What Is Considered a Catastrophic Injury?
What Is Considered a Catastrophic Injury?
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What Is Considered a Catastrophic Injury?

The term “personal injury” encompasses numerous and varied types of injuries, including catastrophic injuries. You may wonder, “What is considered a catastrophic injury?”

There is no generally accepted catastrophic injury definition, but there is no doubt that these injuries can devastate you personally and leave you hurting physically and financially.

Types of Catastrophic Injuries

There may not be a single definition of what is considered a catastrophic injury. However, there are various types of injuries that legal and medical professionals recognize as catastrophic because of the effects of these injuries and the amount of treatment victims need. These catastrophic injury examples include:

Spinal Cord Injuries

Falls and car accidents are two common ways your spinal cord suffers trauma. The damage done to your spinal cord can be either temporary or permanent but will almost always involve significant pain or limitations in your ability to move.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Trauma to your head from a car accident, an object falling and impacting your head, or tripping and hitting your head on the ground can cause a concussion and other injuries. Minor concussions may leave you with a headache and feeling dizzy, but severe traumatic brain injuries can affect your memory, mood, and ability to care for yourself.

Severe Burns

Fires at home, in your car, or at your workplace can cause second-degree and third-degree burns, as can toxic chemicals that come into contact with unprotected skin. These burns may damage muscle and bone, necessitating skin grafts or amputations to treat them.


The loss of a body part like fingers, toes, hands, or feet can result from motor vehicle wrecks, motorcycle accidents, or having the body part caught in heavy machinery. Immediate treatment is needed to preserve your life, but surgeries may not be able to reattach the severed limb.

Multiple Fractures

A single bone fracture can heal within a few weeks or months if the bone is properly set. With multiple fractures, though, setting the bone and allowing it to heal properly takes much more time and effort. It is commonplace to need screws or rods inserted in your body to help stabilize the affected bones and help them heal correctly.

Organ Injuries

Not all of what is considered a catastrophic injury is observable to the naked eye. Car wrecks, accidents on your bicycle, and surgical errors can lead to injuries that impact your internal organs. The first symptoms are often nonspecific, like nausea, vomiting, or feeling unwell. However, if not treated quickly, these injuries can become life-threatening.

Characteristics of Catastrophic Injuries

Just as there is agreement that certain types of injuries are catastrophic, there is also consensus on what characterizes a catastrophic injury. Catastrophic injuries are generally those where:

  • Large portions of your body are impacted
  • You suffer severe or permanent limitations on your ability to function independently
  • Emergency medical care is required to treat the initial injury
  • You have a lengthy recovery period
  • You need family members or home health services to assist you in caring for yourself and providing for your needs
  • The physical and psychological effects of your injuries can last for years or longer

Catastrophic injuries will routinely be accompanied by significant pain that you may need medication to help manage. In some cases, the pain may never fully resolve, no matter the length of time that passes or the amount of medication you take.

These types of injuries impose a tremendous financial burden on you and your loved ones. In addition to medical bills and related expenses, you may be unable to return to work or work at your former job because of a catastrophic injury.

Liability and Negligence in Catastrophic Injury Claims

Anyone who causes you or your loved one to experience a catastrophic injury can be held responsible for the harm they cause. This includes the immediate costs and expenses you incurred and those you will likely face.

In catastrophic injury cases, you will need to prove that the other person is the cause of your injuries by using:

  • Accident reports and diagrams
  • An accident reconstructionist
  • Medical or other expert witnesses
  • Statements from witnesses who saw the accident and your caregivers

Meeting this burden of proof and showing how your catastrophic injury has and will continue to impact your life requires considerable time and effort. Negotiating an appropriate settlement or other resolution likewise requires skill and tenacity.

What to Know About Catastrophic Injury Cases

In any catastrophic injury claim, some of the same types of questions surface repeatedly. They include the following:

Are Catastrophic Injury Cases Different From Personal Injury Cases?

Yes and no. In a catastrophic injury case, the damages are often greater, and there are typically more records and evidence to review. However, the same general propositions must be proven in catastrophic injury cases as in any other personal injury case.

Can I Get Punitive Damages for My Injuries?

Punitive damages punish the defendant for especially heinous or egregious behavior that causes catastrophic injuries. These damages go above and beyond any other type of damages you receive. Your injury lawyer can advise you whether these special damages are available in your case.

How Long Does a Catastrophic Injury Case Take to Resolve?

Many factors go into determining how long it will take to receive compensation, including the complexity of your case, the strength of the evidence available to support your case, and whether your case gets resolved with a settlement or at trial. Catastrophic injury cases can take several weeks to months or longer before they are completed.

Where to Find Experienced Legal Help for Your Catastrophic Injury

When you or a loved one are involved in an accident that leaves you with severe and catastrophic injuries, turn to Dunn Sheehan for experienced and compassionate help. We may not be able to make your injuries heal faster, but our resourceful team can investigate your case and vigorously pursue compensation from those responsible for your injuries.

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