Understanding Catastrophic Injuries in California

Any injury, especially that caused by another person, is harmful to the victim and has the potential to disrupt their life temporarily. Catastrophic injuries, however, have the potential to change your life permanently. Catastrophic physical injuries are serious and can lead to severe emotional distress or mental illness, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If an injury is catastrophic and if a person suffers such an injury due to the fault of another person or entity, maximum compensation should be the goal of any personal injury lawsuit.

At Garcia Preciado Law, our catastrophic injury attorneys aim to obtain maximum compensation for our clients. We do not settle unless our clients receive the total allowed by law. There are many factors that go into determining a just and fair amount of compensation, and through our analysis and committed representation, we will identify what that is and pursue it. Contact us at 661-495-0084 to schedule a FREE consultation and learn more about how we can help you and your loved ones.

What Constitutes a Catastrophic Injury?

In most states, catastrophic injuries are defined as severe injuries that have a life-changing impact on the person who experiences them. These are injuries that typically never fully heal or can never be fully repaired.

People suffering from catastrophic injuries may not be able to return to work for an extended period, if ever. Victims of catastrophic injuries may never lead the life they enjoyed prior to the injury, and that is why these injuries deserve special consideration. 

The most common types of catastrophic injuries involve the spinal cord, brain injuries, burns, or loss of limbs.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can result in changes to a person's strength and sensations. Not all spinal cord injuries are catastrophic, but those that cause paralysis, specifically paraplegia or quadriplegia, are considered catastrophic. In the worst-case scenario, spinal cord injuries are fatal.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)

A TBI affects how the brain works. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A TBI is caused by a blow or jolt to the head or an object penetrating the skull and entering the brain. Brain injuries cause a range of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, vision, hearing, changes in behavior, emotion, memory, learning, and cognitive abilities, 

TBIs can range from mild to moderate to severe. Treatment for moderate or severe TBI varies from medications to brain surgery or skull fracture repairs. In more severe TBI cases, life expectancy can be shortened dramatically.

Burn Injuries

Third-degree burns cause damage to body tissue and muscles. Scarring is significant, and skin grafting is often required. Pain from third-degree burns is extensive as is any subsequent disfigurement.  

Limb Loss

The loss of a limb is devastating and irreparably alters that person's quality of life. A severely injured limb must often be amputated to prevent serious and potentially fatal infections. Amputations, however, have their own complications, like “phantom limb” pain or an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT), heart attack, and other infections. Additional surgery or treatment may be required to minimize pain or repair issues that develop post-amputation.

Other potentially catastrophic injuries include:

  • Loss of sight
  • Loss of hearing
  • Facial deformities
  • Nerve damage
  • Neurological damage
  • Severe organ damage
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) 

Though not exhaustive, this list provides an idea of what other injuries may be catastrophic.

3 Common Characteristics of Catastrophic Injuries

In personal injury cases, there are differences between catastrophic and other types of injuries. Three common characteristics exist in catastrophic injuries that do not exist in non-catastrophic injuries. 

1.    Severity of Damage

Catastrophic injuries cause damage much more severe than a regular injury. Victims' lives are significantly and often permanently altered. Many victims may require assistance with daily living activities. It is not unusual for people with catastrophic injuries to live in a medical treatment facility or have a full-time medical caregiver. 

2.    Recovery Time

Recovery time for normal, regular injuries is much less than the time needed to recover from catastrophic injuries. While it varies with catastrophic injuries, recovery time can range between months to years. In many cases, full recovery is not possible. The severity of the injury is life-altering. The recovery time is potentially life-long. The trauma is sustained and enduring.

3.    Sustained Trauma

Catastrophic injuries cause significant trauma to victims. Severe trauma takes considerable time for recovery. Recovery generally includes medication, therapy, counseling, and constant medical supervision. 


When a person is injured by another person or entity, the idea behind a settlement or lawsuit is to make the injured person whole again after considering their losses. In catastrophic injury cases, being “made whole” – physically, mentally, or emotionally – will likely not be possible. As such, your losses are more substantial and enduring. The person may suffer more physical pain and emotional distress, have higher medical bills, lose out on earning wages, be denied the ability to engage in activities they once loved, and more.

What's more: Catastrophic injuries do not impact the individual alone but also their loved ones. Compensation must reflect all these things, and that is why it matters if an injury is categorized as catastrophic. 

Although it varies by state, catastrophic injuries generally qualify for a higher level of compensation for economic and non-economic damages. In some cases, they might even qualify for punitive damages.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the easiest type of damages to calculate for most personal injury claims. By the time a settlement occurs or trial commences, the injured party has received complete or near complete medical treatment. The economic damages are calculated by adding up the medical expenses by using receipts, invoices, and statements.

Catastrophic injury cases, however, are different. There may be extensive future economic damages to consider. Calculating the value of these damages usually requires expert analysis and testimony. This testimony can attest to the value of the loss of future earned income as well as to the importance, extent, and duration of medical care necessary for the injured party.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic injuries are intangible and, thus, harder than economic injuries to quantify. They cover compensation for pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. In catastrophic injury cases, non-economic damages can be considerable due to the impact the injuries have on the victim's quality of life.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are designed to (1) punish the wrongdoer who caused the accident; and (2) serve as a deterrent to keep others from engaging in the same behavior. While not typically awarded in personal injury cases, they may be warranted in cases that result in catastrophic injuries.

At Garcia Preciado Law, our catastrophic injury attorney will advise you on the extent of compensation you can anticipate, and whether that could involve punitive damages.

Contact Garcia Preciado Law Today

Doctors often recommend extended medical care and physical therapy to victims of catastrophic injuries because the resulting conditions may continue indefinitely. Our attorneys will guide you through your treatment process and keep accurate records of your progress. Our legal team will represent you and your family in seeking injury compensation from those at fault. This monetary recovery will help cover your medical bills and compensate you, in part, for your pain and suffering.

Contact Garcia Preciado Law today by filling out our online contact form or calling us at 661-495-0084. We will schedule a FREE consultation to discuss your case and a plan to move forward toward recovery.