Any kind of accident has the potential to cause catastrophic injuries, regardless of how it occurs or what the root cause is. There is one particular kind of injury, however, that is almost always devastating, if not completely life-altering: spinal cord injuries. These kinds of injuries can affect an individual’s mobility, their bodily functions, and their emotional well-being, among other things.
In recent years, medical technology has come a long way. There are even a few companies who developed exoskeletons; robot like suits that those with spinal cord injuries have been able to use to assist with walking and mobility.
As wonderful as these technological advancements are, there is still no true cure for a spinal cord injury. For many, their best hope is a lifetime of physical therapy and trial medications that may or may not be helpful.
But along with those things, comes a mountain of financial burden that can bury the individual or their entire family in debt and add even more struggles to an already stressful situation.
Fortunately, if you or your loved one’s spinal cord injury was the result of an accident, an Omaha personal injury attorney may be able to help you receive compensation from the guilty or negligent party.
Overview of the Spine
Our entire body depends on the structural integrity of our spine. It is our literal backbone; the thing that keeps our neck and back straight and allows us to hold our head up high. It gives our body rigidity so that internal organs and tissues have space to function and provides the main highway for our central nervous system and brain to send messages to the rest of our body. It is incredibly complex and, unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to damage it permanently.
The spinal cord is made of semi-cylindrical shaped bones called vertebrae. Most people have 33 vertebrae, though it’s not all that rare for an individual to have an extra vertebra or two.
Medically, the spinal column is organized into five sections. Because everyone is different, and extra vertebrae are possible, the number of vertebrae in each section may vary slightly from person to person.
Typically, though, each section can be broken down as follows:
- Cervical: Made up of seven vertebrae, beginning at the base of the skull and continuing through the neck.
- Thoracic: The largest section, the thoracic portion contains twelve vertebrae that reach from the shoulders to the mid-back.
- Lumbar: Consisting of five vertebrae, from the middle of the back to the lower back.
- Sacrum: Also containing five vertebrae, but reaching from the lower back into the tailbone area.
- Coccyx: The last portion of the spine which contains four vertebrae that end at the tailbone itself.
Types and Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries occur when the vertebrae that protect the spinal cord are fractured, dislocated, or endure some form of compression, hyperextension, or hyperflexion.
All spinal cord injuries are divided into one of two categories:
- Complete: In a complete spinal cord injury, the victim experiences no function below the injury site. This loss of sensation and movement affects both sides of the body equally and can occur anywhere along the spinal cord.
- Incomplete: An incomplete injury indicates that there is some function below the injury site. It is characterized by varying levels of sensation and movement throughout the body, though one side is usually more affected than the other. An incomplete spinal cord injury can also occur anywhere in the spinal cord.
One of the most common symptoms resulting from a spinal cord injury is paralysis. Defined as a loss of the ability to move in part or most of the body, there are two varieties of paralysis:
- Paraplegia: This type of paralysis can affect all or portions of the victim’s torso, legs, feet, and sexual organs.
- Tetraplegia: More commonly referred to as quadriplegia, tetraplegia affects all body parts from the neck down, including your hands, arms, legs, feet, torso, and sexual organs.
Coupled with paralysis, the victims of spinal cord injuries are likely to have several other symptoms and side effects as well. These can include:
- Loss of respiratory function
- Difficulty or loss of the ability to control bodily functions
- Loss of muscle control (legs, torso, arms, etc.)
- Inability to control the bladder
- Sexual dysfunction
- Fertility issues
- Pain, stinging, or “pins and needles” sensation
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
As mentioned before, it is surprisingly easy to injure one’s spinal cord. It can be caused by sudden, unexpected movements, as a result of being shot, or as a result of being stabbed. Spinal cord injuries can also be the product of a motor vehicle accident, be that from a boat, automobile, or aircraft. Below are just a few of the most common accidents that could potentially result in a spinal cord injury:
- Boating accidents
- Car accidents
- Faulty products (e.g. malfunctioning machinery)
- Slip and fall
- Truck accidents
- Medical malpractice
The Financial Impact of a Spinal Cord Injury
Financially, the effects of a spinal cord injury can be much more prolific than a lot of other injuries. Costs vary, obviously, depending on how severe the injury is, whether or not surgery is required, how long the individual stays in the hospital, and how much therapy is required.
