Spinal cord injuries can be devastating, leaving victims with a partial or total loss of motor control and sensation that results in a need to modify nearly every aspect of daily routines. If you or someone you love suffered a spinal cord injury due to another party's negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for your accident-related expenses.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal injuries can occur in many different types of accidents:
- Slip and fall
- Medical malpractice
- Birth injury
Regardless of how an injury occurs, the victim is typically left with substantial medical bills, in addition to the cost for wheelchairs and other assistive devices, home modifications, adapted vehicles, and home health aides. Earning capacity can also be greatly affected.
Levels of Spinal Cord Injury
The vertebrae are grouped into sections. Spinal cord injuries are classified according to where the damage occurs, with higher vertebra injuries causing the most serious types of medical issues.
High Cervical Nerves (C1–C4)
C1–C4 injuries are the most serious of the spinal cord injury levels, resulting in paralysis of the arms, hands, trunk, and legs. These catastrophic injuries are referred to as tetraplegia or quadriplegia. Someone with this type of injury will not be able to cough, breathe, or control bowel or bladder movements without assistance. The ability to speak may be impaired, and assistance is needed with activities such as eating, dressing, and bathing.
Low Cervical Nerves (C5–C8)
C5–C8 spinal cord injuries affect the nerves controlling the arms and hands. People with C5 injuries can raise their arms and bend their elbows. People with C6 injuries can bend their wrists back. People with C7 injuries can typically straighten their arms and move their shoulders. People with C8 injuries can grasp and release objects.
Someone with this type of low cervical spinal cord injury may be able to speak normally and breathe without assistance, but will still face functional limitations due to a lack of fine motor skills. He or she can use a power wheelchair, as well as potentially drive an adapted vehicle. However, a person with this injury typically has little or no voluntary control of the bowels or bladder.
Thoracic Nerves (T1–T5)
The thoracic vertebrae are located in the mid-back. T1–T5 injuries usually affect the trunk and legs. This type of spinal cord injury is also known as paraplegia.
Some people with T1–T5 paraplegia generally have normal arm and hand function and can most likely use a manual wheelchair. Driving is possible with a modified automobile. He or she may be able to stand in a standing frame or walk with braces for short distances.
Thoracic Nerves (T6–T12)
T6–T12 injuries affect the muscles of the abdomen and back. People with T6–T12 paraplegia have normal upper body movement and a fair-to-good ability to control their trunks while seated in a wheelchair. They can cough productively, assuming the abdominal muscles are intact. They can also use a manual wheelchair, drive a modified car, and use a standing frame or walking braces.
Lumbar Nerves (L1–L5)
Injuries to the L1–L5 lumbar nerves typically result in partial loss of function in the hips and legs. Someone with this type of injury still has little or no voluntary bladder control, but can manage independently using special equipment. Depending upon the level of strength in the legs, a person with an L1–L5 injury may either use a wheelchair or walk with braces.
Sacral Nerves (S1–S5)
Injuries to the S1–S5 sacral nerves are the least serious of all spinal cord injuries, resulting in partial loss of function in the hips and legs. Someone with this type of injury will most likely be able to walk.
Type of Compensation Available
Personal injury compensation after a spinal cord injury can include several different types of expenses:
- Medical costs: Your medical costs depend upon the severity of your injury, but may include diagnostic tests, surgery, physical therapy, and medications to manage complications such as blood clots and respiratory infections.
- Life care costs: This can include expenses such as a housekeeper, full-time personal attendant, or modifications necessary to allow you to continue living in your home.
- Lost earnings: The value of lost wages due to a spinal cord injury can be substantial, especially when the victim is a young adult. Although some people with less serious spinal cord injuries are still able to maintain employment, they often work in lower-paying fields or keep a part-time schedule.
- Pain and suffering: Compensation for pain and suffering refers to both the physical pain and the emotional trauma of your injuries.
- Loss of enjoyment of life: This term is used to refer to the loss associated with activities you can no longer perform due to your injury, such as participating in sports or being able to actively play with your children or grandchildren.
Your damages are determined using records of medical treatment you've already received and expert testimony from professionals experienced in dealing with the needs of people who've suffered spinal cord injuries.
Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney
Hiring an attorney is strongly recommended in any type of personal injury case, but vital when you've suffered catastrophic injuries to the spine. You need an experienced advocate on your side who can ensure your settlement will meet your current and future financial needs.
Personal injury attorneys accept cases on a contingency fee basis. This means you don't need to pay upfront for your legal representation. The attorney asks for a percentage of your settlement as a fee for his or her services.
The vast majority of personal injury cases are settled out of court. However, when you've suffered a catastrophic injury and the insurance company is unwilling to negotiate, your attorney may recommend going to trial. The decision to go to trial must weigh the time and expense associated with litigation against the possibility of the jury returning a higher compensation verdict.
To learn more about options for pursuing a personal injury claim related to a spinal cord injury, please contact the legal team at Case Barnett Law to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.