If you or a loved one has recently experienced a spinal cord injury, you probably have questions. Spinal injuries are some of the most complex and potentially devastating injuries a person can suffer—after all, the spine serves as the body’s neurological “command center” and is responsible for nearly all of our body functions. If your injury was the result of an accident, fall, or another person’s actions, you may be able to make a spinal injury claim in order to receive damage compensation to mitigate the financial burden caused by a spinal cord injury.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about spinal injury claims.
What is a spinal cord injury?
There are many types of spinal cord injuries and locations along the spine where they may occur, each having its own short-term and long-term effects on the body. Spinal cord injuries might be complete injuries, leading to permanent damage in the impacted area, or incomplete injuries, leading to partial damage with a range of function losses in the impacted area. Spinal cord injuries occur in four primary areas:
Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries
The cervical portion of the spine is the top, closest to the head. It comprises the top seven vertebrae, C1-C7, which extend from the skull to the neck. An injury in this area can be completely devastating—an incomplete injury can cause lasting neurological and sensory impairments, while a complete injury might lead to total loss of sensory function or neck-down paralysis. Cervical injuries are also the spinal cord injuries with the highest rate of fatality, and the highest risks during recovery.
Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries
Below the cervical section of the spine is the thoracic section, including twelve vertebrae, T1-T12, extending from the base of the neck through the midsection. Nerves in the thoracic section of the spine control the bulk of the body’s muscular function, with the upper thoracic section controlling the chest, ribcage, and muscle function related to breathing while the lower thoracic section is largely responsible for muscles in the lower abdomen and back, controlling balance, posture, and muscle function related to coughing.
Because the thoracic section is the largest section of the spine, it is the most commonly injured area in spinal cord cases. Injuries to this area of the spine often result in paraplegia, particularly in the lower body, and loss of bladder and bowel control.
Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries
Moving down the spine brings us to the lumbar section, which includes five vertebrae through the midsection, numbered L1-L5. This is a major section of the spine and highly flexible, with injuries being fairly common due to the frequency of motion and flexibility. Lumbar injuries rarely result in paraplegia but do commonly result in loss of full muscle control or spasticity in the lower abdomen, legs, and feet that might result in incontinence or limited mobility. A wheelchair may be required following a complete lumbar injury.
Sacral Spinal Cord Injuries
The sacral portion of the spine includes the five lowest vertebrae, S1-S5, extending into the pelvis. These small vertebrae are actually fused together, and nerves in this section of the spine are responsible for the groin, hips, and buttocks. Sacral spinal cord injuries are fairly rare, but can lead to long-term damage to functions of the legs, hips, buttocks. bladder, bowels, and sex organs. Sacral injuries typically have an opportunity for full or near-full recovery with limited effects on mobility. That said, the position of the sacrum is directly adjacent to the pelvis and other organs, so sacral injuries rarely occur in isolation from other traumas. And because this area is not intended to move in any significant way, even relatively minor injuries or movement can cause a significant amount of pain.
What are the causes of spinal cord injuries?
According to The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, the leading causes of spinal cord injuries are as follows:
- Vehicular and Automobile Accidents 38%
- Falls 30.5%
- Violence (Primarily Gunshot Wounds) 13.5%
- Sports Injury 9%
- Medical or Surgical Complications 5%
- Other Causes 4%
In most spinal cord injuries, there are other parties at fault that can be pursued for damages. Working with an experienced spinal cord injury lawyer will help you determine a course of action for your specific situation.
How do I file a spinal injury claim?
First and foremost, do not delay in seeking immediate medical care. Because of the sensitivity of spinal injuries, it is critical to undergo any necessary treatment as prescribed by a doctor in order to mitigate potential long term damage.
Once you are in stable condition, determine if the circumstances around your accident may be covered by an insurance policy and whether or not you want to pursue damages from another party and file a spinal injury claim. If your injury was the result of a vehicular accident, the other driver may be held responsible. If you experienced a slip and fall at work, workers’ compensation coverage might be available to assist with medical expenses. If your injury was the result of a medical complication, a malpractice case may be in order.
When you have considered your options, you might elect to file a lawsuit or third party claim against the responsible party’s insurance carrier. You will begin by sending the insurance company a notice of claim letter. This is a statement including their insured’s information, your information, the date of the accident, and a notification letter in which you declare that you were injured and intend to pursue a claim.
From there, the claim will likely go to settlement. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you file your claim and negotiate a favorable settlement, often before a lawsuit is necessary.
What compensation can I expect from my spinal injury case?
Like most personal injury cases, spinal injury claims where another party is at fault will likely entitle you to coverage of immediate medical expenses and compensation for lost wages. However, spinal cord injuries tend to be more traumatic than most other personal injury cases, and you may be able to claim pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life. Your family members may also be entitled to their own loss of consortium claim. Additionally, because of the nature of spinal cord injuries, it is highly likely that you will require ongoing medical care or physical therapy, which should also be covered by an at-fault party.
Do I need a spinal injury lawyer?
Spinal cord injuries are particularly sensitive, and even if your injuries appear to be minor, you should at minimum review your case with a personal injury attorney who has specific experience in spinal cord injury cases.
The road to recovery from a spinal cord injury is a long one, and you need to have as much energy as possible to take care of yourself and focus on treatment and therapy. By working with a lawyer to fight the legal side of the battle, you will be able to dedicate that much more time and effort to healing while your attorney helps make sure you receive the compensation you deserve.
If you or a loved one has recently experienced a spinal cord injury, reach out to us for a free case evaluation.