Every day, tens of thousands of people suffer injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that in 2020, 38 million people went to emergency rooms seeking treatment for injuries. This figure equals an average of over 103,000 people per day.
Understandably, those with injuries may feel traumatized and distraught. When you’re hurt, it’s normal to feel like you’ve suffered a catastrophic life-changing event. However, “catastrophic injury“ has specific legal and medical implications that don’t apply to all injuries.
What is a catastrophic injury?
Catastrophic injuries are severe injuries that have a long-term impact on the injured person’s life. Although some common causes exist, the injury’s source doesn’t determine whether it qualifies as a catastrophic injury. Catastrophic injury examples include permanent injuries and injuries that cause severe physical damage that lasts for an extended period. Most people with catastrophic injuries that aren’t permanent need months or years of expert medical care to recover.
The legal system distinguishes between catastrophic injuries and other personal injuries because of the extent of the injuries. Catastrophic injuries typically result in larger settlements because of the severity of the injuries, the cost of medical treatment required, the amount of time injured persons are affected, and the injury’s impact on the injured person’s daily life.
Most common causes of catastrophic injuries
Any accident causing a life-altering, long-term injury qualifies as a cause of a catastrophic injury. Some of the most common accidents causing catastrophic injuries include the following:
- Birth injuries: A child’s birth should be a joyous occasion, but medical errors can cause birth injuries ranging from collarbone injuries to brain damage and wrongful death
- Car accidents: In 2020, over 2.28 million people were injured in car accidents, equaling an average of over 6,200 injured persons per day. Severe injuries from car accidents include amputation, organ damage, brain injuries, and spine and neck injuries.
- Construction accidents: Construction accidents can affect construction workers and people nearby. Construction sites use heavy machinery and other dangerous materials, which can inflict severe damage.
- Defective medical devices or drugs: We trust medical professionals with our lives and rely on their expertise to receive appropriate treatment. However, the companies developing medical products sometimes produce devices or drugs that don’t function as described. These drugs and devices can cause severe or permanent damage.
- Defective products: Any manufactured product that causes long-term injuries can qualify as a cause of catastrophic injuries
- Falls: Falls are one of the primary causes of workplace fatalities and injuries. Although construction workers handle dangerous equipment daily, falls were responsible for over a third of fatal construction worker accidents. Falls also injured over 21,000 construction workers in 2020. Falls also injure millions of older adults annually, with 20% of those fall victims suffering severe injuries.
- Illegal actions: Crimes like assault and attempted murder may leave victims with life-altering injuries
- Medical mistakes: Medical professionals make mistakes, and when those mistakes cause long-term injuries, they’re considered catastrophic. Medical malpractice encompasses deliberate acts and accidents, such as giving a patient the wrong medication.
- Sports and recreational accidents: Playing sports and engaging in recreational activities can lead to injuries. Sports and recreational equipment contributed to over 3 million injuries requiring emergency room treatment in 2021. Accidents involving horses, bicycles, treadmills, and other equipment can cause broken bones, spine and neck injuries, and brain injuries.
- Work accidents: Workplace accidents can cause long-term injuries. For example, severe construction or factory accidents could cause injuries that prevent an employee from returning to their career.
Common catastrophic injury examples
The following list contains some of the most common catastrophic injuries:
- Amputation: Losing a limb is a permanent injury that causes disfigurement and affects a person’s ability to engage in some activities
- Burns: People may recover from minor burns with minimal or no medical treatment. However, severe burns can cause disfigurement and require long-term care to prevent infection.
- Disfigurement: In addition to amputation and burns, scars cause disfigurement. Disfigurement can reduce a person’s job and social opportunities and permanently affect their life.
- Multiple bone fractures: Multiple bone fractures may take several months to heal. Depending on the location of the breaks, people with multiple bone fractures may need to learn how to walk again, requiring months of physical therapy while they regain their strength.
- Organ damage: Organs perform crucial tasks, and losing an organ can be fatal or cause severe health issues that require medical treatment. For example, a person with damaged kidneys may need dialysis to extract waste from their blood.
- Sensory impairments: Loss of sight or hearing can permanently alter a person’s ability to interact with others or engage in some activities
- Spinal cord injuries (SCIs): Spine and neck injuries are some of the most severe injuries possible because they can lead to paralysis. People sometimes recover from spinal columns, discs, or nerve damage. Others need extensive medical care and suffer permanent symptoms.
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs): Severe TBIs are catastrophic because they cause memory loss, seizure disorders, or permanent damage
What are your rights if you suffer a catastrophic injury?
Suffering a catastrophic injury is a form of loss. For some, it means never being able to hear music again. Others may need a wheelchair and never be able to hike, dance, or ski again. Taking control after a catastrophic injury ensures your losses don’t include your legal rights.
Catastrophic injury victims may have the right to seek justice from criminal and civil courts. Those injured because of the criminal conduct of another person, such as those injured in a drunk driving accident, can file a lawsuit even if the at-fault party faces a criminal trial.
Can you file a catastrophic injury claim?
Whether you can file a catastrophic injury claim depends on the nature of your injuries and the contributing factors leading to the accident. For example, you may have grounds for a lawsuit after a car or workplace accident, but this depends on your ability to establish the at-fault party’s negligence.
What do you need to prove in compensation claims for catastrophic injury?
A successful claim requires you to establish that you have a catastrophic injury, the defendant caused your injury through deliberate or negligent choices, and that the injury caused financial losses.
Extent and effects of the injury
Your medical records can confirm you suffered severe, long-term injuries. A doctor’s diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan can substantiate your need for extended medical treatment or permanent care.
Cause of the injury
Proving a catastrophic injury claim involves demonstrating that the defendant’s actions or inactions caused your injuries. Your medical reports can substantiate that you didn’t have the injury before the event; however, you must also establish that the at-fault party was negligent.
Society functions because most people agree to conduct themselves acceptably. Most people obey laws and take actions to prevent harm or avoid actions that could cause harm. People who don’t do things that could prevent accidents or do things that could cause accidents are negligent because they have not conducted themselves in the way that most people would.
Establishing that a party’s negligence caused the incident responsible for your injuries establishes their liability.
Catastrophic injury victims must show that their injuries have financially impacted their lives. Injury victims can do this with medical bills and other invoices they’ve received for services they needed after their injury.
Bachus & Schanker, Colorado’s premier catastrophic injury attorneys
Our law firm understands how your life can change in seconds when you or a loved one suffers a catastrophic injury. Our Victim’s Advocate Team helps you locate financial assistance to cover unexpected injury-related costs, and they use their legal skills to locate witnesses and evidence to support your claim.
Emergency Department Visits. (2023).
Facts About Falls. (2023).
Graphics for Economic News Release. (2023).
Sports and Recreational Injuries. (2023).