Catastrophic Injuries: Medical Costs and Treatment

catastrophic injury ambulance

Some injuries are minor – perhaps another car rear-ended yours and you got a little bit of whiplash, or maybe you were involved in some other type of accident but only suffered some minor and short-lived back pain.

However, other injuries may be much more serious and are classified differently. They can be catastrophic injuries.

What Is a Catastrophic Injury?

A catastrophic injury is one that causes permanent, lifelong damage and prevents someone from being able to function as they once did. These injuries typically include:

  • Serious burns
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • The loss of a limb
  • Brain damage
  • Skull fracture and/or
  • Organ damage

For instance, maybe someone got into a car accident, and it damaged their spinal cord and impacted their ability to walk. Perhaps they were working on an assembly line when an explosion occurred that caused brain damage that affected memory or function.

Not only do these injuries negatively impact someone’s ability to work for the rest of their life, but they also make everything in their personal life that much more difficult. They may not be able to properly care for their children or family, move to a new house, pay for their current mortgage or car payment, move ahead in education or career, travel, marry, have more children, partake in their favorite hobbies and much more.

Essentially, life is forever changed and they have to adapt to a new normal, which can prove to be incredibly challenging on physical, mental and emotional fronts.

Treatment for Catastrophic Injuries

Treatment for catastrophic injuries will likely be ongoing throughout a person’s life. Initially, they could spend weeks or months in the hospital undergoing emergency and lifesaving treatment, including surgeries.

For instance, someone may have to get skin grafts to treat their burn injuries or spinal cord surgery. After these major treatments, they cannot just walk out of the hospital. Instead, they will need to rest and rehabilitate following initial treatment and may have to be put on a long-term plan for care. The long-term plan could include physical therapy at the very least; but they may also need additional surgeries and follow-up hospitalizations.

They might require special medical equipment in order to function from day to day, including a motorized scooter or crutches. A patient may have to have construction done on their home to accommodate their new circumstances. For instance, they might need a ramp installed so they can get in and out of the house in their wheelchair. Their family may have to purchase a handicap-accessible van or install special equipment in the shower so the patient can wash themselves. Additionally, the patient could need a nurse or some other type of aid to watch over and help them at least part of the day, if not 24-7.

The mental and emotional toll is devastating. A patient may need to attend years of therapy (physical and emotional) as well as join support groups and take medicines for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety or other mental health issues caused by the event.

Medical Costs for Catastrophic Injuries

The medical costs for catastrophic injuries are incredibly high. According to data from the Dana and Christopher Reeve Foundation, for the first year, high tetraplegia procedures cost around $1 million, low tetraplegia costs $769,000 and paraplegia costs just under $520,000. After that, the annual costs range from about $42,000-$184,000 or more per year – for life.

Severe burn injuries are even costlier. If someone has a severe burn with complications, the medical costs could climb over $10 million. If there are fairly straightforward conditions and no complications, treatment will average just over $1.6 million. Brain damage lifetime costs will range from $3 million, depending on the age and needs of the patient.

Talk therapy costs range from $20 to $250 per hour depending on how much the therapist charges, whether or not the business is sliding scale and if insurance will cover any of the bill. Physical therapy ranges from $20 to $350/hour depending on how much insurance covers, what the therapist charges, if there is any special equipment needed, how severe the injury is and how complicated the treatment ends up being.

Medicine, nurses and aids, construction on the home, a new vehicle and special equipment must be considered. It becomes extremely costly just to survive.

Additional Costs for Catastrophic Injury

The medical costs are just the beginning. If someone suffers a catastrophic injury, they may not be able to work at all, so the annual wage they were earning and would earn in the future up until they retired would factor in. Maybe they can still work but at a lesser capacity or in a less lucrative position. Either way, they are unable to work or earn as much as they could have or would have absent the injury.

Pain and suffering from day to day, is harder to calculate. What if a patient is unable to hug their children, or one can’t follow the career path she loves? What if a parent can’t take the kids to soccer games or walk them down the aisle at their wedding? These are just a few factors that must be considered when it comes to damages considerations. A lawyer is extremely important to assist in evaluating damages.

What to Do if You’ve Suffered a Catastrophic Injury

If you or a loved one has suffered a catastrophic injury, or if a loved one suffered an accidental death for which another party is to blame, then you’ll need to hire a personal injury attorney to help. There might be a claim against the employer and a claim against others as well. Investigation and good counsel are critical.

The goal of a lawsuit would be to ensure the patient’s medical treatment is covered, now and in the future, and to receive compensation for all damages incurred, including loss of earning capacity and pain and suffering, whether physical, mental or emotional. Part of the goal would be to help the patient get their life back on track and adjust as smoothly as possible to their new life, helping them focus on the number one important thing: recovering and making the most out of their life, addressing that difficulties there may be going forward.

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