The injured individual may also require the assistance of a caretaker for a period of time or possibly the rest of their lives, especially if they do not have friends or family members who are able or willing to care for them.
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates that roughly 450,000 people in the United States are living with a spinal cord injury. They also state that on average, 34,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year. But how much does a spinal cord injury really cost?
Studies conducted by The University of Alabama National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outline the average yearly expenses for several different kinds of spinal cord injuries:
- High Tetraplegia: If you’re diagnosed with High Tetraplegia (C1-C4 vertebrae), your first year of medical bills could total $1,064,716 or more, and each year after that could cost around $184,891.
- Low Tetraplegia: An injury to the C5-C8 vertebrae averaged $769,351 for the first year, and $113,423 for each subsequent year.
- Paraplegia: Paraplegics will pay substantially less than a tetraplegic might, with medical bills potentially reaching $518,904 for the first year and $68,739 per year after that.
- Incomplete Motor Function: If an injury occurs that limits motor function in some way but doesn’t cause paralysis, it could cost the patient $347,484 in the first year, and $42,206 in subsequent years.
In the Event of a Spinal Cord Injury
If you are involved in an accident and think that it is at all possible that a spinal cord injury was sustained, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Call 9-1-1 right away
- No matter what, do not move the injured person’s neck.
- Keep the person who may have sustained the injury still. Prevent neck and head movement by placing heavy towels or coats on either side of their head and neck.
- Check for signs of breathing and a pulse. If neither are present, begin CPR without moving the head. Do not tilt the head backward to open the airway. Instead, use your fingers to gently lift the jawbone up and forwards.
- If the victim is wearing a helmet, leave it on. Do not remove any article of clothing that could cause movement of the head and neck.
- In some situations, the person may have to be rolled over or moved. This should only be done if the victim is vomiting, choking, or in danger of being injured further in their current location. If this is the case, find at least one other person to assist you, so that one of you can firmly brace the victim’s head and neck while the other one assists with moving their body.
Recovery for Spinal Cord Injuries
Recovery from a spinal cord injury typically requires surgical intervention. If you have been diagnosed with a spinal cord injury after an accident, contact the experienced personal injury lawyers at Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop, P.C. so we can help you obtain the compensation you need.
When a person suffers a spinal cord injury, a complete recovery may not be possible. Depending on the severity of your spinal cord injury, rehabilitation may mean learning how to deal with a complete or partial loss of functionality. After swelling from the injury decreases and necessary surgeries are performed, victims of spinal cord injuries can begin their recovery process.
Even when complete recovery is not possible for a spinal cord injury victim, careful rehabilitation is still required. A team of spinal experts will be needed to ensure rehabilitation is done correctly.
Speak With an Experienced Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer Now
If you or a family member has suffered a spinal cord injury caused by an accident or the negligence of another person, contact us. You’re in enough pain as it is, you don’t deserve to suffer from years of financial struggles as well. Call us now, at 402-241-5020. We’ll schedule a free consultation to review your case and determine if you may be eligible to seek compensation.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of an accident that caused a spinal cord injury, contact Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop today for effective, knowledgeable representation on your personal injury matter. Initial consultations with our accident lawyers are always free so you can explore your options without cost or obligation.
For your convenience, we offer home, hospital and nursing home visits. Our team of professionals at Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop will provide you with the experience, strategy, and commitment that protect your rights and claims.
Spinal Cord Injury FAQ
What Section of the Spinal Cord Suffers the Most Injuries?
The portion of the spine in the neck (the cervical spine) is the most vulnerable to injury. One of the most common causes of injury to the cervical spine is the whipping motion that occurs in car accidents, when someone is struck in the face, and other traumatic events.
Damage to the cervical vertebrae can range in severity from ligament and tendon strains in the neck to herniation of one or more discs to broken vertebrae. In extreme cases, the spinal cord may be damaged as well.
First responders take special care to assess accident victims for cervical injuries and stabilize the neck for safe transportation to the emergency room. In cases of suspected spinal cord trauma, medical professionals will fully evaluate the neck injury to determine the nature and extent of the damage.
