Catastrophic Injury vs. Personal Injury Claims: What’s the Difference?

Doctor looking at brain scans

Personal injury cases can involve all types of accidents, injuries, and repercussions for victims and their families, which is why many lawyers who practice personal injury law choose to differentiate the most serious cases from others. Often, they’re referred to as “catastrophic injury” cases.

Examples of injuries which may be classified as catastrophic include:

What Makes an Injury Catastrophic?

At The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., our team knows catastrophic injuries can disrupt the lives of victims and their families in profound and permanent ways, and why “serious injuries” are classified into a category of their own.

Generally, it’s due to the nature and scope of damages suffered by victims and their loved ones, as well as an elevated potential for complications, and a greater need to secure full financial compensation.

Here are a few things that make “catastrophic” injury cases unique:

1. Damages & Impact on Families

Catastrophic injuries, by their very nature, are those which result in severe physical harms. These serious injuries pose a greater potential for lasting or life-long repercussions – whether it be slow and painful recoveries, permanent deficits, or life-altering impairments and disabilities.

Though damages suffered by victims vary from case to case, all catastrophic injuries result in extensive physical, financial, and emotional losses. When it comes to economic damages, serious injuries pose greater potential for significant losses arising from:

  • Medical care, including emergency treatment, surgery, multiple procedures, intensive / inpatient therapy or rehabilitation, medications, and more.
  • Future medical needs reasonably expected to address injuries and deficits in the future, such as surgeries or additional treatments, medical monitoring, accommodative changes or devices, in-home or daily living assistance, etc.
  • Lost income caused by time away from work and temporary disability.
  • Lost future wages caused by diminished earning capacity (i.e. being unable to perform the same work as before, or being unable to work and earn any meaningful income entirely).
  • Financial losses incurred by families who must help cover injury-related expenses, take time off work to care for seriously injured or disabled relatives, and other similar expenditures.

In addition to economic damages, catastrophically injured victims and families can also face considerable non-economic losses, including those related to:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Slow and painful recoveries or rehabilitation
  • Emotional suffering, psychological injuries, and mental anguish
  • Lost quality or enjoyment of life
  • Lost emotional support, companionship, and consortium.

2. Long-Term or Life-Long Repercussions

As illustrated by the damages above, seriously injured victims typically suffer harms which result in lengthier if not life-long consequences. Typically, these recurring or persistent damages arise from:

  • Temporary partial or total disability;
  • Loss of sensory or bodily function (i.e. vision / hearing loss)
  • Permanent disfigurement (i.e. scarring, amputation, facial injuries)
  • Physical or cognitive deficits (i.e. memory problems, impaired mobility)

Evaluating the nature of these injuries and their long-term or life-long impact on victims is crucial to an accurate assessment of damages. Often, this will require collaboration with relevant experts who can help support claims that injuries will result in ongoing impairment and losses, as well as economic experts who can help calculate expenses for needs that are reasonably expected in the future.

3. Higher Stakes & More Challenges

Just as seriously injured victims must face more severe damages than those with less serious injuries, plaintiffs who pursue personal injury claims over catastrophic injuries can face more challenges in their fights for justice.

This includes not only higher stakes for securing needed compensation that accounts for substantial losses both in the past and the future, but also some unique complexities more likely to arise in these high-value cases, including:

  • Disputes From Defendants: Insurance companies and corporations that defend against personal injury claims want to pay victims as little as possible in order to protect their bottom lines. Naturally, catastrophic injury cases pose real threats for larger payouts that directly oppose this goal. As such, there’s an increased likelihood of challenges from the defense, which may dispute not only fault and liability, but also the scope of damages. Defendants may also argue victims were partially at fault for causing their own accidents, or challenge the value of expected future expenses related to a victim’s injuries, among other disputes.
  • Expert Testimony: Because catastrophic injuries are “big ticket” claims, both plaintiffs and defendants are likely to use experts when supporting or refuting claims. In some cases, this may mean working with relevant industry experts who evaluate accidents and provide insight and testimony regarding failures to meet accepted practices and standards in their profession (i.e. contractors who testify as experts in construction accident cases, or physicians who provide their opinion on whether doctor’s accused of medical malpractice violated the standard of care). Other resources include medical and rehabilitation experts who can testify to the permanency of a victim’s injury or disability and future medical needs, occupational therapists who evaluate a victim’s ability to work and live independently, sequencing or accident reconstruction experts, employees or professionals who worked for a defendant or were a witness to an accident, and economic analysts who can help calculate damages and future costs.
  • Litigation: Because the stakes are higher in catastrophic injury cases, so too are the chances cases will go to trial. Although the ability to reach an out-of-court settlement will always vary depending on the unique circumstances of a case, some plaintiffs are left with no other choice but to litigate claims before a judge or jury when defendants refuse to offer fair settlements or any compensation at all. When this happens, victims will need to rely on the help of proven trial lawyers who have the resources and ability to effectively present their claims in court.

The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C.: Fighting for Seriously Injured Victims & Families

The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is a nationally recognized law firm that’s fought for seriously injured victims and families across New York City and the state of New York for decades. As proven advocates, our firm has handled a range of serious injury cases, and knows they demand a different type of approach. To learn more about our services and how we may be of assistance in your potential case, contact us for a free consultation. We’re here to help.

For over 40 years, David H. Perecman has distinguished himself as one of the leading personal injury lawyers in New York City, championing all types of personal injury cases including construction accidents, premises accidents, automobile accidents, and medical malpractice, along with employment discrimination, false arrest, and civil rights cases.