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How to Compensate for Spinal Cord Injuries: File a Claim or Lawsuit


Spinal cord injuries can be caused by a variety of circumstances, such as car accidents and truck accidents, and almost always present a variety of complications. Just like the brain, the spinal cord cannot regrow new cells. Therefore, victims of spinal cord injuries are often left to deal with lifelong disabilities, including paralysis from the neck down (quadriplegia) or paralysis from the waist down (paraplegia). 

A Recent estimate showed that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury is approximately 54 cases per one million people in the U.S., or about 17,730 new cases each year. According to Statista, the estimated lifetime cost of a patient who is 25 years old and suffering from paraplegia in the U.S. was around $2.5 million as of 2019.

Needless to say, a spinal cord injury is physically, emotionally, and financially devastating. A spinal cord injury victim may be entitled to compensatory damages for:

  • Emotional distress
  • Property loss 
  • Lost wages
  • Medical bills 
  • Loss of consortium
  • Pain and suffering

1. Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms


Spinal cord injuries can be caused by damage to any part of a person’s spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal. These injuries are catastrophic and can easily cause permanent changes in strength, tactile sensation, and other crucial bodily functions.

The severity of spinal cord injury is referred to as ‘the completeness’ and can be classified as either complete or incomplete.

  • Complete spinal cord injury occurs when all feeling and all ability to control movement is lost below the spinal cord injury.
  • Incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when some motor or sensory function is retained below the affected area.

Spinal cord injuries may result in one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of movement
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Spasms or exaggerated reflex activities
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, or lung secretions
  • Pain or intense stinging caused by nerve damage
  • Changes in sexual functioning, sexual sensitivity, or fertility
  • Loss of/or alteration in the ability to feel heat, cold, and touch

Emergency signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty walking or maintaining balance
  • Difficulty breathing immediately after an injury
  • Extreme back pain or pressure in the neck, head, or back
  • Weakness, lack of coordination, or paralysis in any part of the body
  • Numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes

If you believe someone has suffered a serious back or neck injury:

  • Call 911.
  • Make sure to keep an injured person completely still
  • Provide basic first aid without moving the head or neck
  • DO NOT move an injured person as this can cause serious complications
  • Place towels on both sides of a person’s neck or hold their head and neck to prevent any unnecessary movement

2. Types of Spinal Cord Injuries


According to data quoted byStatista, the leading cause of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. between 2015 and 2019 were vehicular accidents at 38.6%. Moreover, about 30% of people with such injuries were re-hospitalized in any given year.

Overall,81% of patients who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later. Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years.

An injury to the spinal cord can vary significantly in symptoms and severity. Sometimes a spinal cord is severed completely or to the point that it completely cuts off all sensation to the nerves below that area of a victim’s body.

Typical spinal cord injuries include:

  • Sciatica 
  • Whiplash
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Herniated discs
  • Fractured coccyx
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Fractured vertebrae
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Vertical compression fractures

Spinal cord injuries are particularly delicate because they can also affect other parts of the body. Depending on the location and severity of an injury, a victim may suffer loss of bladder and bowel control, sexual dysfunction, infertility, and paralysis.

2.1 Types of Spinal Cord Injuries


Spinal cord injuries can easily lead to paralysis, depending on the severity. Paralysis is the loss of ability to move part or most of the body.

There are several types of paralysis:

  • Monoplegia - Affects one limb or region of the body.
  • Paraplegia - Can be caused due to damage to the brain, spinal cord, or both. Paraplegics suffer with movement below the waist and can lose a significant amount of sensation.
  • Hemiplegia - Affects one side of the brain and can progressively get worse over time. If one sustains hemiplegia, the victim can completely lose control and/or sensation of one side of the body.
  • Diplegia - Paralysis that affects symmetrical parts of the body. A few examples of diplegia include both legs or both arms; however, it is possible for the severity on one side of the body to vary in comparison to the other.
  • Quadriplegia - Affects one’s brain or spinal cord, which results in the ability to receive or process signals for one to function. Believe it or not, many quadriplegics have healthy legs and arms; however, if they do not have the ability to send or receive signals, they lose muscle control or are extremely weak.

3. Filing a Spinal Cord Injury Claim


Research has shown that people who suffer a spinal cord injury can expect to pay up to $1 million in the first year and up to $200,000 in succeeding years. 

There is another alternative to paying out of pocket. If your spinal cord injury was caused by the negligence of another, you may be entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against the liable party.

Lawsuits for spinal cord injuries typically fall into two categories: negligence and faulty or defective products.

The law defines negligence as the failure of a person to act in a reasonable way when they had a duty to do so. For example, if your spinal cord injury was caused when you were hit by a driver who failed to obey traffic laws or was checking their phone, this is a form of negligence and grounds for a lawsuit against that driver.

