological and pharmacological support.
Medical treatment for traumatized organs varies depending on the severity of the injury. For example, depending on the level of damage, a portion of the liver may be saved so that it still functions for the survivor. Other vital organs that may suffer trauma during an accident include the kidney, spleen, lung(s), bowels and pancreas.
Loss of either limb or vital organ can require years of medical support – especially physical therapy, mental health care and pharmacological support for pain and to assist the survivor’s body accept the new organ.
Lifelong Costs Associated with a Catastrophic Injury
The medical costs associated with the lifelong treatment of catastrophic injuries can be catastrophic themselves. According to data from the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation, for the first year, high tetraplegia procedures cost around $1 million, low tetraplegia costs $769,000 and paraplegia costs just under $520,000. After that, the annual costs range from about $42,000-$184,000 or more per year – for life.
Severe burns with complications, costs could climb over $10 million. If there are fairly straightforward conditions and no complications, treatment will average just over $1.6 million.
The lifetime costs of a traumatic brain injury can range above $3 million, depending on the age and needs of the patient.
Rehabilitation costs including physical and occupational therapy range from between $30-$350/hour and up depending on the severity of the injury, if specialized equipment is required.
After a traumatic event, survivors will likely experience a variety of psychological issues including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, adjustment disorder and even the five stages of grief as they mourn the loss of their former lives. (Make no mistake, they’re called catastrophic injuries for a reason.) Therapy costs can range from $75 – $500 per hour depending on the therapist, testing involved and the insurance company footing the bill.
For many survivors of catastrophic injury, living in their former place of residence is no longer an option. Whether physical barriers or behavioral barriers (often in the case of TBI survivors), they will require a specialized residential facility with the well-trained staff. Monthly supports and costs can go into the tens of thousands of dollars.
The Bottom Line with Catastrophic Injury Costs?
Medicine, nurses and aids, construction on the home, a new vehicle and special equipment must be considered. It becomes extremely costly just to survive.
Should You Choose Unlimited Medical Coverage?
Unless you’re independently wealthy to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, there’s no way to predict what you might need in case of an accident. The updated Michigan Auto No-Fault Law mandates consumers choose between 6 types of medical coverage. So, for all of the reasons mentioned above, the smart and simple answer is: Yes!
Center for Disease Control:
Glossary of Personal Injury Terms: https://www.thelobblawfirm.com/resources/personal-injury-glossary/