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When is an injury catastrophic?

On Behalf of | Mar 7, 2020 | Firm News

Any serious injury may seem like a catastrophe at the time that it occurs, but that does not mean it meets the legal definition of a catastrophic injury. The Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute explains that it is the outcome, not the injury itself, that determines whether it is catastrophic. 

A catastrophic injury is life-changing and will generally keep the victim from gainful employment, i.e., he or she cannot consistently work to self-support anymore. Here are some examples of catastrophic injuries that often result from a motor vehicle accident. 

Traumatic brain injury 

Brain damage can affect every aspect of your life, and it could certainly keep you from gainful work. The effects go beyond the functions you may associate with thinking, although trouble remembering or processing information can certainly be a symptom. 

You may lose the ability to communicate or understand language, develop extreme vertigo or balance issues, or experience sensory problems such as double vision or hearing loss. Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are common. You may also suffer nerve pain, seizures or severe, ongoing headaches. 

Spinal cord injury 

Because no cures currently exist for serious spine injuries and the outcome is typically severe, they are likely to permanently change the life of the victim. In addition to muscle weakness, nerve pain and paralysis, spinal cord injuries may affect any bodily system or function. 

Burn injury 

Severe burns can damage more than the muscles, bones, nerves and joints that the heat destroys directly. As the National Institute of General Medical Sciences explains, the body has a natural response system that protects against invaders such as toxins, bacteria, viruses and other foreign materials. However, this system often overreacts when the body experiences a large or deep burn, causing permanent damage to the heart, kidneys, blood vessels, lungs and other organs. 


In addition to the physical effects of the loss of the body part and its function, an amputee is likely to suffer from mental health issues from the shock of the physical and emotional trauma. 


When tissues or bones are permanently damaged, the victim suffers disfigurement. Amputation and burns are primary causes of disfigurement, as well as severe scars, particularly on the face.