If you’re interested in filing a personal injury lawsuit, or if you’ve had one filed against you, you’ve probably been researching a bit and run across the term “catastrophic injury.” As far as layman’s terms go, the intent seems pretty clear, but catastrophic injury also has a specific medical meaning as well as a specific legal meaning. We’ll help you understand exactly what it means in these contexts.
Medically, the American Medical Association defines a catastrophic injury as a severe injury affecting the spine, brain, spinal cord, or skull. The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research also has its own definition of catastrophic injury in sports: injuries that result in fatalities, permanent disabilities, or serious injuries (even though the disability may be temporary).
Much like the definition used by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, the legal definition of catastrophic injury is based on the outcome of the injury rather than the body parts affected, explains a personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles (https://aa-llp.com/). Although injuries classified as catastrophic by the AMA will usually also be catastrophic in a legal sense.
What is the Legal Definition of Catastrophic Injury?
Under 42 U.S.C. § 3796b, catastrophic injury is defined as an injury which results in the injured party being unable to perform any “gainful work.” Unlike the AMA definition, the legal definition of catastrophic injury doesn’t require the injury to affect any particular body part, organ, or system.
Instead, the law looks at the result of the injury—it must be a life changing injury which permanently ensures that the victim can no longer support themselves or their family.
Catastrophic injuries under this definition can have devastating consequences which affect the victim financially, legally, professionally, and emotionally. These effects reach far beyond the victim themselves and also affect their family and loved ones. The victim’s life has changed dramatically and permanently, and the effects are not just in the present—their entire future has been changed.
They have lost everything they’ve accomplished in their lives from a professional standpoint; they have also pre-emptively lost a lifetime of wages and the associated benefits.
They’ve also likely been saddled with extraordinary medical bills, which they may be unable to ever pay off in full without help. On top of these financially ruinous consequences, they’ve also lost the sense of purpose that gainful employment can bring.
What are Some Other Consequences of Catastrophic Injury?
Beyond financial and professional considerations, the victim must also face some other harsh realities. They may not be able to fulfill their desire to travel, for example. They may lose access to their favorite hobbies, their ability to exercise, and activities they enjoy.
They may not be able to care for themselves in very mundane, day-to-day ways, and they may feel that losing this ability takes away from their sense of dignity. They may also suffer from chronic pain, which will color their experiences in every way, for every day of the rest of their lives.
These losses can go far beyond the physical, leading the victim to struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. They may be struggling with grief over the lost potential of their own lives. This mental anguish can seriously compound the effects of their physical suffering.
What Are Some Common Types of Catastrophic Injuries?
While the legal definition of catastrophic injury does not limit it to any certain set of injury types, there are some types of injuries which are more likely to be catastrophic in nature. They include:
- Injuries that affect the brain, including traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Injuries to the spinal cord
- Severe burns
- Multiple, simultaneous fractures
- Permanent organ damage
- Injuries due to chemical and substance exposure
- Loss of limb/amputations
These types of injuries do not always result in catastrophic consequences, and other types of injuries can be catastrophic, but these are among the most common.
Likewise, any type of accident may result in catastrophic injury, but there are certainly some which are more likely to do so. They include:
- Automobile accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
- Accidents involving large commercial vehicles
- Construction incidents
- Medical device defects and malfunctions
- Consumer product defects and malfunctions
- Swimming pool drownings and other accidents
What Recourse do Victims of Catastrophic Injury Have?
When someone endures a catastrophic injury as a result of the neglect, malicious intent, or negligence of someone else, there is an opportunity for the victim to pursue the person or entity at fault via a lawsuit. When this happens, the damages that are awarded if the victim wins tend to be much higher than the damages in typical cases that involve personal injury.
Of course, even winning a million-dollar lawsuit is often nothing compared to the destruction that a catastrophic injury causes. If you or a loved one have suffered from a catastrophic injury, it’s important to find legal representation.