The 5 Largest Catastrophic Injury Awards

Catastrophic Injury Awards: What Makes It A Catastrophic Injury?

Personal injury law defines a catastrophic injury as a permanent or long-lasting wound that disables and prevents the inflicted from working. Some examples of ailments that result in catastrophic injury awards include:

  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Paralysis
  • Brain injuries
  • Loss of vision
  • Amputation of limb or limbs
  • Severe burns
  • Hearing impairment

Any injury that prevents an adult from being self-sufficient constitutes as catastrophic. Their damages are life-changing, and their impact is great. Often, accidents like falls, explosions, or collisions result in catastrophic injury. Additionally, accidents that lead to significant injuries include medical malpractice or errors in operation committed by a surgeon. Some recreational activities, such as climbing or diving, pose devastating risks. Finally, traffic accidents such as vehicle collisions often send people to the hospital with catastrophic injuries.


If the accident was preventable but occurred due to another’s negligence, the victim may have a personal injury case. A personal injury attorney helps the victim deal with the various stresses that come with catastrophic injury and litigation. While financial compensation cannot pay back all injury takes away, the relief of financial burden helps the victim resume life as soon as possible. Below are five of the largest catastrophic injury awards from recent history.


1. Anderson vs. GM (General Motors) – $4.9 Billion

On Christmas Eve 1993, Patricia Anderson and her family drove home from church only to have their 1979 Chevrolet Malibu rear-ended by a drunk driver. The Chevy’s gas tank exploded, engulfing the car in flames. While the adults escaped the fire, the four children in the back seat suffered catastrophic burns.

The Andersons sued General Motors because they designed the fuel tank with a defect. Finally, they won their auto product liability suit and collected $4.9 billion for the accident.


2. Griggs vs. Caterpillar – $58 million

The single largest individual personal injury award in California resulted from third-degree burns sustained by Moyle Excavation employee, Joseph Griggs, in 1998. The construction vehicle Griggs operated burst into flames unexpectedly. Because of this, Griggs sued Caterpillar (the manufacturer), West-Pac Industries (the distributor), Tool Exchange (the importer of the defective part), and his employer, Moyle Excavation.

Griggs’s attorney argued the fire sparked from a defective rubber seal, called an O-ring, in the vehicle’s hydraulic system. The seal failed, allowing flammable liquid to meet the vehicle’s engine. The ensuing fire burned Griggs over 75% of his body.


3. McGee vs. The City of Alameda – $25 million

When Jeptha Anderson McGee hit an underground, live electrical line with a drill at his construction job, he suffered severe injuries. The result was third-degree burns covered over 20% of his body. Additionally, he suffered brain damage and multiple limb amputations.

Finally, the City of Alameda awarded McGee with a $25 million settlement as a result of their negligence.


4. Barnhard vs. Cybex Intl., Inc – $26 million

In October 2004, physical therapist Natalie Barnhard used a Cybex leg extension machine when doing a shoulder stretch. Next,  it fell on top of her. The machine crushed her spinal cord. The injuries left her paralyzed and unable to continue her job at Amherst Orthopedic. A New York state court initially awarded the woman $65.9 million, but an appeals court reduced the award to $44 million. Finally, the courts determined fault to be 75% Cybex’s fault, 20% Amherst Orthopedic’s fault, and 5% Barnhard’s fault.


5. Oakes vs. Patel – $9.6 million

For three weeks in 1998, Daniel C. Oakes suffered from a terrible headache along with sensitivity to light and vomiting. The problem resulted from an aneurysm in a cerebral blood vessel. Doctors did not detect the blood bulge. Then, it ruptured on August 7th, causing a debilitating stroke.

Over the three weeks of suffering, Oakes visited multiple doctors and even had a CT scan at his local hospital. Furthermore, evidence convinced the jury that the doctors either did not read the CT scan or misread it, letting the preventable stroke take place.

The victim and his family filed the lawsuit in 2000. Then, the courts held a trial in 2008. The jury found two of the defending doctors, the hospital, and the neurology group responsible for reading the CT scan guilty of negligence. In the end, the family walked away with $9.6 million in catastrophic injury awards.