What Defines a Catastrophic Injury? September 19, 2023.

What defines a catastrophic injury is severity and permanence

Catastrophic injuries are the most severe type of injury, short of an injury that causes death. In fact, many catastrophic injuries eventually lead to the death of the victim over time. But what is a catastrophic injury? Is it simply a very bad injury, or does this type of injury have specific characteristics? The answer is the latter. Catastrophic injuries are injuries with specific characteristics according to Ohio law.

Defining Catastrophic Injuries

In Ohio, the term “catastrophic injury” is a legal term used to describe serious injuries. However, not all serious injuries are catastrophic, but all catastrophic injuries are serious.

What makes a serious injury catastrophic? Ohio Revised Code Section 2315.8 explains the circumstances in which an injury would be classified as catastrophic, although the term “catastrophic” is never used within the statute. That said, a clear legal distinction exists between the types of injuries set forth in the statute and less serious ones.

According to Section 2315.8, injuries are catastrophic if:

  • The injury consists of a deformity that is permanent and substantial
  • A limb is lost or becomes unusable
  • The loss of an eye or organ occurs
  • The injury renders the victim incapable of caring for themselves independently and carrying out life-sustaining activities

Regarding the last bullet point, the term “life-sustaining activities” is defined quite broadly in Ohio and may include actions such as:

  • Handling your own financial affairs
  • Feeding yourself
  • Using the bathroom independently

Maintaining gainful employment is also considered to be a life-sustaining activity and falls within the catastrophic injury definition.

Catastrophic Injury Examples

The human body is remarkably resilient and can bounce back after experiencing serious trauma. However, some injuries are simply too extensive to come back from, making them catastrophic.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs)

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs when some form of trauma injures the brain. There are two types of TBIs: open-head and closed-head. Open-head TBIs are also known as penetrating TBIs and typically involve damage to the brain from piercing trauma, such as trauma caused by bullets, knives, a hammer, or bone fragments.

A closed-head injury is when the brain becomes damaged not by an outside type of trauma but by trauma caused by the brain impacting the skull. Shaking, whiplash, and blunt force can all cause the brain to collide with the skull and cause damage without producing a head wound.

Not all TBIs are catastrophic. However, the unfortunate reality is that many of them are, and they forever alter a person’s life trajectory. 

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can be just as life-altering as TBIs. Every action you perform requires the spinal cord to send signals to and from the brain. Even a slight injury to the cord can lead to an inability to perform life-sustaining functions due to resultant paralysis and incontinence.

Extreme Burns

Burns are often horrific injuries, typically accompanied by corresponding psychological and emotional damage. When they are catastrophic, victims typically need multiple painful surgeries, years of recovery, and help making it through the day. They are also scarred emotionally, often for life.

Multiple Amputations

Multiple amputations are easily catastrophic, leading to a significantly altered and compromised life for their victims. Many life-sustaining activities are no longer possible after losing more than one body part.

Keep in mind that the loss of arms and legs is generally considered much more serious than the loss of fingers or toes.

Organ Failure/Damage

Most of the organs in the body are essential to human life. If any of them are severely damaged or fail, you will need regular care and treatment to remain alive. The type of care depends entirely on the organ. For example, dialysis would likely be required for catastrophic injuries to the kidneys.


Paralysis of one or more body parts or systems can prevent a person from engaging in gainful employment (but not always) and performing the necessary life-sustaining activities to survive. Trauma is a typical cause of paralysis, as are certain medical conditions, such as strokes and multiple sclerosis.

Legal Implications

Catastrophic injuries are treated differently under the law than other types of injuries. For one, victims of such injuries have access to more compensation. Whereas a non-catastrophic injury might fetch a victim a certain amount of compensation, a catastrophic one would result in far more.

The reason for the increase in compensation is not simply because catastrophic injuries typically cause more losses. In addition, catastrophic injuries are not subject to Ohio’s cap on non-economic damages.

Non-economic damages cover non-monetary losses, such as pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life. But in Ohio, non-economic damages are capped at the greater of $250,000 or triple the amount of economic damages applicable up to $350,000 per person and $500,000 per incident.

However, catastrophic injuries are not subject to this cap. In other words, if you suffer a catastrophic injury in Ohio, your economic damages are not limited by the law.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions about catastrophic injuries. 

What Damages Can I Pursue With a Catastrophic Injury?

Some of the types of economic and non-economic damages that victims of catastrophic injuries pursue include:

  • Medical costs
  • Future medical costs
  • Lost income
  • Lost future earning capacity
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Scarring or disfigurement

You can also pursue compensation for property damage.

How Do Lawyers Calculate Non-Economic Damages for Catastrophic Injuries?

Parties frequently use the multiplier method, which multiplies the amount of economic damages by a multiplier of between 1.5 and 5. The more serious an injury, the higher the multiplier. For instance, catastrophic injuries should receive a 5, while a broken finger might garner a 1.5 or a 2.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Catastrophic Injury?

Yes. You should hire an attorney if you want maximum compensation for your losses.

Justice Through Compensation for Your Catastrophic Injury

If you have suffered a catastrophic personal injury, you can get justice through valuable compensation. The team at Mellino Law is ready to discuss the circumstances of your injury and explain your options. Call today for a free consultation with a catastrophic injury lawyer.