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Catastrophic Injuries

Catastrophic Injuries

“Catastrophic injury” does not have a universally accepted definition. Regardless of the definition you use, these injuries cost a lot of money. They require expensive medical treatment, physical and occupational therapy, and medication. And your catastrophic injury will temporarily or even permanently disable you from working.

As a result, these injuries put you under enormous medical and financial pressure. They significantly reduce your quality of life and could even bankrupt you.

What Are Catastrophic Injuries?

Insurers, lawyers, and doctors may classify the term “catastrophic injury” according to several factors:


The distinction between a catastrophic injury and another injury might lie in its cost. 

A catastrophic injury will likely require you to spend more on:

  • Surgery
  • Medication
  • Doctor visits
  • Hospitalization
  • Home modifications
  • Physical, occupational, and mental health therapy

A catastrophic injury might also have a greater effect on your ability to earn a living. For example, a catastrophic injury might prevent you from earning income, at least temporarily.


You can also define a catastrophic injury based on the disability it causes. Under this definition, catastrophic injuries cause more significant reductions in your functioning than other injuries.

An amputated toe might not qualify as a catastrophic injury because it might not disable you from working, performing household tasks, and caring for yourself. But a broken leg might qualify as a catastrophic injury because you will have difficulty with all these duties — at least for six to eight weeks.

Severity and Duration

“Catastrophic” can also refer to an injury’s severity. Under this definition, catastrophic injuries would fall into the category just below fatal injuries. In other words, catastrophic injuries would include the most impactful non-fatal injuries.

One factor that might determine whether an injury qualifies as catastrophic is the accident victim’s prognosis. Catastrophic injuries tend to cause permanent damage, while non-catastrophic injuries will eventually heal.

What Are Some Examples of Catastrophic Injuries?

Some examples of catastrophic injuries that fall into one or more of these definitions include:

Traumatic Brain Injuries

Your central nervous system (CNS) includes your brain and spinal cord. These structures differ from other structures in your body because you cannot regrow nerve tissue in your CNS. As a result, brain injuries can result in permanent brain damage.

Under some circumstances, your body can reroute nerve signals, allowing you to recover some of the functions performed by the permanently damaged brain cells. But in most situations, you will experience permanent disabilities from severe brain injuries.

Some functions you may lose to a catastrophic brain injury include:

  • Vision
  • Mobility
  • Hearing
  • Memory
  • Cognition
  • Emotional control

Someone who loses these functions may require mobility aids, a service animal, or a caretaker. They could also become unemployable since they may lose the ability to work or train for a new job.

Spinal Cord Injuries

The spinal cord connects your brain to your body. The spinal cord carries all the control signals passing from your brain to your muscles and organs below your neck. It also carries all the sensory signals running from your body to your brain.

When the spinal cord gets severed, you experience partial or total paralysis. As a result, you lose the ability to:

  • Move your limbs
  • Feel pressure, temperature, and texture
  • Control automatic processes like digestion, respiration, and perspiration

If your accident causes total paralysis, you will not recover any functioning. If you have partial paralysis, some nerves in the spinal cord remain intact. You might regain some functions as your brain shifts some signals to the undamaged nerves.

Back and Neck Injuries

Some back and neck injuries are not catastrophic. Back strain or a fractured back will sometimes heal completely after a few weeks or months.

But other back and neck injuries produce permanent damage that requires costly long-term medical care. These injuries can also interfere with your ability to work since they can weaken your back or neck and produce pain whether you sit, stand, or walk for your job.

For example, doctors cannot heal a bulging or herniated disc. Instead, they must remove the damaged disc and either fuse the vertebrae or implant an artificial disc. Both of these surgical options put additional stress on the spine and can cause a cascade effect where additional discs and vertebrae break down.


Amputations cause a permanent loss of function. Even if you eventually receive a prosthetic device, the replacement part will never function as well as your original body part.

Additionally, amputations can disfigure you. This disfigurement can produce severe emotional distress and lead to mental and emotional symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Amputation surgery is often expensive because of the risk of complications like infections and blood clots. And prosthetics are expensive and require frequent maintenance.

Third-Degree Burns

Third-degree burns destroy the full thickness of your skin and reach the connective tissue underneath. These burns cause permanent nerve damage because the skin contains the nerve endings that enable your sense of touch. They can also produce permanent, disfiguring scars as thick, inelastic skin cells regrow at the burn site.

Burn treatments are also costly. These injuries often require lengthy hospitalization. During a hospital stay, you may require multiple surgeries, hyperbaric treatments, and skin grafts.

How Do You Prove Liability for Catastrophic Injuries?

The law determines liability for catastrophic injuries the same way it determines liability for non-catastrophic injuries. If your injury happened in the course and scope of your job, you can probably claim workers’ compensation benefits without proving fault.

When a catastrophic injury results from a defective product, Oregon product liability law imposes strict liability on the manufacturer. You do not need to prove the manufacturer intended or even knew of the defect. Instead, you only need to prove the defect existed when it left the manufacturer’s hands.

For all other catastrophic injuries, you’ll likely need to prove negligence. In these cases, you can only recover compensation if the other party failed to exercise reasonable care. Thus, a driver who caused a car accident by running a red light would bear the liability for your spinal cord injury.

What Compensation Can You Seek for a Catastrophic Injury?

You can seek compensation for your economic and non-economic losses. Your economic damages cover the costs resulting from your injury, including medical expenses and lost income. Non-economic damages cover the reduction in your quality of life due to pain, suffering, and disability.

To discuss the compensation you can seek for your catastrophic injuries, contact our law office in Portland. Call Tillmann Car Accident & Personal Injury Lawyer for a free consultation today at (503) 773-3333.

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