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What is the Difference Between a Catastrophic and a Non-Catastrophic Injury?

Personal Injury

If you’ve been reading about your legal rights online, you may have come across some articles discussing “catastrophic” injuries. You might be wondering what exactly this means, and you may also be wondering if it matters whether your injuries qualify as catastrophic.

In Ohio, the simple answer is: It doesn’t matter. If you’ve been injured in an accident that was someone else’s fault (other than your employer’s), you are entitled to personal injury compensation under Ohio law. If you’ve been injured on the job and are eligible for workers’ compensation, you can file a claim for benefits regardless of the severity of your injury.

Why the Distinction Between Catastrophic and Non-Catastrophic Injuries?

With this in mind, you might be thinking, “Why is there a distinction between catastrophic and non-catastrophic injuries?” While it doesn’t matter in Ohio, in some states it does. For example, in states that have “no-fault” auto insurance laws (which Ohio does not), accident victims may need to prove that they suffered a catastrophic injury in order to seek fault-based compensation.

Additionally, some law firms will only accept cases that involve catastrophic injuries. In some instances, this is because they are too busy to handle smaller cases. In others, it is because they are looking for a big payday. Since personal injury and workers’ compensation lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, the more they recover for their clients, the more they earn for themselves as well. Generally speaking, catastrophic injury cases tend to be worth more than those involving non-catastrophic injuries.

What is Considered a Catastrophic Injury?

So, what makes an injury “catastrophic”? There isn’t really one simple and straightforward answer. Instead, we typically consider an injury to be catastrophic if it has a significant and long-term impact on our client’s day-to-day life. With this in mind, some examples of injuries that can be considered catastrophic include:

  • Multiple Fractures – When accident victims suffer multiple fractures, this can often result in the need for surgery (if not multiple surgeries), and it can present the risk for chronic pain and long-term physical limitations.
  • Comminuted Fractures – A comminuted fracture occurs when the bone breaks into several fragments. These injuries frequently require surgery as well.
  • Open Fractures – A bone fracture is classified as “open” when a piece of the broken bone pierces the skin. Along with potential complications related to resetting the bone and performing surgery, these injuries can present risks for infections and other complications as well.
  • Internal Organ Damage – Damage to any of the internal organs can also present risks for a variety of complications. In many cases, emergency medical intervention will be necessary.
  • Severe Burns – While first-degree burns are generally classified as minor injuries, more severe burns that require intensive treatment or skin grafts can be classified as catastrophic.
  • Injuries Resulting in Loss of Hearing or Sight – Losing your hearing or sight is a life-altering experience. Injuries that cause permanent and disabling damage to the eyes and ears can be classified as catastrophic as well.
  • Injuries Resulting in Nerve Damage – Nerve damage can also be life-altering, and it is generally permanent. Deep lacerations, severe fractures, spinal cord injuries, neck injuries, and other injuries resulting in nerve damage can all potentially change your life forever.
  • Injuries Resulting in Loss of Limbs or Requiring Amputation – Losing a digit or limb can have significant and permanent physical and psychological consequences. Injuries that result in the loss of limbs and that require amputation both clearly qualify as catastrophic.
  • Spinal Cord Injuries (SCI) – Spinal cord injuries can be considered catastrophic when they result in full paralysis, partial paralysis, bowel or bladder dysfunction, or other permanent forms of impairment. This is true for injuries resulting from direct impact on the spine as well as those that involve other factors.
  • Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) – While concussions can often be classified as minor injuries, most other forms of TBI are considered catastrophic injuries. This includes contusions, coup-contrecoup injuries, hemorrhages and hematomas, among others.

These are just some of the most common examples. There are many other types of catastrophic injuries as well. Ultimately, if an injury has a significant negative impact on your ability to enjoy life, this means that it is catastrophic to you, and it means that you should talk to a lawyer about your legal rights.

What is Considered a Non-Catastrophic Injury?

Now, when is an injury considered “non-catastrophic”? Generally speaking, an injury will be considered non-catastrophic if you are able to fully recover and can do so relatively quickly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get better overnight, but rather that the recovery period can be measured in days or weeks instead of months or years (if recovery is possible at all).

Based on this definition, some examples of injuries that may be considered non-catastrophic include:

  • Cuts and bruises
  • Sprains and strains
  • Minor bone fractures
  • First-degree burns
  • Minor concussions

If you’ve been in an accident and your injuries are non-catastrophic, what does this mean when it comes to asserting your legal rights? Even if your injuries don’t qualify as catastrophic, it is still worth speaking with a lawyer. Whether you have a workers’ compensation claim, an auto insurance claim, or a homeowner’s insurance claim (i.e., for a dog bite or slip-and-fall accident), you will most likely need help to recover the financial compensation you deserve. When you contact a lawyer, the lawyer will help you decide how best to move forward, and, if it makes sense for you to hire a lawyer to handle your claim, then your lawyer can get to work right away.

Contact Us for a Free Consultation About Your Legal Rights

Do you need help deciding what to do after an accident in Ohio? If so, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. With offices in Columbus, we handle personal injury and workers’ compensation cases statewide. Call 614-656-3548 or tell us how we can reach you online now to arrange a free consultation as soon as possible.