What Are Catastrophic Injuries?

You may have heard of someone suffering catastrophic injuries in a car crash. While the term “catastrophic injury” certainly brings vivid imagery to mind, it doesn’t explain the injury or how it will impact someone’s life. This can make it difficult for people impacted by such injuries to pursue the full compensation they’re entitled to under the law. So what are catastrophic injuries? That depends on who you ask.

Definition of Catastrophic Injury

The exact definition varies between organizations. The National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, for example, classifies catastrophic injuries as those that are fatal, that result in permanent, severe disability, or any injury affecting the brain or neck.

State law, on the other hand, has a more precise definition. Under Missouri code Section 538.205 RSMo, a catastrophic injury is a physical injury resulting in one or more of the following conditions:

  • Vision loss.
  • Permanent organ failure.
  • Paralysis, including paraplegia or quadriplegia.
  • Loss of two or more limbs.
  • Brain damage causing permanent cognitive impairment that makes daily life more difficult.

Examples of Catastrophic Injuries

From the above, we can determine that catastrophic injuries are those that affect someone’s ability to perform daily tasks. For that reason, catastrophic injuries are commonly associated with brain damage, spinal injuries, and paralysis. Below are a few more concrete examples of catastrophic injuries and their impact.

Loss of Limbs

Dismemberment has a fundamental impact on someone’s ability to work normally. A typist who loses an arm, for example, will be unable to keep up with their previous work. Likewise, a warehouse worker who loses a leg may be unable to perform their job or perform other tasks, like drive a car.

Spinal Injuries

A normal back injury typically does not qualify as a “catastrophic injury” if the effects are not permanent or they don’t fundamentally change someone’s daily life. However, some spinal injuries (including whiplash) can cause permanent paralysis. This is typically split into either paraplegia (paralysis from the waist down) or quadriplegia (paralysis from the neck down).

Traumatic Brain Injury

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the most severe catastrophic injuries as it can fundamentally and permanently change someone’s life and make everyday tasks and communication extremely difficult. A TBI can affect someone’s ability to speak, control their movements, or even alter their cognitive abilities. Sometimes, a TBI is so severe that the injured person needs permanent assistive care.

Compensation for Catastrophic Injuries

Catastrophic injuries are expensive. Aside from immediate medical bills, many victims require a lifetime of specialized care or assisted care. Not only that, but catastrophic injuries typically prevent someone from performing the work they are accustomed to. This means many people who experienced catastrophic injuries rely on insurance to cover their medical bills, expenses, and lost wages.

Unfortunately, determining the amount needed to live a comfortable life is complicated. Many injured people, even those with catastrophic injuries, accept the insurance company’s initial settlement offer, not realizing that it may not be enough to cover a lifetime of expenses. That’s where an attorney comes in.

An attorney with experience handling catastrophic injury cases can help the injured calculate the cost of a lifetime of care while also accounting for other factors, like the regional cost of living, inflation, and standard of living. Likewise, an attorney knows how to negotiate with the insurance companies to get their clients the full settlement they are entitled to under the law.

Often, hiring an attorney to handle a catastrophic injury case is the difference between a comfortable future and a lifetime of financial worries. And the good news is that most personal injury attorneys don’t ask for payment until the case is settled and the injured receive the damages they are entitled to.