Posted On April 06, 2023

Common Types of Catastrophic Injuries

Catastrophic injuries, like amputations, damage to internal organs, head trauma, and severe burns, often result in permanent physical and mental impairments or death. These types of catastrophic injuries commonly result in life-altering consequences that impact the victim’s lifestyle and finances. 

What Are Catastrophic Injuries?

The American Medical Association defines catastrophic injury as a severe injury to the spine, spinal cord, or brain. However, catastrophic injuries can affect a number of other body parts. Regardless of which part of the body is injured, catastrophic injuries typically cause severe damage that results in chronic pain, physical impairments, cognitive dysfunction, disfigurement, or death. Victims of catastrophic injuries may be forced to deal with temporary or permanent disabilities, loss of limbs, physical scarring, mental problems, and personality changes caused by their injuries.

Common types of catastrophic injuries include:

  • Amputation of a limb
  • Crushed body parts
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Exposure to hazardous materials
  • Severe burns
  • Traumatic brain or head injuries

In addition to the above injuries, other top types of injury claims that can be catastrophic include severe bone fractures, neck and back injuries, facial or body disfigurement, ruptured kidneys, spinal cord damage, and paralysis (full or partial). All types of catastrophic injuries can be severe and life-threatening, but victims of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and catastrophic birth injury typically have the most severe outcomes, with long-term or permanent damage that impacts their lifestyle and ability to work.

Depending on the severity of the injury and damage, catastrophic injuries are likely to have a major impact on the victim’s current and future lifestyle and finances. Many people who suffer catastrophic injuries are no longer able to work and earn a regular income, so they have to rely on their savings and disability payments to pay for household expenses.

Traumatic Brain Injury and Head Injury

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) ranges from mild concussions to coma-inducing head trauma. A TBI typically involves some type of blunt-force trauma to the head caused by car accidents, a fall to the ground, or a falling object. Victims of TBI may face life-long physical disabilities, as well as cognitive, and emotional issues, loss of coordination, and loss of hearing, vision, speech, and smell. While some victims of TBI experience improvement with physical and occupational therapy, others may never return to work and remain dependent on other people for basic functions and needs.

Catastrophic Birth Injury

A catastrophic birth injury is an injury that can occur before, during, and after the childbirth process. It often creates life-threatening conditions for the child, as well as physical deformities, physical or mental disabilities, permanent injuries, and infant death. Common catastrophic birth injuries include traumatic brain damage (TBI), cognitive disorders, seizure disorders, Brachial Plexus injury, hypoxic ischemic encephalapathy injury, cerebral palsy, and hearing and/or vision loss.

Many catastrophic birth injuries do not show up for months or years, and symptoms may go unnoticed by parents until the child is old enough to attend preschool or elementary school. This is a common time when learning disabilities caused by a catastrophic birth injury are first noticed.

Most Common Causes of Catastrophic Injuries

Catastrophic injuries can be caused by many types of accidents. The human body is not built to withstand many types of forces, such as the gravitational forces of a car accident, a fall from a rooftop, or contact with heavy machinery. There are many types of accidents that can cause catastrophic injuries, but the most common ones include:

  • Car, motorcycle, and truck accidents
  • Slip and falls on hard surfaces
  • Falls from ladders and rooftops
  • Crushing accidents on construction sites
  • Fires and explosions
  • Sports-related accidents

Car and Truck Accidents

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), speeding and drunk driving are the leading causes of vehicle accidents in the U.S. Nerve damage caused by car crashes is common in high-impact crashes, especially when victims are thrown around in the vehicle, hit the dashboard, or get trapped by seat belts and airbags.

Slip and Fall Accidents

Slip and fall accidents can happen at home, in the workplace, or outdoors. Common causes include uneven or slippery surfaces caused by spills, loose carpeting, damaged stair treads, uneven pavement, icy sidewalks, and potholes. When slip and falls occur at ground level, injuries often include bruises and broken bones, but falls from heights like ladders and rooftops often result in severe head trauma or brain damage.

Construction Site Accidents

Working on a construction site can be a dangerous job, where severe types of catastrophic injuries often occur. Construction sites include large, heavy machinery like bulldozers, cranes, dump trucks, excavators, and tractors. Being hit or run over by one of these machines is a common cause of amputations, crushed body parts, internal organ damage, and death.

Fires and Explosions

The most common types of catastrophic injuries sustained in fires and explosions include severe burns and disfigurement. Most people who suffer these types of injuries require skin grafts, debridement, and surgical procedures that are necessary to replace damaged skin and get new skin to grow. Fires and explosions create a lot of physical pain, which usually requires long-term use of pain medications.

Sports Related Accidents

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), sports and recreational activities contribute to over 21 percent of all traumatic brain injuries in children and adolescents. Most injuries are caused by a sudden and violent blow or jolt to the head, which often results in dizziness, mental confusion, and vomiting. Severe injuries may cause unconsciousness, coma, or death.

Types of Damages That Can Be Recovered

Catastrophic injuries typically have a big impact on a victim’s financial situation. Because many victims suffer such severe injuries, they are not able to return to their jobs or find new employment. Many can no longer work and must rely on loans or family assistance to prevent bankruptcy. Even when an injury victim has health insurance, necessary medical treatments often exceed coverage limits and lead to the victim being dropped from coverage entirely.

In Indiana, victims who suffer common types of catastrophic injuries have the right to pursue damages through an Indiana personal injury attorney. The exact amount that is recovered will vary based on the victim’s medical condition, future prognosis, and who is liable for the accident. In most cases, victims can recover damages for the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Wrongful death (when injuries result in death)

The goal of a personal injury claim is to make the injured party (the plaintiff) “whole.” This means the personal injury lawsuit is supposed to return the plaintiff to his or her pre-accident condition, financially speaking. Unfortunately, with most catastrophic injuries, it is often impossible to return the plaintiff to his or her pre-accident condition, so catastrophic injury claims commonly result in large damage awards that are intended to ease the burden of the injury over the course of the plaintiff’s life.

In Indiana, plaintiffs can recover both economic and non-economic damages:

  • Economic Damages – These damages represent the monetary losses caused by an accident and include things like medical expenses, lost income, and property damages
  • Non-Economic Damages – These damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by an accident and include things like pain and suffering and emotional distress

In cases where the defendant acted with gross negligence or the intention to cause harm, the plaintiff may also be able to recover punitive damages. These types of damages are awarded to punish the defendant for his or her actions and deter the defendant and other people from engaging in similar behaviors.

Damage Caps for Catastrophic Injuries in Indiana

Like many other states, Indiana places limits on the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover in a personal injury case. Though damage caps do not impact lots of personal injury cases, they are more likely to impact catastrophic injury cases. In Indiana, the following damages are capped:

  • Punitive Damages – These damages are capped at 3 times the amount of the compensatory (economic and non-economic) damage award or $50,000, whichever is greater. However, the plate is also not entitled to the entire amount. Majority of punitive damages go to the State of Indiana and only a small portion for to the plantiff. 
  • Medical Malpractice Damages – These damages are capped at $1.8 million. If the injury victim dies, and the deceased person is an unmarried adult without dependents, there are additional caps on damages. However, reimbursement for economic damages such as medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and attorney fees may be awarded in addition to the $300,000 limit.

If the personal injury lawsuit is filed against a government entity, the total amount that the plaintiff is allowed to recover is capped at $700,000. If the plaintiff dies as a result of common types of catastrophic injuries, this limit is still capped at $700,000. This applies to all claims, regardless of the monetary damages for the decedent’s medical bills, funeral expenses, and attorney fees.