Spinal cord injuries can occur in many ways. Slip and fall accidents, sports injuries, car accidents, medical malpractice, and many other types of injuries can lead to spinal cord injuries. The spinal cord is one of the most delicate and vital areas of the body. In many cases, severe injuries can cause permanent impairment, paralysis, or even death. Injury victims and their families have the legal right to compensation for spinal cord injuries caused by the negligence of other people.
The experienced Florida Spinal Cord Injury Attorneys at the Dolman Law Group have decades of experience in protecting the rights of spinal cord injury victims. We hold negligent parties accountable for their actions to prevent them from injuring others and to secure the compensation that Florida law entitles victims.
Who Is Legally Responsible for Compensating a Spinal Cord Injury Victim?
A person whose negligence causes an injury is legally obligated to compensate the victim for those injuries and financial losses. Depending on the type of accident that caused the spinal cord injury, many parties may be responsible for compensating the victim:
- Household accidents: When a spinal cord injury is caused by a household accident—such as through burns, accidental poisoning, slips, or falls—the homeowner may face responsibility for compensating the victim. This is due to a legal doctrine known as premises liability. Homeowners owe a duty of care to guests whom they have invited onto their properties. In general, this duty requires that homeowners warn guests of any known (if hidden) dangers. This can include slick floors, aggressive pets, loose tiles or ceiling parts, or any other danger that might not be readily apparent to guests. Most homeowner insurance policies provide coverage for such claims. Victims will usually file claims with the homeowners’ insurance carriers rather than filing lawsuits directly against the homeowners.
- Slip and fall accidents: Premises liability can also apply when a spinal cord injury occurs due to a slip and fall accident in a public place or business. Patrons of retail stores, sporting and entertainment venues, restaurants, gas stations, and other locations frequently slip and fall. Like homeowners, managers and owners of these public venues also have a duty toward guests who enter their premises. Store owners, however, have an even higher duty of care than homeowners because they have invited the public onto their premises for the specific purpose of transacting business. Because of this, stores and public places have a legal duty to inspect the premises and make them safe for the public.
- Medical malpractice: Medical malpractice can cause—or worsen—spinal cord injuries. Due to the nature of spinal cord injuries, this occurs most often during procedures such as surgeries. Doctors owe patients a legal standard of care—that of acting as a reasonably prudent doctor of similar training and experience. A doctor who fails to meet this medical standard of care can face negligence allegations from an injured patient, who has the legal right to compensation from the doctor’s medical malpractice carrier.
- Car accidents: A driver whose negligence caused a collision is legally obligated to compensate any victims who were injured in the car accident. This is why insurance companies make initial determinations of which drivers were at fault for causing accidents. The at-fault driver’s liability insurance carrier is then contractually obligated to compensate victims for the resulting injuries and losses. In many cases, more than one driver may be liable for the collision, and liability is apportioned between the negligent drivers. This can lead to extensive negotiations with multiple insurance companies to determine who must compensate an injury victim.
How Do I Obtain Compensation From the Responsible Party?
The long and complicated process of actually receiving compensation for your spinal cord injury starts with determining who is legally responsible for your injury. This is particularly complicated when multiple persons or companies contributed to your injuries. Many times, the insurance companies will deny liability—particularly when they have someone else to blame.
Next, you must prove the value of your claim. This includes lost wages and decreased future earnings potential, medical bills and projected future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and any other financial losses that are directly attributable to your spinal cord injury. Insurance adjusters are highly trained in reducing the value of claims. Their job is to attack each component of a claim to pay as little as possible.
An experienced spinal cord injury law firm can help you through every step of this complicated process. A skilled lawyer will identify all parties who are legally responsible for causing your injury and fight to establish liability with insurance companies. An attorney will also support your claim with the right documentation, presented in the correct manner, to ensure a fair compensation offer. If an insurance adjuster still refuses to offer a fair settlement, an attorney will also file a lawsuit on your behalf, and litigate the claim as long as necessary. Sometimes, the mere act of filing a lawsuit is sufficient to get a fair settlement offer from an insurance company. In other cases, to obtain a judgment against the negligent party, the claim requires litigation through trial. An attorney will help you determine the best strategy for securing compensation.
Florida Spinal Cord Injury FAQ
More than 800 people in Florida suffer a spinal cord injury each year. Males in the state are more than three times more likely to endure this type of injury than females, and the most common age for the onset of a spinal cord injury is between 16-34 years old. Because of the limited ability for the spinal cord to heal after being injured, it is one of the most serious and debilitating injuries that a person can suffer.
