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What Is the Difference Between Catastrophic Injury and Personal Injury?

December 20, 2023 | 6 min read

Those looking for a catastrophic personal injury lawyer have come to the right place. A simple online search will return thousands of results for personal injury attorneys and law firms, but you may be wondering which one is best suited to handle your case. If you or someone you love has suffered severe, life-altering injuries, you need a lawyer who focuses on catastrophic injury claims.

At Burg Simpson Law Firm, we dedicate a substantial portion of our practice to representing individuals who have sustained catastrophic injuries due to the negligence of others. These cases involve unique challenges distinct from the “average” personal injury claim, making it vital to hire a personal injury lawyer with the appropriate experience, knowledge, and resources.

Learn how a catastrophic personal injury lawyer at Burg Simpson can help. Call 303-792-5595 today for a FREE and confidential case evaluation.

What Is Personal Injury?

Personal injury is the area of civil law concerned with the rights of people injured by another party’s negligence or wrongdoing. Under personal injury law, the individual who suffers harm (the plaintiff) can pursue monetary compensation for injuries caused by the negligent party (the defendant).

The injuries in a personal injury matter can range from relatively minor to extremely serious, encompassing soft tissue injuries and broken bones to grievous head injuries and damage to the spine. Personal injury litigation may arise from a host of situations, with common examples including:

No matter the cause, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible following an injury. Medical professionals will perform a physical examination and order tests to determine the severity of any injuries you suffered from the accident.

If you believe your injuries were caused by the carelessness of another, it may be in your interest to speak to a personal injury lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can assess the merits of your case and determine whether you are entitled to compensation.

What Is a Catastrophic Injury?

“Catastrophic injury” does not have a specific medical definition. Rather, it is a term often used by personal injury lawyers to denote injuries that are especially severe and/or likely to have a lifelong impact on the victim.

Any of the incidents described above have the potential to cause catastrophic injury. Injuries that are commonly considered catastrophic in nature include:

Catastrophic injuries often require intensive medical care, including surgeries, rehabilitation, and long-term therapy. The individuals who suffer from catastrophic injuries may require ongoing medical attention and assistance with daily activities, impacting their ability to work and enjoy a normal quality of life.

Given the enormous financial costs and other burdens imposed on victims and their families, it is generally worthwhile to seek legal guidance following a catastrophic injury. A catastrophic personal injury lawyer can investigate the circumstances and identify all available options for pursuing compensation.

Personal Injury vs. Catastrophic Injury Claims

The legal recourse for a catastrophic injury is, in most cases, the same as it is for any personal injury matter. A catastrophic personal injury lawyer will collect evidence of negligence, calculate the damages you are due, and pursue fair compensation through settlement negotiations or, if necessary, by filing a lawsuit and (potentially) taking the case to trial.

Practically speaking, however, there are important differences between personal injury and catastrophic injury cases that all plaintiffs should know. These include:

The Severity of the Injuries

Recovery from an injury is often conceptualized in terms of maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is the point at which further medical treatment will not result in improvements to the patient’s condition.

With most injuries, reaching MMI means a full recovery. You might still have aches, pains, and other minor difficulties, but any serious or lasting effects are unlikely.

It is a different story with catastrophic injuries. MMI for a catastrophic injury does not mean a return to normal life. Rather, it means the injury has stabilized and additional intervention will not result in the patient getting any better.

Personal injury attorneys generally wait for maximum medical improvement to ensure they have a full understanding of the impact of the injuries on a client’s life. This is especially important for catastrophic injuries, as they are likely to result in significant and far-reaching limitations and hardships.

Medical Evidence

Strong medical evidence is required for all personal injury claims. Catastrophic injuries in particular need to be thoroughly documented. Medical records should present a clear picture of the extent and totality of the injury, including:

  • Permanent physical and/or psychological effects
  • Whether the patient can return to his or her previous employment
  • Any impact on day-to-day activities, including the ability to care for oneself
  • The inability to take part in hobbies and leisure activities
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Permanent scarring and disfigurement

A catastrophic personal injury lawyer knows what medical evidence is required for your case to succeed. Your attorney will review medical records and communicate with your doctors to ensure there is proof of how serious the injury is.

Expert Testimony

Catastrophic injury claims often require testimony from multiple expert witnesses. Medical experts are particularly important, as they can testify as to the impact of catastrophic injuries on your daily life, ability to work, and future treatment needs.

Additional expert testimony may be required to prove the defendants’ negligence, as well as the full extent of damages you are owed. This may involve hiring occupational and industrial experts, specialists in accident reconstruction, economic experts, and others.

The Amount of Compensation

One of the biggest differences between catastrophic injury cases and other personal injury claims is the amount of damages involved. According to the journal Injury Prevention, the initial cost of treating an injury requiring hospitalization (indicative of a more serious injury) ranges from $31,912 to $95,295. This figure does not account for the many additional costs a catastrophic injury victim will face in the short- and long-term, as well as the physical, mental, and emotional toll of the injury.

An experienced catastrophic personal injury lawyer recognizes the importance of seeking compensation for all of your losses—now and in the future. These may include:

  • Current and future medical expenses
  • Lost wages to-date, as well as the loss of earning capacity
  • Household services and in-home care
  • Assistive devices, medical equipment, and modifications to your home or vehicle
  • Loss of society, consortium, and household contributions
  • Exemplary damages (if available)
  • Pain and suffering and other non-economic damages

Colorado imposes a cap on non-economic damages in personal injury claims (from 2022–2024, the cap was adjusted for inflation to $642,180). However, an award of non-economic damages may be increased up to $1,284,370 if “the court finds justification by clear and convincing evidence therefor” (see Colorado Revised Statutes § 13-21-102.5).

What constitutes “clear and convincing evidence therefor” is nebulous. It is crucial to seek qualified legal guidance to ensure that every dollar in damages is accounted for and supported by compelling evidence.

Likelihood of Going to Trial

As a rule, many personal injury claims will settle out of court. If a settlement cannot be reached, however, it may be necessary to go to trial to obtain the maximum compensation to which you are entitled. One reason settlement negotiations may break down is because the parties are far apart on damages.

Disputes are much more likely to arise in a catastrophic injury claim because the defense is unlikely to agree to pay the full value of the plaintiff’s losses. A fair settlement may be reached through negotiation, but this is not guaranteed.

If the insurer refuses to compensate you fairly for a catastrophic personal injury, going to trial may be the only option. Having a proven trial attorney represent you in court is essential for obtaining a favorable result.

Contact a Catastrophic Personal Injury Lawyer Today

The costs associated with a catastrophic injury can be overwhelming. Medical expenses and loss of income can put you and your family in financial jeopardy, while the injury itself can lead to any number of adverse effects on your physical health and emotional well-being.

Burg Simpson is committed to recovering maximum compensation on your behalf. We have obtained more than $2 billion in results for our clients, and our attorneys have earned numerous awards and nationwide recognition for their skill as litigators. Our firm has a reputation for taking on the challenges of catastrophic injury claims—and winning. 

For a FREE and confidential case evaluation, contact Burg Simpson today. Our catastrophic personal injury lawyers serve clients in Denver and throughout Colorado.