Negligence is essentially a wrongful act committed by an individual, company, or group that caused harm to someone else.

In order to successfully pursue a spinal cord injury claim, a victim must prove that:

  • The defendant owed the victim a duty of care
  • The defendant failed to comply with this duty of care
    • The defendant's failure to comply with their duty of care was the significant factor that caused a spinal cord victim’s injuries

California is a comparative negligence state, which means that a spinal cord injury victim may still recover some damages even if he or she is found partially liable for the accident. An injury victim’s available damages will of course be reduced by his or her degree of fault.

A company who produces or sells a defective product that causes or contributes to causing a spinal cord injury may be held liable for any losses caused. According to product liability law, anyone involved in the chain of distribution -- including product designers, manufacturers, or sellers -- can be held strictly liable for injuries caused by the faulty product

Strict liability cases typically revolve around:

  • Defects in the design process 
  • Defects in the manufacturing process
  • Lack of adequate warnings about a hazard or proper instructions about how to use that product

In order to successfully pursue a product liability lawsuit after a spinal cord injury, a victim must prove the following:

  • Spinal cord injury victim used the product in a reasonable way
  • Defendant designed, manufactured, or sold a defective product
  • Product already had a design, manufacturing, or warning defect when it left the defendant
  • Product defect was the significant factor that caused a spinal cord injury victim's losses

Let’s consider an example:

Say that Juanita recently purchased a personal weight lifting system for her home. Juanita is diligent and follows all the instructions and is careful during installation. She then uses the exercise equipment in a reasonably safe manner and enjoys herself.

A week into her workout routine, as Juanita is lifting a weighted bar over her head, a screw comes loose. The bar then slips and hits Juanita in the back of her neck, causing damage to her spine. As a result of this product defect, Juanita suffers a serious spinal injury resulting in partial paralysis. 

In this example, Juanita would be entitled to file a personal injury claim for damages against both the exercise equipment manufacturer and the distributor. Given the seriousness of the injuries sustained, Juanita would likely be entitled to a significant amount of damages.

4. Filing a Spinal Cord Injury Claim


Many spinal cord injury victims will require treatment, costly surgeries, and prescription medications. A spinal cord injury victim may be able to recover damages for their medical bills, including: 

  • Surgery
  • Medication
  • Clinical visits
  • Hospital visits
  • Mobility devices
  • Physical therapy
  • Home health care
  • Rehab center visits
  • Fertility treatment

A spinal cord injury victim is likely to miss work for a significant amount of time while recuperating. In order to compensate a victim for the loss of income they would have reasonably expected to earn, they will likely recover the following damages for lost wages:

  • Lost tips
  • Lost wages/salary
  • Lost bonuses

A permanent injury may prevent someone from ever working again. A permanently disabled spinal cord injury victim sue may also pursue damages for the following loss of future earnings:

  • Loss of anticipated tips 
  • Loss of anticipated bonuses
  • Loss of anticipated salary/wages
  • Loss of anticipated opportunities for advancement

5. Filing a Spinal Cord Injury Claim


  • Spinal Cord Injury Treatment and Recovery The spinal cord is a delicate part of the body that affects its entire functioning. A spinal cord injury requires diagnosis and special treatment in order to recover safely and properly. 
  • Spinal Cord Injury Causes A spinal cord injury can occur for a number of different reasons which include falling, developing an illness, and physical violence, among others. Each different case of spinal cord injury requires diagnosis to provide the proper instructions for recovery. 
  • Spinal Cord Injury Complications A spinal cord injury can lead to further complications that forever change lives. Such complications include those that affect fitness and health, chronic pain, and having no feeling in certain parts of the body. 
  • Complete vs Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries  A complete spinal cord injury refers to losing control and sensation in the areas below the site of the injury. An incomplete spinal cord injury refers to having some control and sensation still. 
  • Types of Spinal Cord Injuries  There exist a number of different types of spinal cord injuries, depending on the site of the injury and its severity. The different sections of the spinal cord include the cervical spinal cord, lumbar spinal cord, thoracic spinal cord, and sacral spinal cord. 
  • What Determines the Severity of Paralysis The severity of paralysis depends on the severity of damage to the spinal cord, which can be determined by a number of different factors, mostly determined by the section of the spinal cord which was damaged.
  • Spinal Cord Injury Symptoms Spinal cord injuries can forever change a person’s life. It is important to recognize the symptoms of spinal cord injuries in order to assure the proper medical attention is received as soon as possible. 
  • Delayed Back Pain Sometimes after an accident, back pain doesn’t appear until later, once the adrenaline of the event has worn off. Delayed back pain is a common phenomena and it is important to document this in order to build your case.

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