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Catastrophic Injuries

What is a Catastrophic Injury?

A catastrophic injury is an extreme injury or illness that could have been avoided if the defendant wasn't negligent. An extreme injury is one that has a permanent effect on the injured parties every day life or normal bodily functions.

A person may be held responsible for the catastrophic injuries if they are found to be negligent, which means they failed to take proper care and precautions. The most common examples of catastrophic injuries include:

  • Brain and/or spinal cord damage;
  • Paralysis;
  • Major burns;
  • Compound bone fractures;
  • Blindness or partial blindness;
  • Neurological disorders; and/or
  • Severe damage to internal organs.

Injuries that are deemed “catastrophic” are not limited to the list above. Each case is unique and determined by the facts.

Common Examples of Causes Resulting In Catastrophic Injuries?

Catastrophic injuries are limitless because they are caused by events that are unforeseeable or occur unexpectedly. The extent of the injuries and the cause of the injuries is what determines if it catastrophic. An injury may not necessarily qualify as catastrophic, but rather “serious” bodily harm or damage.

Below is an example of events that may result in a catastrophic injury:

  • Motorcycle or car accidents;
  • Sports injuries, including extreme sports;
  • Surgeries;
  • Device malfunction (chainsaw or a handgun);
  • Defective or wrong dosage of medicine; and/or
  • Electrocution.


Amputations are catastrophic and often involve extensive medical treatment and rehabilitation. You also may suffer from severe phantom pain after an amputation. If you or a loved one lost a body part in an accident, you may be entitled to compensation and damages.  Depending on your case, you may be entitled to workers' compensation, personal injury, Social Security, and other benefits.

Claims for Unintentional Loss of a Limb

An amputation is the physical removal of a body part. Sometimes, an amputation is sudden and accidental. For example:

  • A worker's hand may get caught in moving machinery and become severed,
  • A child's finger may get cut off by a defective stroller hinge, or
  • A driver could suffer a serious crush injury during a collision, resulting in an amputation.

While doctors are increasingly able to reattach body parts, this is not always possible. If you suffer an accidental amputation, you may be eligible for workers' compensation benefits or compensation for your personal injuries. Workers' compensation is a no-fault benefits system that provides assistance for injured workers. Personal injury claims may involve a car accident, a defective product (product liability), or medical malpractice.

Claims for Intentional Loss of a Limb

Other times, an amputation is planned. This may occur for many reasons, including:

  • Serious infection in a body part,
  • Crush injuries and burns,
  • An unsuccessful reattachment of the body part,
  • Poor circulation in the body part, and
  • Chronic pain.

Sometimes, an intentional, medically necessary amputation is also compensable. A surgical amputation may arise out of a workers' compensation or personal injury claim. Again,

potential claims may involve car accidents, defective products, or medical malpractice. You may also have disability-related claims, including Social Security disability, SSI, and private short-term or long-term disability claims.

What Kinds of Damages or Benefits Would Be Awarded?

Workers' Compensation and Amputation

Your compensation for an amputation may vary, depending on whether your injury was work-related or not. Under workers' compensation law, you may be entitled to coverage of your medical bills (including prosthetic fittings and physical therapy) and wage loss benefits. Typically, workers' compensation will not compensate you for your pain and suffering.

In workers' compensation cases, most states have a schedule of benefits for amputations and loss of industrial use. Under this schedule, you will be paid a weekly benefit for a specific amount of time. (Proportionate losses may be reduced accordingly. If you lost 50% of a limb, you may receive 50% of the guaranteed benefit.) In most states, you will continue to receive your scheduled benefit even if you return to work.

Each state's schedule is different and the value of an amputation claim varies greatly from state to state. For example, the loss of a hand is worth:

  • Alabama: 170 weeks of wage loss,
  • Georgia: 160 weeks of wage loss,
  • Illinois: 205 weeks of wage loss,
  • North Carolina: 200 weeks of wage loss,
  • New Jersey: 245 weeks of wage loss, and
  • New York: 244 weeks of wage loss.

Some states, like California and Texas, do not have schedules and use different factors to calculate compensation. If your disability extends beyond the scheduled benefit, you may receive ongoing wage loss or indemnity benefits. 

In some states, workers' compensation can be a lifetime benefit. However, every state's workers' compensation laws are different. If you have questions about your entitlement to benefits, contact a workers' compensation lawyer.

Seatback Failure

A seatback is the back support of a seat in an aircraft, automobile, or some other type of vehicle. Seatback failure occurs when a seatback collapses in a rearward direction. One of the most common injuries associated with vehicle accidents would be a defective or broken seatback.

This is largely due to the fact that automobile manufacturers often overlook the safety of seats, and design them in a defective way which can result in severe injuries. This is especially true for injuries resulting from being rear ended.

Car manufacturers who design a defective seatback which causes injuries to passengers can be held strictly liable for the defective design. What this means is that the car manufacturer can be held liable for any harm resulting from certain activities, without any fault or negligence, due to the fact that they created a dangerous seatback. Strict liability will be further discussed later on.

When the seatback fails, it falls back toward the rear of the car. While in this position, it can act as a sort of ramp, allowing a passenger to fly out of the back window or an open back door. Even when the passenger is not thrown from the car, it may be possible for the passenger to be thrown within the car, which can also result in catastrophic or serious injury.

What Are Some Common Injuries Associated With Seatback Failure?

