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Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuits

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Settlements, compensation and hiring a spinal cord injury lawyer

A spinal cord injury disrupts communication between the brain and the body. Spinal cord injuries can be sustained from injury to the cord itself or due to damage to surrounding bones, tissues, or blood vessels. Depending on the location and severity of the injury, sensory, motor and involuntary reflexes such as speaking, walking or even breathing may be affected.

Spinal cord injuries can be physically, emotionally and financially devastating. If you or someone you love has suffered a spinal cord injury, you may be able to file a claim for compensation for medical expenses, rehabilitation expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and other damages related to the injury. Contact a lawyer with experience negotiating settlements and filing personal injury lawsuits as soon as possible to get injury legal advice and to make sure your legal rights are protected. If you are a family member of someone who died as a result of a spinal cord injury, you should contact an attorney specializing in death by wrongful means to discuss filing a lawsuit against those responsible; you also may benefit from talking to a family lawyer if you have questions relating to estate laws, wills and other family matters.

Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes of spinal cord injuries are:

  • Car accidents and motorcycle accidents (50 percent)
  • Falls (22 percent), which are the leading cause in people over the age of 65
  • Gunshots, knife wounds and other acts of violence (15 percent)
  • Impact sports, diving, trampoline and other sports-related accidents (8 percent)
  • Infections and diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, polio and arthritis

If someone else's negligent or criminal act (for example, selling something with a product defect or driving under the influence) contributed to your spinal cord injury, you may be able to agree on a settlement or recover compensation in the form of a court award from people or entities responsible. (To learn about the various facets of a DUI case, including DUI jail time and other consequences of a DUI conviction, visit our DUI section.)


Classifying Spinal Cord Injuries

The spinal cord is divided into four areas: cervical (neck), thoracic (behind chest), lumbar (lower back), and sacral (tailbone). The diagnosis and treatment of a spinal cord injury depends on the severity and the location of the injury.

Choosing a Rehabilitation Facility

Once a spinal cord injury has been stabilized, the patient is usually transferred to a rehabilitation center for continued care. Choosing an appropriate rehabilitation center is an extremely important decision. You may want to consider some of the following issues to ensure you maximize your potential for recovery:

  • Does the facility specialize in your type of injury?
  • Is the facility a Model Spinal Cord Injury center or otherwise accredited?
  • How many spinal cord injury patients have been treated there?
  • Is the facility age appropriate?
  • Is the facility state of the art?
  • Is the facility convenient and/or is housing provided for family members and persons who will be involved in long-term care?

Severity of Injury. Patients with an "incomplete" spinal cord injury can retain some movement and sensation. For example, some patients have greater function on one side of the body than on the other. Others experience sensations in certain areas below the site of the injury, even in cases where they are unable to move those areas. However, patients who suffer a "complete" spinal cord injury are completely paralyzed below the site of the injury, in many cases permanently.

Location of Injury. Injuries to the cervical spine can cause quadriplegia, which is complete paralysis of the upper and lower extremities. Depending on the severity of the injury, quadriplegia may also involve the head and neck as well as the ability to breathe. Paraplegia is the result of injury to the thoracic, lumbar and/or sacral regions of the spine. Injuries to the thoracic region affect the chest and abdomen, injuries to the lumbar region affect the hips and legs and injuries to the sacral region affect the bowel, bladder and sexual functions. Paraplegics are able to use their arms and hands.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury

Spinal cord injuries come in many forms, each of which has its own effects and symptoms. A spinal cord concussion from an unexpected and powerful blow can injure tissues around the cord. Bleeding in the spinal cord can cause spinal cord contusions. Pressure on the spinal cord as a result of an accident or disease (such as a spinal cord tumor) can cause spinal cord compression. The spinal cord may be partially or, in rare cases, completely severed. Prompt medical attention to these injuries can limit the extent of damage and improve the long-term prognosis.

If you experience any of the following symptoms seek medical attention right away:

  • Strange body position
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Pressure or pain in the head, neck, or back
  • Weakness or inability to move any part of the body
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance
  • Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in the hands or feet
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

Some of the long-term complications for patients with spinal cord injuries include:

  • Loss of muscle control
  • Loss of sensation (including hot/cold, pressure or pain)
  • Inability to perceive your body or body parts (without visual input)
  • Inability to regulate body temperature
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Loss of sexual sensation and function
  • Inability to breathe without assistance
  • Pain and stinging from damaged nerves

Spinal Cord Injury Treatment

Emergency treatment generally involves stabilizing the patient and preventing further damage to the spinal cord. After the patient has been stabilized, the treatment goals shift toward supportive care and rehabilitation. The prognosis is affected not only by the location and severity of the injury, but also by the quality of emergency and long-term care.

Driving After Spinal Cord Injury

Advances in adaptive technologies make it possible for spinal cord patients to enjoy increased levels of independence. In fact, the most up-to-date vehicle modifications and driving equipment have even made it possible for patients with limited hand and arm function to drive. Some of the technology that makes this possible includes:

  • Joystick driving systems which allow a one-handed operation of the brake, acceleration and steering
  • Modified steering systems that position the steering wheel within drivers' functional range of motion and maximize their available strength
  • Reduced-effort steering and braking systems that compensate for loss of strength

Source: The Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists

Emergency Treatment. In the critical first hours following a spinal cord injury, the primary goals include stabilizing the patient's breathing and blood pressure and immobilizing the spinal column. Drugs such as methylprednisolone may be administered to decrease inflammation and/or prevent further damage to the spinal cord, though there is some debate about their use. Additional medications for infection, pain and other issues associated with the injury may be prescribed. Surgery may be performed to stabilize the spine or remove herniated disks, fractured vertebrae, blood clots, spinal cord tumors or anything else that might be causing spinal cord compression.

Ongoing Medical Care. In the weeks and months following the injury, the focus of care shifts toward managing secondary medical issues and rehabilitation. Possible medical issues include pneumonia, pressure sores, blood clots in the legs and lungs, low blood pressure, urinary/bladder infections, bowel issues, autonomic dysreflexia, pain and spasticity. Medication can help minimize these issues, as can supportive care (e.g., assistance with frequent body position changes, bowel and bladder care, application of skin lotions and range-of-motion exercises).

Rehabilitation. Rehabilitative care can take place in the hospital, at home or in a specialized treatment facility. Rehabilitation focuses on maximizing muscle strength, mobility and independence. Modern technologies, including assistive equipment, can help the patient become more independent and, in some cases, even restore some body function. The patient's rehabilitation team generally includes a physician who specializes in spinal cord injuries (usually a physiatrist), as well as a rehabilitation nurse, recreational therapist, social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nutritionist and psychologist.

Patients with an incomplete spinal cord injury have a better chance at recovering function. Improvement is generally seen between a week and six months after injury. Injury remaining after one to two years is likely to be permanent.

Compensation for Spinal Cord Injuries

The lifetime cost of a spinal cord injury to a 25-year-old is currently estimated to be between $704,344 and $3.1 million.* While no amount of money can erase the pain and suffering caused by a spinal cord injury, a settlement or court award can help a patient get the best medical care to maximize the potential for recovery. Contact a personal injury lawyer to learn more about claims for accident injuries and getting compensation for your recovery and care. If you are a family member of someone who has perished due to a spinal cord injury, you will need to speak with a wrongful death lawyer to get legal help for fatal injury claims. An attorney specializing in family law can help answer any questions relating to wills, estate law and other matters relating to the family.

*Source: The University of Alabama National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center