What Is the Most Serious Type of Spinal Cord Injury?
All spinal cord injuries are serious. However, the most severe is a complete cervical spinal cord injury. Depending on the location and the seriousness of the damage, victims of a complete injury to the cervical spinal cord may suffer total loss of function and sensation below the neck – a condition known as quadriplegia.
Quadriplegia is life-altering. Victims are often unable to walk and have little to no use of their arms. These issues significantly impact their ability to live independently, engage in certain careers, take part in leisure activities and hobbies, and other aspects of life.
Read More: What Are the Grades of a Spinal Cord Injury?
Most cases of quadriplegia result from damage to the C3, C4, C5, C6, or C7 vertebra. Injuries to the C1 or C2 vertebra can also lead to total paralysis, but the more common outcome of such an injury is death.
What Is the Lifetime Cost of a Spinal Cord Injury?
Multiple factors can impact how much spinal cord injury victims and their families can expect to pay, including the severity of the injury, the type of medical care required, and much more. The most recent data from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center estimates the lifetime costs of a spinal cord injury as follows:
- High quadriplegia (most severe):
- $1,149,629 in the first year
- $199,637 for each subsequent year
- Low quadriplegia:
- $830,708 in the first year
- $122,468 for each subsequent year
- $560,287 in the first year
- $74,221 for each subsequent year
- Any level of motor function impairment:
- $375,196 in the first year
- $45,572 for each subsequent year
As you can see, the lifetime cost of a spinal cord injury is immense and well beyond what the average family can afford. In addition to the astronomical cost of medical care and living expenses associated with a spinal cord injury, it is also important to recognize the financial impact posed by the loss of income and other issues related to disability.
Read More: Compensation for a Spinal Cord Injury
How Much Is a Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuit Worth?
Spinal cord injuries affect virtually all aspects of life. As a result, victims and their loved ones are often entitled to significant compensation if the spinal cord injury was caused by the negligence of another party.
An experienced lawyer can assess all of the damages in your case to determine how much you may be able to recover. You may be entitled to compensation for the following losses:
- Medical expenses, including transportation via ambulance, emergency room care, surgery, hospitalization, etc.
- The cost of rehabilitation and therapy
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity – the income and benefits you stand to lose if the spinal cord injury renders you unable to work in the future
- Out-of-pocket costs, including:
- Prescription medications
- Wheelchairs and other assistive devices
- Accessibility modifications to your home and vehicle
- Home-based services
- Travel for medical care and therapy
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of consortium
Without the assistance of a knowledgeable spinal cord injury attorney, it is easy to overlook some of the damages you may be due. You only have one chance to recover compensation, so it is crucial to hire a lawyer with experience handling spinal cord injury claims.
You may not need to file a lawsuit to recover fair compensation for a spinal cord injury. Many personal injury claims – even those involving catastrophic injuries – are resolved via settlement with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
However, the seriousness of the injury and the extent of damages also increases the likelihood that the insurer will dispute your claim. This could lead to prolonged negotiations and potentially result in the insurer refusing to offer you a fair settlement.
If this is the situation, you need an experienced trial attorney who can effectively present your case in court and achieve a favorable outcome on your behalf.
Who Is Liable for a Spinal Cord Injury?
Recovering compensation for a spinal cord injury rests on your ability to prove that someone else was at fault for the injury and your subsequent damages. Multiple parties may be sued for a spinal cord injury, including:
- A driver: Most spinal cord injury claims arise from motor vehicle collisions. You may be able to bring a claim against an at-fault driver if you suffered an injury to the spinal cord in a car accident, truck accident, motorcycle accident, etc.
- A property owner: Slip and falls and other incidents on dangerous properties can lead to serious back and neck injuries that damage the spinal cord. Property owners may also be liable if their negligence makes the premises unsecure, resulting in harm from a criminal attack.
- An employer: In certain circumstances, an employer can be held liable for dangerous working conditions that lead to a spinal cord injury. Work injury claims are complicated, potentially encompassing workers’ compensation and personal injury law.
- The manufacturer of a product: Multiple parties may be liable if a product they make, distribute, and/or sell causes a spinal cord injury.
