Catastrophic Injury Claims: Examples and Next Steps

Life is never the same after a catastrophic injury. Learn about compensation for catastrophic personal injury claims and lawsuits.

No matter how serious, injuries are always significant to the people hurt. Not all personal injury cases, though, are created equal.

If you have a broken arm or leg, it can be very painful. You might lose some time at work. But you will eventually recover.

There are other types of injuries that are so serious that you and your family may never recover.

These injuries are collectively known as catastrophic injuries. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines “catastrophe” as “a sudden event that causes very great trouble or destruction.” Many personal injuries could be described in this way. But catastrophic injuries are the worst of the worst and tend to involve permanent disability, disfigurement, and more.

While the size of the harm is the biggest distinction, there are other considerations as well. Catastrophic cases typically need more experienced attorneys with more sophisticated, high-value practices. And the insurance companies on the hook for a verdict will fight even harder to avoid paying fair compensation.

This article will look at what catastrophic injuries are and how these cases need to be handled by you and your attorney. We’ll also look at how catastrophic compensation is different in both quantity and quality.

What Is a Catastrophic Injury?

surgeons operating

If you think the term “catastrophic injury” sounds a bit vague, you’re not alone. The medical community provides the most precise definition. One academic discussion of athletic training cites the common medical understanding that a catastrophic injury consists of brain, spine, or spinal cord injury.

The medical context for this term is helpful, but the legal terminology is much broader. There is no universal definition of what makes any particular personal injury case catastrophic.

In reference to catastrophic injury for public safety officers, the U.S. Congress determined that:

“[C]atastrophic injury” means an injury, the direct and proximate consequences of which permanently prevent an individual from performing any gainful work …”

Even this definition is a bit too strict from a real-world point of view. We should also include severe disfigurement and amputation of limbs. Permanent paralysis, such as paraplegia and quadriplegia also qualify as catastrophic.

Some more common examples of catastrophic injuries are:

The key thing to remember is that catastrophic injuries are life-changing. Catastrophic injury victims usually need extended and expensive medical care. For example, someone who is cognitively impaired may need full-time nursing care.

Catastrophic Injury Cases Are Different

woman in a room full of medical records

So, the main difference between a catastrophic personal injury case and a typical injury case is the magnitude of the injury. You may think that the cases can be handled the same basic way, but they can’t.

A lawsuit is a way of determining facts about an injury. As a rule, bigger injuries are more complex injuries. More complex injuries mean that there are more issues of fact. Insurance companies, judges, and juries must consider more things to decide your personal injury claim.

These complex factual issues can make cases longer, more complicated, and more difficult.

As an example, let’s consider a negligence lawsuit against a trucking company. In this example, the truck driver (Don) was intoxicated and driving his 18-wheeler 20 miles over the 65 mph speed limit. He changed lanes without looking. As a result, he swiped Pauline’s car off the road, where she collided with a tree at high speed.

Pauline was rushed to the hospital. When she woke, the doctors determined she had severe brain damage. She couldn’t speak or recognize her relatives. Due to her injury, she was completely paralyzed and would not be able to work for the rest of her life. The medical expenses and lost wages claims totaled millions of dollars.

In the injury claim, Don’s negligence cannot be seriously challenged. Pauline’s condition, though, is a complex neurological injury. It will need significant examination and testimony by her doctors. Doctors for the other side, or the insurance company, will also want to complete their own independent medical examinations.

Pauline’s lawyer has to know the law. But that’s not all. They also have to be familiar with medical terminology, brain damage from TBI, and the usual prognosis for cases like Pauline’s. Even a routine settlement discussion needs above-average experience and education.

As a rule of thumb, higher-value cases will always have more facts and complexities. Catastrophic injury cases therefore need the best legal talent to get satisfactory results.

Damages in Catastrophic Injury Cases

nurse giving crunches to a woman

Medical treatment and other compensatory damages in a catastrophic injury case can be much higher than the total verdict for a less serious injury. Even catastrophic injury victims with relative independence can still have high medical bills.

According to the Christopher Reeve Foundation, the lifetime cost of quadriplegia/tetraplegia can be well over $4 million. Someone like Pauline, who couldn’t work because of cognitive impairment caused by brain damage, could need even more money to pay the bills.

Remember also that economic losses are only part of a damage calculation. A catastrophic loss would also cause severe pain and suffering. Other non-economic damages are also likely. Think about it: How much money would you accept to lose a limb, or be permanently disfigured?

For most of us, there is no acceptable answer. Juries often have to find one, though. Juries have been known to award a few million dollars in pain and suffering just for the loss of a limb, or more in the case of even worse injuries.

Don’t forget punitive damages, either. In the example of Don and Pauline, Don was driving under the influence at a very unsafe speed. His callous indifference to human life might warrant an award of punitive damages in Pauline’s case. And according to the U.S. Supreme Court, punitive damages could be one to nine times the amount of compensatory damages.

Keep in mind that, although the damage numbers in a catastrophic case can get large fast, this is not easy money. The amount of damages at stake means the other side will hire the best legal representation available and will make getting a fair settlement extremely difficult. It’s important to get a qualified personal injury lawyer to have the best chance in your case.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family

If you or your family has to deal with a catastrophic personal injury, it can feel like the end of the world. Your status quo has been forever changed, and the future feels dangerous and uncertain. In this case, it’s more important than ever to surround yourself with experienced, caring people that you can trust to guide you through this difficult time.

If you or a loved one has suffered the tragedy of a catastrophic personal injury, don’t despair. Statutes of limitations are running, though, and it’s important that you act quickly. Contact a qualified personal injury attorney in your state today for a free consultation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>