Causes and Effects of Catastrophic Injuries

Personal Injury
catastrophic injury

By Sean Lally, Staff Writer

It goes without saying that some injuries are worse than others. Likewise, each personal injury case varies depending on the severity of the injury. One case might result in a settlement or award of a few thousand dollars, while another might yield millions of dollars in damages. Generally speaking, high awards and settlements follow from catastrophic injuries, which generally refer to major spine, brain or spinal cord injuries, but which also include disfigurement, amputations and severe burns. Basically, any injury that results in long-term effects and requires life-long care, can be referred to as a catastrophic injury.

Potential Causes

Catastrophic injuries can arise in any number of contexts, ranging from auto accidents to defective products to medical malpractice. When it comes to spinal cord injuries, automobile accidents are a leading cause. This type of accident accounts for nearly 30 percent of all spinal cord injuries in males and almost half of all spinal cord injuries involving females. This is perhaps unsurprising since car accidents caused over 37,000 deaths in 2016.


Catastrophic injuries can also be linked to high-impact sports and activities, such as football and cheerleading. According to a 2012 study, the number of severe injuries related to football have been on the rise since 1984, when the number of catastrophic injuries rested in the single digits. Since then, that number has jumped to the double digits. Most of these injuries are caused by certain kinds of tackles, some of which have been illegal for some time. These include face-tackling, spear tackles and butt-blocking.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Fred Mueller, Ph.D., “These 2011 numbers are the highest since we began collecting catastrophic brain injury data.” He added, “This is a major problem."

Likewise, cheerleading has been a leading cause of catastrophic injuries in the context of sports and leisure. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research, in 1980, there were approximately 5,000 cheerleading-related injuries, whereas in recent years that number has skyrocketed to nearly 28,000.  Moreover, about 65 percent of all female sport-related catastrophic injuries are due to cheerleading.

Potential Effects

As mentioned, catastrophic injuries come in different shapes and sizes. When it comes to football, traumatic brain injuries are relatively common, both at the professional level and in high schools throughout the country. This type of injury tends to lead to long-term effects –  such as cognitive problems, emotional issues and communication trouble – requiring constant care and in some cases indefinite doses of daily medicine. And because of the potential for repeated concussions, athletes can suffer from Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) a progressive disease that often leads to immense suffering.


An injury like this necessitates lofty medical expenses, and in the context of personal injury claims, it may even lead to pain and suffering damages for those less tangible injuries, such as a diminished quality of life. Other costs for catastrophic injuries include: medical expenses, rehabilitation, debilitating pain, emotional turmoil, home renovations related to the injury and lost wages (present and future). These are just some of the potential costs. Each case will require its own calculations, but generally speaking, when we’re discussing catastrophic injuries, the costs are most likely going to be high.


Take major spinal injuries, for instance. If you suffer an extreme, life-altering injury like High Tetraplegia, you could be looking at over a $1 million in the first year alone. And every year after that, you would be expected to dole out over $184,000, according to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Those figures exclude the pain and suffering caused by the injury.

If you sustained a catastrophic injury at no fault of your own, you might be entitled to obtain compensation for damages. The first step is to reach out to a skilled attorney with experience in personal injury claims and catastrophic injuries.

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