A catastrophic injury is an injury that permanently hinders or eliminates a victim’s ability to do gainful work. These injuries usually result from a sudden accident, such as a traffic crash or a slip and fall. Injuries to the spine or spinal cord, specifically those that result in paralysis, or those that result in loss of limbs, disfigurement, traumatic brain injuries, or any other disability are considered catastrophic. The severe nature of a catastrophic injury can have a significant impact on the damages recoverable in a personal injury claim.
Catastrophic Injuries Are Surprisingly Common
While catastrophic injuries may seem like a rare worst-case scenario, they impact the lives of thousands of Americans each year. Nearly 17,000 Americans suffer from a spinal cord injury annually. These injuries can lead to permanent disability and partial or total paralysis. In addition, approximately 185,000 victims lose a limb each year, and 2 million people in the United States are living with limb loss. A severe burn injury can leave a victim with permanent disfigurement that makes it difficult for them to maintain a normal life. Burn injuries occur in the lives of 500,000 people each year. Traumatic brain injuries, which impair cognition, speech, motor skills, and behavior, occur in millions of accident cases annually. These catastrophic injuries can leave victims with significant long-term care and immediate treatment costs, as well as lost wages, future lost wages, and psychological distress.
What Defines An Injury As Catastrophic
An injury is considered catastrophic when it significantly impacts a person’s ability to perform normal work duties, whether for a prolonged, but temporary, period of time or permanently. An injury may also be deemed catastrophic if it impairs the victim’s ability to enjoy favorite activities or to live and operate independently. Catastrophic injuries generally contribute to a victim’s loss of enjoyment of life. These injuries usually leave a permanent impact that significantly changes the victim’s life.
When Catastrophic Injuries Are Caused by Negligence
When a catastrophic injury results from the negligence of another party, the victim may be able to recover compensation for damages. This is regulated under tort law, which dictates that people owe each other a general duty of care. That duty is to act (or not act) in a way that a reasonable person in the same conditions would act, and to not cause harm to others. When a party breaches that duty, and a victim suffers damages or injuries that are directly caused by that violation, then the party may be liable for economic and non-economic damages. In situations where a person’s actions were particularly egregious, a victim may seek punitive damages as a way to punish him or her.
Damages Recoverable in a Catastrophic Injury Claim
A variety of damages can be recovered when a person is hurt in a crash or other accident. Compensation is generally grouped into two categories: non-economic and economic damages. In some cases, as stated above, additional damages may be awarded in the form of punitive damages.
Economic damages are intended to make a victim as financially equal as possible to his or her state prior to the accident. These damages typically focus on monetary losses. Economic damages that are recoverable in a personal injury claim include medical bills and treatment costs, long-term care costs, lost wages and future lost wages, costs for medical equipment, property damage, and other out of pocket expenses.
Non-economic damages focus on non-monetary losses. These are usually represented as pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, humiliation, and loss of consortium.