Defective seatbacks pose dangers to all passengers, including those in the front and back seats of the vehicle. Such defects generally result in catastrophic injuries and even death, largely associated with the sudden blunt force to a person's head or body.

An especially common example would be how the front seat passenger could be thrown backwards into the rear seat. This can result in spinal injuries and even paralysis. Many seatback failures injure children passengers, due to the fact that they weigh less and can be easily thrown out of or around the inside of the vehicle during an accident.

Some other common injuries associated with seatback failure include, but may not be limited to:

  • Spinal injuries, which are frequently caused by the passenger being thrown violently into other objects or into the rear seat once the seatback fails;
  • Neck and back injuries;
  • Head and brain injuries due to sudden blunt force to a person's head; and
  • Death from a seat being launched from them, or from being ejected from the vehicle.

Do I Have a Legal Claim For Seatback Failure?

As previously mentioned, car manufacturers who design a defective seatback can be held strictly liable for the defective design. Strict liability refers to a type of civil liability which does not depend on actual negligence, or the intent to harm.

According to this legal principle, the plaintiff can hold an individual or entity liable for damages or losses without needing to prove intent or carelessness. This doctrine generally applies to circumstances which are considered to be inherently dangerous or hazardous.

Although the fault of the defendant is not an issue, it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove that injuries or damages occurred. They will also need to prove that they occurred because of the inherently dangerous or hazardous actions of the defendant.

One major category of strict liability is based on defective products. In order to be successful in a products liability claim, the plaintiff must prove that:

  • There was a defect in the product present when it left the defendant's possession;
  • The plaintiff was a foreseeable, average user of the product who used the product as it was intended, with no considerable alteration;
  • The plaintiff was injured by the use of the product; and
  • The injury was directly due to the product's defective nature.

Manufacturers, distributors, and retailers are all parties that can be held strictly liable. This is because of the principle that consumers should not be injured without compensation, simply because they cannot prove who in the distribution chain was actually responsible for the defective product.

A design defect denotes that the product was manufactured correctly, but that there is something in the way in which the product is designed that makes it dangerous to average consumers. Because the design defect is a flaw in how the product is designed, the defect generally affects the entire product line, as opposed to just one particular item.

If you have suffered injuries because of a defective seatback, you will most likely bring an automotive products liability claim against the manufacturer who designed the seatback. Once again, you will not need to prove that the manufacturer was negligent when designing the seat. Rather, your task will be to prove that the seatback was designed in a defective way, and that is what caused your injuries.

What Will I Need to Prove In a Seatback Failure Claim?

If you are the plaintiff and need to prove that there was a defect in design in the seatback, and that that was the cause of your injuries, you can do so by meeting the following elements:

  1. The manufacturer designed the seatback, as intended;
  2. The design of the seatback is inherently dangerous for its intended use;
  3. An alternative design exists that would have made the seatback considerably safer;
  4. The cost of making a safer design for the seatback would not be unreasonable when compared to the cost of manufacturing the dangerous design;
  5. With the implementation of the safer modification, the seatback would have performed in the same manner for which it was intended to perform; and
  6. The plaintiff was injured or suffered loss when using the seatback as it was intended.

To put it another way, the plaintiff must prove that using a safer way to design the seatback would not have been much more costly, and the alternative design of the seatback would have performed in the same manner as the manufacturer intended.

When an injured party files a personal injury claim or lawsuit, then they will generally be requesting some form of financial compensation from the party responsible for causing the accident. These are also referred to as compensatory damages, because they are compensating the recipient for the injuries they suffered.

Compensatory damages are intended to cover costs associated with the accident, such as:

  • Medical bills;
  • Vehicle repair costs;
  • Loss of wages or income; and
  • Other quantifiable losses.

Who Can Be Held Liable for a Catastrophic Injury?

Liability for catastrophic injuries depends on the facts of each case. Typically, if a person is found negligent or grossly negligent they are responsible for the injuries and related damages. Additionally, if a defendant's actions intentionally caused a person to be catastrophically injured, then they are absolutely liable.

Also, if a defective product or medical drug is the underlying cause of the injury the defendant(s) are also liable. It is common to have multiple defendants in catastrophic injury cases, it simply depends on the facts relating the main event that caused the injury. 

Are There Any Legal Consequences Associated With Catastrophic Injuries?

Legal liability for such injuries varies widely according to the circumstances, the parties involved, and state laws. Typically, the injured party receives damages for their losses and sometimes any future damage associated with the injury. The following are common examples of damages that are awarded:

  • Medical bills;
  • Lost wages;
  • Pain and suffering;
  • Wrongful death;
  • Loss of consortium;
  • Emotional distress; and/or
  • Punitive damages.

Medical examiners and experts are usually consulted to help determine the extent of the injuries and the basis for the damage award. Punitive damages are ordered by the court's discretion, meaning that the plaintiff can requests punitive damages but ultimately it is up to the judge to decide if they think the case is serious enough to warrant it.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with a Catastrophic Injury Claim?

Any person involved in a catastrophic injury case would benefit from consulting a personal injury lawyer as they can provide guidance with filings, fact finding, consulting expert witnesses, and overall legal representation in court. Catastrophic injury cases are very complex, serious, and usually take months (sometimes years) to settle. Lawyers often provide the best support to obtaining damages or providing a strong defense. Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.