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What Classifies As a Catastrophic Injury?

What Classifies As a Catastrophic Injury?

Life can change in an instant, transforming a routine activity into a life-altering moment. Personal injury isn’t just about the physical trauma; it’s about the psychological, emotional, and financial impact on every aspect of life. Catastrophic injuries lie at the far end of this scale, causing long-term or permanent damage. 

A catastrophic injury, as the name implies, is a devastating injury that significantly affects your daily life. Here’s an overview of how a catastrophic injury can be defined and what types of injuries classify as “catastrophic.”

What Are Catastrophic Injuries?

There is no textbook catastrophic injury definition. Instead, the term is used to describe a wide range of traumatic injuries that have a significant effect on a victim’s life, usually permanently.  

Catastrophic injuries fundamentally alter your life. They may result in any or all of the following: 

  • Loss of independence
  • Lost quality of life
  • Diminished or lost ability to work
  • Extensive medical care and rehabilitation
  • Ongoing need for supportive and medical services
  • Need for modifications to a home or vehicle and/or assistive devices
  • Reduced mobility and range of motion
  • Chronic pain or reduced sensation from nerve damage
  • Psychological effects like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Profound changes to relationships, particularly with a spouse and children

Someone with a catastrophic injury won’t recover to live the life they did before their accident, no matter what medical treatment and rehab they receive. Severe brain injuries, paralysis, amputations, and severe burns — these are all examples of injuries from which a victim can’t make a full recovery. They are left with serious and lasting effects of their injuries.

Common Types of Catastrophic Injuries

Catastrophic injuries come in many forms. These life-changing injuries can be categorized broadly based on the effects: 

  • Physical or functional impairment: This may involve limited mobility, reduced organ function, or loss of vision. 
  • Mental or cognitive impairment: This may affect memory, problem-solving, mental health, or behavior. 

Many people think of severe brain injuries or spinal cord injuries that cause paralysis as catastrophic injuries. However, many other types of cognitive or physical injuries can qualify if the impact is serious and long-term. Below are the most common examples of catastrophic injuries. 

Brain Injuries 

Every year, about 85,000 people suffer a disabling brain injury. Traumatic brain injuries frequently have long-term or permanent consequences. 

This may include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Personality changes
  • Impaired motor function
  • Paralysis
  • Post-traumatic epilepsy
  • Behavioral changes
  • Difficulty communicating
  • Emotional changes such as depression or anger
  • Sensory issues
  • Hormonal changes

There is also evidence that a brain injury can increase the risk of dementia. 

Brain injuries are often caused by car accidents, falls, workplace accidents, or sports incidents. 

Spinal Cord Injuries 

The spinal cord is responsible for relaying messages between the body and the brain. A spinal cord injury can cause partial or total loss of function and sensation below the point of injury. 

Tetraplegia or quadriplegia is the most serious type of paralysis from a spinal cord injury. It happens when the spinal cord is damaged at the cervical spine. An injury at the C1 or C2 level causes complete paralysis of all limbs and even muscles necessary for breathing. Injury at a lower level may leave some control and function of the hands and arms. 

Paraplegia is caused by injury to the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral spine in the lower neck and back. This form of paralysis mostly affects the legs, but the chest and abdomen can be impacted. 

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. 

Cerebral Palsy and Birth Injuries

Birth injuries can be catastrophic. The most common example is cerebral palsy, a condition that causes impaired muscle coordination and potentially other disabilities. The cause is not usually known, but it can result from complications at birth, like disrupted oxygen supply. During pregnancy, cerebral palsy may be due to placental abruption, a mother’s uncontrolled medical issues during pregnancy, and even infection before birth. 

Cerebral palsy is not always preventable. However, it can involve medical malpractice if it was caused by an avoidable birth injury or failure to diagnose or treat the mother properly. 

Severe Burns

Third-degree burns cause permanent damage to not only the skin but also fat, muscle, nerves, and potentially even bone. 

Severe burn injuries are catastrophic for many reasons: 

  • Contracture as the scars mature, thicken, and tighten, which can be painful, restrict movement, and damage underlying tissue or organs
  • Burns have a high risk of infection and serious, life-threatening complications
  • Serious burns cause permanent scars and disfigurement
  • Many people experience intolerance or sensitivity to temperature
  • Treating severe burns is complex and requires skin grafts, intensive medical treatment, and often repeated surgeries

Serious burns can have a truly horrific effect on a victim’s life. 

Amputation or Loss of Limb

Every year, about 83,000 people in the U.S. suffer a traumatic amputation in an accident. Even the loss of fingers can be severe and life-changing, but many victims suffer the loss of an arm, leg, or multiple limbs. In addition to significant initial medical treatment and long-term physical therapy, victims face a reduced or lost ability to work. Many need costly prosthetics. 

Traumatic amputation is usually the result of a motor vehicle accident, workplace accident, or accident involving machinery. 

Multiple or Non-Healing Fractures

A single broken bone is rarely catastrophic, but fractures can be severe and life-changing. A non-healing fracture or nonunion happens when the bone does not grow back together as it should. Even with the best care, sometimes fractures do not heal, which can cause constant or chronic pain and limited function. 

Fractures caused by high-energy trauma like a car accident are more likely to heal poorly. This is because the damage to surrounding tissue impairs the blood supply needed. 

Multiple or complex fractures may also be catastrophic. When a bone breaks into many pieces, breaks the skin, or involves severe soft tissue damage, there may be long-term effects. These complicated fractures can be difficult to treat and limit mobility. There may also be serious complications. 

Internal Injuries or Organ Damage

Internal organ damage can be catastrophic by impairing important bodily functions. These injuries may require life-long medical care or an organ transplant. Victims may need to manage symptoms for the rest of their lives and change their lifestyles to adapt to new restrictions. 

Traumatic organ damage is often the result of a motor vehicle collision. It’s also a common consequence of a dangerous drug. 

Severe Back or Neck Injuries

Musculoskeletal disorders affecting the bones, joints, and muscles often lead to disability. Specifically, back injuries are the most common cause of disability worldwide. These injuries can be caused by degenerative disc disease and the effects of aging. For many, serious neck or back injuries are the result of an auto accident or workplace accident. 

Catastrophic Injuries Cause Catastrophic Damages

These life-changing injuries usually result in substantial financial costs in medical care alone. For example, the lifetime cost of paraplegia is $1.5 to $2.3 million just in medical treatment. Tetraplegia can cost up to $4.7 million to treat. Disability can easily add a seven-figure amount to your damages when you are unable to return to work. 

The financial aspect of a catastrophic injury is already overwhelming before considering the non-economic damages you suffer. 

If you believe your injury was caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation to cover your expenses and preserve your quality of life. Contact our law office for a free consultation with a Miami catastrophic injury lawyer to discuss your legal options.

Contact Our Personal Injury Law Firm in Miami, FL

If you’ve been injured in an accident in Miami, FL and need legal help, contact our Miami personal injury lawyers at Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers to schedule a free consultation.

Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers
20900 NE 30th Ave Suite 715
Aventura, FL 33180
(305) 937-0191