If you or your loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury due to the reckless or careless actions of someone else, there is a process in Florida by which you can obtain compensation for the expenses and impacts on your life that it has caused.
Read on for the answers to many of the questions our clients most frequently ask about spinal cord injuries.
I am afraid that my PIP insurance policy is not enough to pay for my spinal cord injury. What can I do?
Upon registering their car in the state, Florida residents must provide proof that they have purchased a personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy of at least $10,000. This allows for the coverage of medical expenses and a portion of lost wages incurred after an individual has been in a car accident, regardless of fault. Your PIP policy can also provide coverage of expenses if you or a member of your household is involved in an accident as a bicyclist or pedestrian, as well.
Car accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries experienced by people in Florida. However, as you’ve noted, $10,000 is not enough money to cover the extraordinary cost of this type of injury.
A Florida spinal cord injury lawsuit that can provide more compensation and cover a wider array of damages than just medical expenses and lost wages. In a Florida spinal cord injury lawsuit, you must prove both the amount of damages you have sustained as well as proving that someone else is liable for the accident that caused your injuries.
Do spinal cord injuries meet Florida’s serious injury threshold?
To bypass the PIP requirement and file a Florida spinal cord injury lawsuit, your injuries must meet the state’s serious injury threshold.
To qualify, your injury must result in either:
- Significant and permanent loss of a bodily organ or function
- Permanent injury
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
Because the damage caused by a spinal cord injury often results in a loss of sensation and function below the site of the injury, you can lose many bodily functions, such as the ability to walk, move independently, or even—in severe cases—the ability to breathe without help. These losses are almost always permanent.
What are the damages I can recover through a Florida spinal cord injury lawsuit?
Damages is a term that refers to the expenses that have resulted from your injury.
These are known as economic damages and include:
- Medical expenses, including emergency treatment at the scene or in the emergency department, diagnostic testing, hospitalization, physician and surgical services, prescription medication, physical therapy, and rehabilitation. This category of damages also includes estimated future medical treatment. Spinal cord injuries often cause lifelong complications that involve the need for medical treatment throughout the remainder of the sufferer’s life.
- Lost wages resulting from being too injured to work.
- Loss of future earning capacity if you can’t return to the job you were working before the injury, or you cannot work at all due to the severity of your injury.
- The cost of repairing or replacing property that was damaged in the accident, such as your vehicle if your spinal cord injury was the result of a motor vehicle accident.
- The cost of performing household services that you can no longer accomplish on your own as a result of your injury.
In addition to economic damages, there is also the ability to claim damages relating to the impacts that the injury has had—or will have—on your life. These are known as non-economic damages.
Examples of this type of damage include:
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life.
- Loss of consortium, which is a damage claimed on behalf of the injured person’s spouse for loss of physical intimacy and companionship due to the injury.
How do I prove that someone else caused my Florida spinal cord injury?
To prove that someone else is liable—which means legally responsible—for your injury, you must show the following elements:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. This duty of care depends on the circumstances in your case. For example, in a car accident case, the at-fault driver’s duty of care would be to operate his or her motor vehicle safely and legally.
- There was a breach in the duty of care. The breach refers to the actions that the at-fault party took that were contrary to the duty of care that he or she owed to you. To use the car accident example, the breach could refer to distracted driving, alcohol impairment, speeding, or other type of driving misbehavior that is contrary to operating a motor vehicle safely and legally.
- This breach caused the accident that resulted in your injuries and subsequent expenses and impacts.
Your attorney will investigate your case to gather evidence and speak with witnesses whose testimony can help prove liability. Additionally, experienced accident attorneys value the networks they have with experts such as accident reconstruction specialists and medical professionals who can also offer their expertise to strengthen your case.
Because of my Florida spinal cord injury, I have had to hire a personal assistant to help with the costs of my daily care. Is that covered?
Yes, the cost of the personal assistant that you hired to help with the costs of your daily care is an economic damage that you can recover through the Florida spinal cord injury claims process, as are other out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred directly as a result of your injury.
I was offered a settlement for my Florida spinal cord injury. Should I take it?
Have you spoken with an experienced spinal cord injury lawyer in Florida? If not, then you should not accept the settlement until you do so. The reason for this is that insurance companies traditionally try to avoid large payouts for accidents by offering a quick settlement. Many people—faced with the pain of their injuries and the desperation of trying to understand how they are going to pay for their expenses—are tempted to take this quick, easy offer.
