The legal definition of a “catastrophic” personal injury is any injury that has “direct and proximate consequences” that “permanently prevents an individual from performing any gainful work.” In layman’s terms, a catastrophic injury is so severe that its victims are left with a permanent disability.
There are 3 general categories for catastrophic injuries:
Cognitive catastrophic injuries
Cognitive catastrophic injuries are those that impact the brain and affect the way that a person is able to speak, work and/or create new memories. They are among the most significant catastrophic injuries.
Physical catastrophic injuries
Physical catastrophic injuries occur when a person suffers an amputation, burns, damage to tissues or the function of their limbs and/or fractures.
Spinal catastrophic injuries
Spinal catastrophic injuries are those that involve the spine. Such injuries typically result in permanent disabilities.
Along with the 3 categories of catastrophic injuries, there are 3 main reasons why someone injured could be entitled to a catastrophic injury settlement:
- The severity of the injury. The expenses, the number of surgeries required, the amount of rehab needed and the required use of medical devices or medication to treat the injury all increase the severity.
- Loss of earnings. If you’re so injured that you can’t earn the same amount of money you could before the injury, you’ll likely be eligible for compensation to recoup those wages.
- Emotional damages. Even if you’re not severely physically injured, depending on the events of the accident that led to your injury, you could be entitled to compensation for emotional trauma.
There isn’t a blanket definition for what constitutes a catastrophic injury since what is catastrophic for 1 person may be recoverable for another.
For example, a traumatic head injury that keeps a single mother from providing for her children is catastrophic for her. Likewise, a professional skier who breaks bones and never recovers the stability in their legs would feel their injury is just as catastrophic.
That said, here’s a list of catastrophic injury examples:
- Disfigurement and/or significant scarring
- Loss of a limb
- Injuries resulting in long-term and/or permanent disability (especially if the disability reduces the plaintiff’s quality of life, earning potential or requires significant care or treatment)
- Severe burns
- Spinal cord injuries (particularly those that result in partial or total paralysis)
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
Any injury that results in a long-term or permanent disability that significantly disrupts the plaintiff’s life—including their ability to earn a living or those injuries requiring intensive medical treatment and/or long-term care—may be classified as catastrophic.
Suffering from a catastrophic injury doesn’t only impact the worker who is hurt. It’s an event that impacts every member of that person’s family. Becoming a caregiver—especially to someone who suddenly has severe mobility or cognitive deficits—is difficult.