Workplace injuries can occur in any work environment, from busy construction sites, warehouses, office buildings, to health care facilities. In most cases, workers who are injured on the job recover and are able to return to work. However, if the injury is severe, it can cause a permanent disability or prevent them from being able to return to work in any capacity. In extreme cases, a catastrophic injury workplace injury can be fatal.
The costs associated with a catastrophic injury accumulate very quickly, which can be financially devastating, particularly when the person is unable to return to work.
What Is a Catastrophic Injury?
Workplace injuries range in severity from cuts and lacerations to musculoskeletal injuries and broken bones. While some of these injuries may be considered serious, they are not catastrophic. To be considered a catastrophic injury, it must be life-changing, result in a permanent disability, and prevent you from being able to return to work.
Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, it may result in permanent functional disabilities or cause you to be more susceptible to other health-related issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular complications. If you suffered a catastrophic injury in the workplace, you may be eligible for permanent disability benefits through your employer’s Workers’ Compensation insurance program.
The following are examples of catastrophic injuries that can occur in the workplace.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause a range of symptoms, including cognitive impairments like memory loss, mental confusion, and difficulty thinking and understanding, as well as behavioral impairments, like depression, anxiety, aggression, and irritability. It can also cause slurred speech, dizziness, hearing loss, persistent headaches, blurred vision, seizures, and nausea or vomiting.
In extreme cases, the person requires ongoing medical care in a long-term care facility.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Depending on the part of the spine that was impacted and the severity of the injury, you may suffer the following:
- Quadriplegia: This involves the loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs, as well as the chest muscles. In most cases, this type of injury requires a breathing machine.
- Triplegia: This involves the loss of movement in both legs and one arm.
- Paraplegia: This involves the loss of movement and sensation in both legs.
In addition to the loss of movement, spinal cord injuries cause other devastating symptoms, including loss of bladder and bowel control, spasms, loss of sexual function, pain caused by the damage to the nerve fibers, and difficulty breathing.
These types of burns result in major scarring or loss of movement:
- Second-degree burns: Cause damage to the first and second layer of skin and require immediate medical attention.
- Third-degree burns: Cause damage to all three layers of the skin as well as the tissue below the skin. The person will require immediate medical attention and may suffer long-term pain, scarring, and multiple skin grafting procedures.
- Fourth-degree burns: Cause damage to the ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones. This type of burn requires months or even years of treatment. Oftentimes, fourth-degree burns are fatal.
This is a devastating injury that involves the loss of a limb, including a hand, arm, foot or leg, which prevents you from being able to return to work. Even if you are fitted with a prosthetic, you may still be unable to perform your regular duties at work.
These occur when a worker gets stuck between two objects, like a heavy machine and a wall, or two heavy machines. This can cause multiple broken bones, internal bleeding, organ damage, and TBIs.
There are a number of workplace hazards that can cause blindness, from an explosion to a sharp object hitting the eye. If the accident causes permanent blindness, this is considered a catastrophic injury. Even partial blindness can prevent you from being able to perform your regular job duties.
What Are Common Causes of Catastrophic Workplace Injuries?
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe work environment that is free of hazards. In addition, all employees should be provided with the necessary personal protective equipment. When employers fail to make safety a top priority, catastrophic injuries are more likely to occur.
The following are examples of some of the common causes of catastrophic injuries in the workplace:
- Defective or malfunctioning machines.
- Exposure to toxic chemicals or other hazardous materials.
- Structure collapse.
- Falls from heights.
- Contact with heavy objects that cause serious trauma.
What Are the Costs Associated With a Catastrophic Injury?
As you might imagine, catastrophic injuries require immediate medical attention, including emergency surgery, follow-up procedures, physical therapy, and prescriptions medications. In extreme cases, long-term care in a residential facility may be necessary if the injury is particularly severe.
The following are examples of some of the costs associated with a catastrophic injury:
- Emergency room visits.
- Hospital stays.
- Ongoing medical care.
- Prescription medications.
- Physical therapy.
- At home nursing care.
- Hospital bed, wheelchairs, ramps, and other adaptive equipment.
- Lost wages.
- Lost earning capacity.
What Benefits Are Available for Catastrophic Injuries?
If you suffered a catastrophic injury while on the job, you will likely be entitled to Workers’ Compensation benefits, which includes disability benefits if you are unable to return to work. In some cases, a serious injury may prevent you from being able to work for a certain period of time, in which case you would receive temporary total disability benefits.
However, if it becomes clear that your condition is not going to improve and that you will be unable to return to work in any capacity, you will be eligible for permanent benefits for a period of 450 weeks. If you reach the end of the time period and you are able to demonstrate that you are unable to work due to your disability, you may continue to collect permanent benefits. Generally speaking, your weekly total benefits will be 70 percent of the average of your weekly wage for the 26 weeks leading up to your injury. New Jersey law states that you must receive at least 20 percent of the statewide weekly wage.
In order to qualify for permanent disability status, a doctor must confirm that your medical condition has not improved and that you are not able to return to work. However, Workers’ Compensation doctors are often paid by the insurance providers who pay the benefits. Therefore, they may hesitate to diagnose a patient with a permanent disability since it will result in a sizable payout for their employer.
If this happens, a lawyer will work closely with you to obtain the medical information necessary to prove that a permanent disability status is appropriate.
What If a Catastrophic Injury Results in a Fatality?
If a catastrophic injury results in a devastating fatality, surviving family members might be eligible for death benefits. Eligible family members will receive a weekly death benefit payment of up to 70 percent of the deceased’s weekly wage immediately prior to their death.
Workers’ Compensation death benefits cover funeral expenses and treatment for the deceased’s injury prior to death. In addition to the deceased’s spouse and biological children, the following are examples of dependents who may qualify for death benefits:
- Adopted children.
South Jersey Catastrophic Injury Lawyers at DiTomaso Law Represent Workers Suffering From Catastrophic Workplace Injuries
If you have a catastrophic injury due to a work accident, do not hesitate to contact our South Jersey catastrophic injury lawyers at DiTomaso Law. We will protect your legal rights. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 856-414-0010 or contact us online. Located in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Mt. Holly, Camden County, and Vineland.