Spinal cord injuries can be one of the most devastating types of injuries a person can suffer. Car accidents, slip-and-falls, or work hazards create the perfect conditions for these injuries to occur; and we are all susceptible. When these injuries occur, the result can be severe pain, financial hardship, and mounting medical bills. But if the spinal cord injury is a result of someone else's negligence—be it another driver, store owner, or employer—you may be able to gain compensation for the financial difficulties this type of injury is sure to bring.
What is a spinal cord injury?
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that are encased within the spinal column. These imperative nerves are responsible for carrying messages from the brain to the body and vice-versa. Since these nerves play such a central role in transmitting information to nearly every part of the body, any injury to the cord can be devastating.
When the spinal cord is damaged, severed, pinched, or in any way injured, it can result in full or partial loss of sensation and/or motor control from the neck down. This may result in an injured person being paralyzed below the waste (known as paraplegic) or below the neck (known as quadriplegic).
If there is too much damage to this vital bundle of nerves, the injury may even be fatal.
How does a spinal injury occur?
Spinal cord injuries most often occur due to trauma. That is to say, that it is rare for the spinal cord to be injured without significant force. When the spinal column (more commonly referred to as the spine or backbone) is damaged, it can also damage the spinal cord.
The spinal cord becomes damaged when the traumatic force fractures or dislocates one or more of the vertebrae. This damage can displace bone fragments, rupture disc material, or tear ligaments into the spinal cord tissue. It is these fragments that often damage the cord. Of course, the spinal cord can also be pinched, partially severed, or completely severed during an injury. However, it should be noted that a complete severing of the spinal cord is extremely rare.
What are common causes of a spinal cord injury?
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center and the Mayo Clinic, common causes of spinal cord injury are:
Motor Vehicle Accidents
Motor vehicle accidents, including car, truck, and motorcycle accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries. They make up about 42.1% of these injuries each year. Often, motor vehicle accidents are the result of negligence, and thus grounds for an injury claim.
Falls are another very common type of injury. This type of accident may occur because of old age (which causes lots of spine injuries) or because of a hazard. If a slip and fall causes a spinal cord injury, one should speak to an attorney about regaining the damages they lost. In all, spinal cord injuries from falls make up 26.7% of these injuries.
Acts of Violence
The third most common cause of spinal cord injury is an act of violence. This may occur from basically any time of violent encounters, like a gunshot or battery. Of all spinal cord injuries, acts of violence make up 15.1% of all injuries.
Athletic activities, such as football, baseball, and diving, can cause serious spinal cord injuries. These types of injuries make up about 8% of spinal cord injuries.
Other issues, like a disease, make up the remaining 8% or so of spinal injuries.
One other cause of spinal cord injury is that quite rare, but still happens, is medical malpractice. The spine and spinal cord are sensitive areas that contribute to the functioning of many other body parts. When doctors perform medical procedures in the spinal region, there is always a risk of something going wrong. An injury like this may occur during a major procedure, like a surgery, or during a minor procedure like an epidural injection.
Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuits
Not all spinal cord injuries are subject to personal injury claims or lawsuits, of course. However, injuries that occur as a result of negligence or defective product often are. As mentioned before, spinal cord injuries that result from medical malpractice may lead to compensation as well.
Negligence Caused Spinal Cord Injuries
Personal injury cases hinge on a concept called negligence. This means that your spinal injury was caused by someone else because they were not doing (or did not do) something that they were supposed to. When a spinal cord injury case is based on negligence, the injured party and their attorney will have to prove that the defendant was at fault and legally responsible. This is a complicated matter involving duty of care and causation. It will also involve a gathering of significant evidence to prove the claim. The most common type of negligence injury claims involves car accidents and slip-and-falls.
Defective Product Caused Spinal Cord Injuries
In addition to negligence caused injuries, defective products are also heavy contributors to personal injury cases, including spinal cord injuries. When a defective product causes an injury, the injured party may be entitled to compensation from the designer, manufacturer, or seller of the faulty product. This may be something as obvious as or as inconspicuous as a warning light that fails to indicate.
Defenses to a Spinal Injury Case
When an injured party is preparing to hire a personal injury lawyer nearby because of their spinal cord injury, it is helpful to understand the common defenses used to minimize or deny a personal injury claim. The most common defenses are denial of injury, contributory and comparative negligence, and assumption of risk.
Denial of Injury
If a victim of a spinal cord injury does not take proper steps to ensure that their injury is documented, the defense may later argue that the accident did not cause the injury. They may argue that they injury was preexisting, meaning it was present before the accident. They may also take a trickier route and argue that the injury occurred during the accident but was minor in nature until the injured did something to exasperate it, like going out dancing. This highlights the importance of collecting evidence, treating as soon as possible, and the use of social media during a case.
Contributory and Comparative Negligence
Spinal cord injury cases, like most personal injury cases, are about fault and who is liable. This is a must when deciding if and who will pay for what can be a large sum of money for the damages caused by the accident. Another common defense in a spinal cord injury case is contributory negligence. This argues that the injured person is at fault for their own injury. Basically, it is implied that the injured's own carelessness contributed to the accident, so the defendant is not at-fault or legally responsible.
Comparative negligence argues that both the plaintiff and the defendant are at fault for the injury and thus the defendant should not have to pay for all the damages. This can be presented as a 50-50 split of fault or in any other percentage split. This defense takes some of the responsibility off of the defendant in order to seek a smaller payout.
Assumption of the risk
Even if there was negligence or fault involved, if the injury occurred during a dangerous activity or risky event, the defense will argue the assumption of risk argument. This implies that the injured knew or should have known that the event they were taking part in was dangerous and thus likely to cause injury. For example, this could happen if your spinal cord injury happened while surfing or during a mountain bike ride.
Compensation in Spinal Cord Injury Cases
Compensation sought in any personal injury cases is designed to seek monetary coverage for the damages causes by the accident. This is most often in the form of medical bills and time missed from work. However, these are not the only damages that a spinal injury can cause. Depending on the severity, a spinal injury victim may experience pain and suffering, loss of consortium, or loss of enjoyment of life. Spinal injury victims can also expect future medical bills, which must be compensated, and perhaps future therapy and expenses that are a direct result of their injury.
Hiring a Spinal Injury Attorney
Spinal cord injury cases often involve complex legal and medical issues that a typical injury case does not. This means that complicated issues of fault, medical diagnosis and treatment, and future prognosis will all need to be handled properly. Because of this, it is recommended that a person with a spinal cord injury hire an attorney who has experience dealing with this specific type of injury.
The Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA is a Clearwater personal injury law firm that specializes in spinal cord injuries. We are committed to helping people with back and neck injuries recover for their losses, whether they were caused by negligence, a defective product, or medical malpractice. To schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with one of our experienced spinal attorneys, call our office at 727-853-6275 or send us an email through our online contact form.