- A medical professional: Potential causes of spinal cord injuries in a medical setting include surgical errors, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of an infection, and more.
Identifying who is at fault for your injuries is one of the most challenging aspects of any catastrophic injury claim. A spinal cord injury lawyer at Hauptman, O’Brien, Wolf & Lathrop can investigate the accident that led to your injury and build a strong claim against the liable party or parties.
Does a Spinal Cord Injury Qualify for Disability?
Victims of spinal cord injuries may never be able to return to work or resume the life they lived prior to the accident. As such, many are forced to file for disability through their employer or through Social Security.
In most cases, the Social Security Administration automatically classifies severe spinal cord injuries as disabilities. The same tends to be true of long-term disability (LTD) insurance offered by employers. However, you will still need to furnish strong medical evidence to support your claim for disability benefits.
Filing a long-term disability claim can be a complicated and overwhelming process. LTD and Social Security Disability benefits may be denied or underpaid, creating additional hardships for those whose lives have already been turned upside down by a spinal cord injury.
It is in your best interest to speak to a lawyer before filing a disability claim. A spinal cord injury attorney can assist you with all aspects of the claims process, as well as explore your full options for recovering compensation.
Can You Fully Recover from a Spinal Cord Injury?
Spinal cord injury outcomes are unpredictable. Some victims make remarkable progress while others experience little to no improvement after the injury stabilizes.
Unfortunately, those who suffer a complete spinal cord injury are highly unlikely to make a full recovery. Assistive devices may aid victims with mobility and performing certain tasks independently, but the loss of function and sensation tends to be permanent.
In these cases, it is especially important to maximize the recovery of damages. Spinal cord injury victims will face lifelong physical, emotional, and financial effects – many of which are shared by their families. If someone is at fault for the injury and your losses, you deserve full compensation to cope with both the immediate burdens and the challenges you are expected to face in the future.
What Is the Life Expectancy of Someone with a Spinal Cord Injury?
As with recovery from a spinal cord injury, the overall prognosis for someone with an injury to the spinal cord can be difficult to estimate. Multiple factors can affect life expectancy, including the age at which the spinal cord injury occurs, the location and severity of the injury, and whether the victim is dependent on a ventilator.
With proper care and ongoing support, those who suffer spinal cord injuries can live for decades after the initial injury. Unfortunately, spinal cord injury victims are at risk for a range of significant health issues. These include:
- Heart disease
- Blood clot disorders, including deep vein thrombosis (the formation of blood clots in the body’s deep veins, usually in the legs) and pulmonary embolism (a blood clot that travels to the lungs)
- Urinary tract and bladder infections
- Obstruction of the bowel
- Loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
- Bed sores (pressure ulcers that form on the skin)
- Difficulty regulating body temperature
- Autonomic dysreflexia – a potentially life-threatening condition characterized by a sudden spike in blood pressure
Access to quality medical care is essential for reducing the risk of these complications and managing them if they arise. Specialized medical treatment and round-the-clock care are expensive, which is why it is crucial to work with a spinal cord injury lawyer who can pursue maximum compensation on your behalf.
Tragically, the complications associated with a spinal cord injury may prove fatal. If your loved one died as a result of medical issues associated with a spinal cord injury, an attorney can file a wrongful death claim on behalf of your family.
Can a Car Accident Cause Spinal Stenosis?
Spinal stenosis occurs when the interior of the spine becomes narrower, placing pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots in the spinal column. Although commonly associated with osteoarthritis, those who have suffered trauma to the spine – such as disc herniation and fractured vertebrae – may also be at risk for spinal stenosis.
With this in mind, spinal stenosis is a potential complication for those who suffer injury to the spine in a car accident or other type of vehicle collision. The following symptoms may arise shortly after the crash or at a later date due to degeneration of the spine:
- Chronic pain at the site of the injury
- Loss of balance
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness, weakness, and tingling in one or more limbs
It is important to account for spinal stenosis when building your accident claim. Even if you recover from the initial spinal cord injury, this complication may result in significant pain, require additional surgeries, and lead to a lengthy recovery period. You should not have to face these burdens on your own if someone else is responsible for the injuries and damages you have sustained.