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Defining Catastrophic Injury Claims

How do we define circumstances and injuries that go beyond a typical claim and severely impact a person’s life?  How do we characterize the types of claims where an individual’s enjoyment of life is affected in an extraordinary manner? Typically, attorneys refer to these types of cases as “catastrophic injury” claims.  These are the type of personal injury claims where the health of an individual has been so seriously impacted that their life has been irreparably altered. Defining these claims legally is somewhat murky and case law has done little to provide attorneys with a specific definition of the term.  However, a recent Workers Compensation Appeals Board ruling attempted to list factors in order to establish a catastrophic injury claim. These include: 

  1. An intensity and seriousness of treatment received for an injury; 
  2. The ultimate outcome when a person’s physical injury is permanent and stationary; 
  3. Whether the severity of the physical injury impacts the person’s ability to perform daily activities; 
  4. Whether the physical injury is closely analogous to one of the injuries specified in various statutes, including loss of a limb, paralysis, severe burns, or a severe head injury; and 
  5. If the physical injury is incurable or progressive. Wilson v. State of California CAL Fire (5/10/19) 2019 Cal.Wrk.Comp. LEXIS 29.

These factors are a fairly good rubric in determining whether an individual has suffered a catastrophic injury or not.  In addition to the types of injuries noted in the Wilson matter, typical “catastrophic injury” claims can also involve brain injuries, severe spinal cord injuries, and neurological injuries that restrict motor function.  The mechanism of injury can include vehicle accidents, construction accidents, bicyclist accidents, defective products, and elevated fall incidents. They can also include exposure to toxic chemicals. 

In addition, this category of injury will have a severe impact on lifestyle, daily living, and relationships with friends and family. Also, there is an economic hardship typically related to a catastrophic injury; as in most cases, the individual’s ability to earn a living is significantly impaired. 

This impact on daily life is critical as it is often what juries respond to when determining the appropriate compensation for an injured party at trial if a defendant is found liable for the injury.  Making that connection with others regarding specific impact on a person’s life is the key in receiving monetary compensation from a jury for items such as future medical bills, future life care, and ongoing treatment.  

If you have any questions regarding catastrophic injury claims, please do not hesitate to contact Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, LLP.