Unfortunately, life is full of pitfalls and dangers, and most of us will suffer some kind of injury within our lifetimes. Many of these injuries are avoidable, and because of that, personal injury lawsuits aim to recoup losses that are sustained through someone’s negligence or unlawful actions. Not all injuries will have the same impact on an individual’s life, however. Since the outcomes of lawsuits often hinge on the severity of the impact an injury has on the injured party, there are some categories of injuries to help distinguish the most serious from others. When you hear a reference to a catastrophic injury, it refers to the very serious level of impact the injury has had on the injured party.
What Determines a Catastrophic Injury?
The definition of the word catastrophe is a “momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin.” Day-to-day injuries that can require a period of recovery but will eventually be overcome are typically not considered catastrophic. The etymology of the word demonstrates that it is reserved for events that mark an irreversible turning point in someone’s life, and the legal usage of the term follows suit.
When someone refers to a catastrophic injury in a legal setting, they mean an injury that will have a lasting impact. These include injuries that result in permanent disability, serious impact of a major body system, incapacitation, or the loss of the ability to participate in meaningful employment.
What Types of Injuries are Catastrophic Injuries?
There are several injuries that could be categorized as catastrophic, and — as you can see from the definition above — it’s more about the impact of the injury than any list of specific possible injuries. The loss of a limb, the loss of vision or hearing, serious fractures to multiple bones, head or spinal cord injuries, paralysis, or burn injuries that cause disfigurement may all be classified as catastrophic.
These types of catastrophic injuries could be sustained in many ways, but some of the most common causes of catastrophic injuries include the following:
- Motor vehicle accidents – Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for those 30 and under, but they are also a major source or injuries with more than 2.3 million people landing in the emergency room following a motor vehicle accident every year.
- Slip and fall accidents – One of the leading causes of head and spinal cord injuries, slip and fall accidents can be a source of catastrophic injury.
- Medical malpractice – Carelessness in the operating room can lead to irreversible and serious damage.
- Sports injuries – Playing sports comes with a risk of injury, but catastrophic injuries such as brain damage can have a lifelong impact.
- Hazardous work environments – Working in a hazardous environment leaves open the potential for catastrophic injuries, particularly when there are extreme heights, heavy materials that can fall or crush, or machinery that can malfunction. OSHA reports fall protection as one of the most violated safety requirements on job sites.
- Product defects – When a product does not work as it is intended, it can result in serious injuries that impact the injured parties for the rest of their lives.
Why Do Catastrophic Injuries Need Their Own Category?
You may be wondering why catastrophic injuries need a definitional category distinct from injuries in general. The reason is that many outcomes of lawsuits involving injuries focus on the long-term impacts and outcomes for the affected injured party. Catastrophic injuries are accompanied by a unique set of circumstances that make them much more likely to have a serious — and often very costly — impact on an individual who suffers such an injury.
First, catastrophic injuries will often require ongoing medical care that can be costly and invasive. In addition to the initial treatment immediately following the injury, victims of catastrophic injuries can face multiple surgeries, ongoing physical therapy, and medications. All of these procedures can be time-consuming and expensive.
It’s not just the victim of the catastrophic injury who deals with these impacts, either. Often someone suffering from a lifelong injury will need ongoing care, and many times family members step in to provide it.
Finally, the injured party suffers not only from the physical impacts and direct costs of the injury but also from the ongoing loss of income. In the event that the injury causes the individual to stop working or to be unable to seek employment in the future, there can be significant wage loss.
If you or a loved one are facing the aftermath of a catastrophic injury, you likely have many questions as you navigate the long-term impacts that this change will have on your future. Reaching out to a qualified attorney can help provide peace of mind as you explore your options going forward.