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Catastrophic Injuries

Catastrophic injuries are serious and severe injuries, commonly involving damage to the spine, spinal cord or brain. Typically, catastrophic injuries result in death or severe and permanent impact on a person’s ability to function.

Catastrophic injuries are usually sustained in violent accidents, such as a motor vehicle accident or industrial accident, but can be present with other claims too - such as medical negligence, public liability or occupier’s liability.

You will benefit from seeing an experienced personal injury lawyer if you have suffered catastrophic injuries because it is important to properly and fully identify direct and indirect losses.

What is a Catastrophic Injury?

The National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research in the United States classifies catastrophic injuries based on the three outcomes associated with them: fatality, those causing permanent severe functional disability, and those causing severe head or neck trauma with no permanent disability.[3][1] A fatal injury may be a direct result of trauma sustained during an activity, or may occur indirectly. Indirect nonfatal catastrophic injury may occur as a result of systemic failure from exertion during an activity, such as from cardiovascular conditions, heat illness, exertional hyponatremia, or dehydration,[4] or a complication to a nonfatal injury.[1][2] Indirect fatalities are usually caused by cardiovascular conditions, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and coronary artery disease.[4]


A catastrophic injury is a medical or legal classification rather than an injury. Where an injury or combination of injuries are sustained which cause death, threaten life or severely impact day-to-day cognitive or physical function, then it will attract the classification of catastrophic.

They can be treated differently under the law because their complexity means that typical procedural limitations ought to be lifted and/or case management ought to be expedited.

Case Strategy

Case strategy can vary. A customised approach really needs to be taken.

If the risk of death is imminent, then it may be appropriate to expedite the case quickly. Special orders and court management rules can be applied to this end.

If death is not imminent but it is clear that there is going to be severe impact, then it may be appropriate to allow more time for medical treatment and assessment. This is because achieving medical stability tends to be prolonged, and properly determining losses is more complex and generally take longer.

Whatever the situation, these cases require a more complex and multifaceted approach to treatment and assessment, and typically attract greater awards of damages. We recommended you use an experienced and specialist personal injury lawyer for these types of cases.