Injuries happen. If you manage to get through life without ever getting hurt, you are truly charmed. Fortunately, many injuries leave small scars or none at all. Some, however, may cause lasting damage that makes life uncomfortable but still manageable. Other injuries are legally classified as “catastrophic.”

Definition of Catastrophic Injury

Webster defines a catastrophe as, “a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin.” The American Medical Association (AMA) defines a catastrophic injury as a severe injury to the spine or brain. Legally, the definitions can vary from state to state, but one thing is clear: a catastrophic injury is one that is taken very seriously in personal injury law. There are two classes of severe, catastrophic injuries.


Sometimes a serious accident leads to instant death. Something happens that cuts off an integral bodily function, and the person doesn’t make it. Other times, someone is seriously injured, rushed to the hospital, and eventually dies from their injuries. When that happens within roughly 30 days of the accident, depending on a state’s legal definitions, it is considered a fatal injury.

Permanent Disability

The AMA isolates the spine and brain in their definition of a catastrophic injury because those are the two areas that, when damaged, are likely to leave someone incapacitated. When they talk about permanent damage in the context of catastrophic injury, they aren’t discussing an inability to close your fist or bend your knee all the way. The AMA’s view of disabilities from a catastrophic injury look more severe, like losing the use of your legs to being reduced to a vegetative state.

Disabilities like these come with a huge price tag. The first year of recovery from a spinal injury can cost over a million dollars, with each subsequent year costing in the hundreds of thousands.

Another huge concern with severe, permanent disabilities is comorbidity. Comorbidity happens when one ailment causes another ailment. For example, if someone’s diabetes leads to neuropathy, the neuropathy is a separate ailment that needs to be treated on its own. It would not have happened to the person, however, without the complications from diabetes. Permanent disabilities often lead to other problems, carrying their own, separate costs.

Relative Catastrophic Injury

Despite the AMA’s definition, catastrophic injury is relative in the eyes of the law. Above, we mentioned closing your fist or bending your knee. An injury like that may have little impact on some, but it can be life-altering for others. Losing full use of one’s hand has devastating consequences to a professional piano player. Losing the full range of motion in one’s leg will end a dancing career overnight. When seeking damages for a catastrophic injury, it’s important to remember the context of the injury and the impact that injury has on the plaintiff’s life.

Talk to a Lawyer

If your life has been seriously impacted from an injury, no matter what it is, seek counsel. Don’t tell yourself that your damage is “small” or “insignificant.” If a big, important part of your life has been affected, it’s worth taking it to court.

If you’ve been affected by a life-altering injury, please reach out to us. We will schedule a free consultation at no risk to you. You can contact us here, or call (941) 979-9010.