Serious Consequences: When Negligence Results in Spinal Cord Injuries

Personal injuries happen every day throughout the world. These types of injuries range from minor annoyances caused by accident-prone individuals to life-altering injuries due to someone else’s negligence. Spinal cord injuries comprise over 17,000 of these injuries per year, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC). 

These spinal cord injuries come from a wide variety of causes, but they almost always happen because of an unexpected impact on the body from an outside force. The leading cause of injury is motor vehicle accidents, and right behind those are falls, violent acts such as gunshot wounds, and recreational activities/sports.

Our spine can take a lot of damage – we walk, run, enjoy roller coasters and other high impact rides, and constantly cause jolts to those bones and nerves every day without thinking twice about the effect. But when the wrong impact happens in just the wrong way, the damage can be irreversible.

It’s no wonder then, that spinal cord injuries are considered one of the most serious consequences that a person can have after a personal injury accident. When these injuries are due to someone else’s negligence, it is quite common for the victim to file a lawsuit against the negligent party to help offset the expenses they have incurred, and will continue to incur, because of their spinal cord damage.

So What Exactly Does “Spinal Cord Injury” Mean?

Your spinal cord is actually a bundle of nerves that is protected by your spine itself. These nerves stretch from your brain to your coccyx, or tailbone, and are instrumental in carrying sensation to all of your body. Damage to these nerves can be life-changing since you may not be able to functionally use parts of your body or be able to feel sensory information in certain areas.

Spinal cord damaged can be in multiple forms, but are most commonly seen as contusions, cord compression injuries, spinal cord tears or lacerations, or – most severely – partial or total severing of the spinal cord itself.

The effects of a traumatic spinal cord injury vary based on the severity of the damage.

Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injuries

It is common to feel bruising after a motor vehicle accident or other trauma to your body. This does not automatically mean that you have injured your spinal cord irreversibly. Often, medical treatment and physical therapy will return you back to pre-accident status in a short period of time.

However, spinal cord injury symptoms can consist of effects like numbness and tingling in the limbs, generalized or area-specific weakness, and loss of sensation in one or more areas. More serious injuries can result in partial or complete paralysis, difficulty breathing, and bladder or bowel incontinence, since the nerves in the spinal cord are partially responsible for controlling these areas.

Another common effect of spinal cord injuries is chronic pain. Your nerves are very sensitive, so when damage is done to an area of the spinal cord nerve block, the pain can be ongoing and detrimental to your quality of life.

Facts About Spinal Cord Injuries

The truth is that spinal cord injuries don’t discriminate. You are just as likely to end up with one as the next person. As of 2016, an average of 282,000 people in the United States were living with a severe spinal cord injury, according to the NSCISC.

Statistically speaking, however, males predominantly hold the lead for these types of injuries, making up 80% of new spinal cord injury cases, and the average age for all of these injuries is now 42. Over half of the recorded injuries are in non-Hispanic whites, followed by non-Hispanic blacks, then those with Hispanic origins, with these three ethnicities making up over 96% of the recorded spinal cord injury cases.

Whereas at one time spinal cord injury accidents resulted in longer term stays of around 24 days in the hospital, technology has increased to reduce that amount of time to approximately 11 days, followed by 35 days of rehabilitation versus 98 days previously.

The most commonly seen neurological injury to the spinal cord is that of incomplete tetraplegia, or partial damage causing some motor and sensory function damage, but not complete loss of either. Other commonly seen damage is incomplete paraplegia, complete paraplegia, and complete tetraplegia. These recorded injured patients rarely showed full recovery before the victim left the hospital.

Because of the potential for serious and even life-threatening consequences from a spinal cord injury, if you were injured in an accident that resulted in trauma to your body, you should seek medical treatment immediately.

Once you have taken care of your health, it is important to find a personal injury attorney, like those of us at Hershey Injury Law, to ensure that you are receiving the benefits that you are entitled to so that you can continue to focus on your recovery and not your expenses.

The Legalities of Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuits

The typical personal injury lawsuit is based on an assumption of negligence – another party’s action or inaction caused your injury. This means that you will need to prove that the defendant – the party that you are bringing the lawsuit against – was at fault. Since the burden of proof is on you, it is imperative that the attorney you hire to represent you is knowledgeable in your specific area of personal injury.

Most spinal cord injuries are the effect of one of the following categories of personal injury:

  • Trauma due to a motor vehicle accident,
  • Trauma caused by defective or dangerous products (i.e. faulty airbags or brakes in a car),
  • Slip and fall injuries due to negligence in maintaining an area of use, and
  • Physical altercations and violence (often in the form of gunshots.)

Even though you may know that the other party was liable for your injuries, the legal system ensures that they have the opportunity to defend themselves. A good defense attorney will attempt to prove that you were at least contributory to your injury.

This means that they may say that your own actions helped to cause the injury through carelessness or recklessness. These defenses are called “contributory negligence,” when the injured party’s own negligence contributed to the injury (for example, you weren’t wearing your seatbelt in a car accident that resulted in your spinal cord damage) or “comparative negligence,” when your carelessness and the defendant’s are compared to see which one was more at fault.

There is also the notion of assumption of risk, as in that taken when you engage in activities with a potentially high threshold of danger, such as bungee jumping. This defense states that you knew the risks when you chose to participate in the harm-causing activity.

These defenses are based in legal theory, so you will need a lawyer who is an expert in your specific type of injury to counter the defense and prove the other party’s negligence.

Some states have partial responsibility laws, called “modified comparative negligence.” This means that if you are less than 51% responsible for the accident, you can still recover partial financial compensation. Don’t let the concern of your potential part in the injury stop you from consulting with an attorney to see what your rights are.

What Can You Do if You Have a Spinal Cord Injury?

If you are one of the many people who have incurred a spinal cord injury due to someone else’s negligence, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the person(s) who were responsible for the accident. This lawsuit will allow you to hold that party accountable and also to recover damages that you sustained because of their negligence.

Compensation in a spinal cord injury lawsuit will often include monetary amounts that cover the costs of your emergency treatment and past medical bills, a prediction of future medical bills that you may need to continue to take care of your injury and recover, and ongoing physical therapy and rehabilitation expenses.

Injury to a spinal cord due to a trauma does not just result in medical expenses, though. Taking that into account, compensation generally also includes consideration of future mental health care as you strive to move forward from the traumatic experience and your new limited daily living, lost work time due to your recovery, lost wages and potentially future lost wages if you are unable to continue working due to your injuries, and even compensation for the pain and suffering you have been through.

While these monetary damages will not fix your injury and return you to your old way of life, they are intended to help you move forward and concentrate on rehabilitation and recovery instead of concerns about how you are going to pay your monthly bills and medical expenses.

Moving Forward: Seek Legal Help and Start the Road to Recovery

Unfortunately, spinal cord injuries can be life-long. During the stressful time after your injury, you should be concentrating on recovering your health back to as close to pre-accident as possible.

Let the experts at Hershey Injury Law take care of the legalities so that you can focus on your physical and emotional healing. Call today for a free consultation to see how we can get you the benefits you are entitled to and help you start on the road to recovery.