Unfortunately, with this type of injury, you won’t know many expenses for quite some time. If they accept a quick and easy settlement, they cannot go back to the at-fault party and request more money as the need arises, and may be forced to cover the expenses through another means, often out-of-pocket.
An experienced spinal cord injury lawyer will properly value your case based on the full picture of your expenses—both those you’ve already incurred and will likely incur in the future—as well as the impacts you have faced or are likely to face.
What is the average settlement for a Florida spinal cord injury?
Because each case is unique in its circumstances, expenses, and impacts, there is not really an average settlement for any type of Florida spinal cord injury case.
However, some factors can affect the value of your case, including:
- The amount of insurance the at-fault party carries. Insurance policies pay the vast majority of Florida spinal cord injury settlements or court awards. If the liable party in your case does not have insurance, you may file a Florida spinal cord injury lawsuit and even to go to court and obtain a judgment in your favor. However, collecting the money that has been awarded to you will likely be difficult, as most individuals cannot afford to pay for damages out-of-pocket, particularly with high-value cases such as those that involve spinal cord injuries. Your attorney will look carefully at the details of your case to discover all sources of liability and all insurance resources that can be used to compensate you.
- The severity of your injury. Spinal cord injuries are almost always severe. However, there is a significant difference in the costs of an incomplete injury in which the person retains some motor function, and complete injuries occurring high up on the spine that result in paralysis of all of the limbs. The Christopher Reeve Foundation estimates that the former injury will cost around $347,000 in medical and living expenses for the first year of treatment and around $42,000 for each subsequent year. The latter will likely incur first-year costs of around $1 million, with the costs landing around $185,000 for medical treatment and living expenses each subsequent year.
- How old you are. Every life has extraordinary value. However, when it comes to valuing a spinal cord injury case, those in the middle of their careers are likely to seek a higher amount of damages relating to lost wages and loss of earning capacity than those who are young and haven’t yet begun working, or those that are of retirement age and are no longer working. Estimated medical damages will be higher for younger people, who presumably will be incurring expenses each year to address the complications of their injury for a longer period of time than someone older.
- How patient are you? It will take time to determine your functional ability after your injury, as well as the severity of the impacts your spinal cord injury will have on your life. Other aspects of the legal process also take time, including the gathering of evidence, deposing of witnesses, negotiations, and even time waiting for a scheduled court date. Often, insurance companies will avoid paying fair compensation for injuries caused by their insured until they are faced with the even higher cost of litigation, or with an outcome likely to side in favor of the claimant. The fairest offer often does not come until just before trial begins, or even after the trial has begun but before a judgment has been made.
Do I have to pay taxes on my Florida spinal cord injury settlement or award?
According to the Internal Revenue Service, because spinal cord injury settlements and awards are not considered income, they are not taxable. The exceptions to this notion include punitive damages, which are damages that are not related to your specific injury but are designed to punish the defendant for particularly reckless behavior. Another exception involves itemized deductions that you have claimed on your taxes for medical expenses, which are later compensated through your settlement or award.
I have so many expenses as a result of my Florida spinal cord injury. How can I afford a lawyer?
Many people avoid speaking to a lawyer after they’ve been injured because they fear they cannot afford attorney fees. However, this simply isn’t true. Most personal injury firms provide free case evaluations, which allow you to talk to an attorney about your case and have your questions about the legal process answered at no cost to you.
Furthermore, most Florida spinal cord injury lawyers work on a contingent fee basis. What this means is that you will not be charged for the attorney’s services until there is a successful outcome to your case. At that point, payment for the services is deducted directly from your settlement or award.
Spinal cord injuries are serious injuries with lifelong implications. Don’t leave your recovery and your ability to pay for your expenses to chance. Talk to an experienced Florida spinal cord injury attorney as soon as possible.
Aggressive Representation From Our Florida Personal Injury Lawyers
Whether your spinal cord injury was caused by a car accident, workplace accident, medical malpractice, or other factors, you need an experienced spinal cord injury attorney who will aggressively defend your right to compensation for your losses. The Dolman Law Group has more than 46 years of experience in protecting the rights of injury victims in and around Clearwater, Florida. Injury victims across southern Florida trust our professional staff, comprehensive legal expertise, and superior customer service. Call (727) 451-6900 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation with a personal injury attorney today.