Your spinal cord is the relay network along which signals from your brain reach your voluntary muscles. Your spinal cord also relays sensory input from your skeletal muscles to your brain and plays a vital role in controlling autonomic reflexes such as blood pressure and digestion. It runs within the vertebral column from your brainstem to your lower back.
Any injury to your spinal cord can impact your life in a major way. If your spinal cord injury occurred through the carelessness or deliberate actions of a third party, you may be able to seek monetary damages that will help cover medical bills and lost earnings as well as compensate you for the considerable pain and suffering you’ve endured. The Doan Law Firm offers prospective clients the opportunity for a free phone consultation that’s designed to help them protect their legal rights.
What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?
The American Association of Neurological Surgeons estimates that 450,000 Americans are living with some kind of disability associated with a spinal cord injury. Every year, approximately 34,000 new spinal cord injuries occur.
Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of spinal cord injuries in the United States; they account for roughly 35 percent of such cases annually. Rollover accidents can cause injuries to the neck and back if the roof of a vehicle collapses. If a seat back comes apart following a collision, the vehicle’s occupants can be ejected, and impact their heads, necks or backs as they land on the ground.
Slip and fall incidents are another common cause of spinal cord injuries, especially in individuals who are 65 years of age or older. Assaults and other acts of violence account for an additional 15% of all spinal cord injuries in any given year.
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord is divided into 31 separate segments, which are classified in three separate categories: lumbar, thoracic and cervical.
Lumbar spinal cord injuries
The lumbar spinal cord in the lower back consists of the five vertebrae L1 – L5 and the associated nerves, which control communication between the brain and the legs, hips, groin and lower abdomen. While injuries to the lumbar spinal cord may not be life-threatening, they are typically life-changing. Individuals with lumbar spinal cord injuries may experience some paralysis of their legs, which can leave them dependent on wheelchairs. In some cases, they may also suffer bowel and bladder incontinence.
Thoracic spinal cord injuries
T1 – T12 spinal cord injuries result in permanent paralysis of the lower extremities, but affected individuals still have use of their hands, arms, chests and upper backs. Affected individuals are unable to control bladder and bowel function, and they may experience some difficulties breathing.
Cervical spinal cord injuries
Cervical spinal cord injuries are frequently severe enough to be life-threatening. If injuries affect the lower part of the neck in the C5 – C7 region, individuals have a better chance of retaining at least some motor and sensory function than if injuries affect the upper portions of the neck at the C1 – C4 level. Individuals with cervical spinal cord injuries typically experience paralysis of the legs, arms and torso that’s so profound that they may not even be able to breathe without assistance. They will have no control over bowel or bladder activities, and they may not be able to speak or carry out even the most rudimentary functions of everyday life without mechanical support.
The Costs of Spinal Cord Injuries
The medical costs of caring for patients with spinal cord injuries are very high. In 2003, the cost of stabilizing a patient with a C1 – C4 injury during an initial hospitalization was more than $626,000 according to research done by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. The annual cost of recurring care for that same patient was more than $112,000. Since that time, the medical costs associated with spinal cord injuries have shot up dramatically.
Where does this money go? It goes to the surgical procedures necessary to stabilize the affected patient initially as well as to intensive care services like artificial ventilation. It goes to rehabilitative services like physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy so that the affected patient can have some semblance of a normal life.
It goes to medications, medical equipment such as wheelchairs and the salaries of the health aides upon whom patients with severe spinal cord injuries will depend for the rest of their lives. Patients may also need treatment for mental health issues, and they may want to buy specialized equipment like wheelchair-accessible vans or home elevators.
Spinal cord injuries also compromise an individual’s ability earning potential. Even if that individual recovers sufficiently to return to work at some future date, he or she will still have lost a significant amount of income in the early days of recovery. In many cases, an affected individual will never feel well enough to go back to work and may be forced to put up with a far lower quality of life in consequence.
Protecting Your Rights
If you’ve incurred a spinal cord injury due to the behavior of a third party, you have the legal right to ask for damages that may be able to compensate you for your medical expenses, your lost wages, and your pain and suffering. The Doan Law Firm offers no cost initial consultations that can help you assess the strength of your claim. Contact us today at (800) 349-0000 for more information.