Spinal cord injuries are common in the United States. If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, you are probably wondering whether you should seek compensation through legal action. A spinal cord injury can drastically change an individual’s life. Understanding a spinal cord injury’s implications is vital for grasping the depth of its impact and the importance of seeking appropriate legal representation.
Spinal cord injuries often involve intricate medical and legal issues. An experienced spinal cord injury lawyer can help you understand the medical intricacies of the injury, analyze and gather relevant evidence, and can deal with multiple parties, including insurance companies, opposing lawyers, and healthcare providers. If you or a loved one was injured in a personal injury accident, one of our experienced attorneys can help guide you through the litigation process. With Munley Law, you can have peace of mind knowing that your case is in good hands.
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What Are the Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries?
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, each year in the United States about 17,500 people sustain a spinal cord injury. Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) are traumatic events that can have lifelong repercussions. The causes of SCIs vary, but they generally result from damage to the spinal cord due to trauma or disease. Here are the primary causes:
- Motor Vehicle Accidents: These are the leading cause of SCIs in many countries. Car, motorcycle, and other motor vehicle accidents can lead to severe spinal trauma.
- Falls: Especially prevalent in older adults, falls from significant heights or even slip-and-fall incidents can cause SCIs.
- Sports and Recreational Activities: Impact sports, diving into shallow waters, and other recreational activities can lead to spine injuries.
- Industrial or Work Accidents: Accidents at construction sites, falls from heights, or being struck by falling objects are examples of work-related incidents that can cause SCIs.
- Medical/Surgical Complications: Sometimes, surgeries can go wrong, leading to damage to the spinal cord. Though rare, it’s a potential cause.
- Diseases: Conditions such as cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis can weaken the spine and make it susceptible to injury.
- Infections: Infections like polio or meningitis can affect the spinal cord.
- Congenital Disorders: Some are born with conditions like spina bifida, which affect the spine.
- Disk Degeneration: Wear and tear of the spinal disks over time, often due to age or repeated stress, can lead to injuries.
- Inflammation: Conditions such as transverse myelitis can cause inflammation of the spinal cord.
What Are Some Potential Complications From a Spinal Cord Injury?
After an initial injury, there’s a risk of further complications which can exacerbate the SCI. For example:
- Swelling: After an injury, the spinal cord can swell, causing further damage.
- Loss of Oxygen (Ischemia): If blood flow to the injured section of the spinal cord gets restricted, it can lead to more extensive damage.
- Fluid Accumulation: Fluid can build up around the spinal cord after an injury, causing additional pressure and damage.
The severity and implications of a spinal cord injury largely depend on the location and extent of the injury. The higher the injury on the spinal column, the greater the area of the body that might be affected. It’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention after any potential injury to the spine.
Long-Term Consequences of a Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries can lead to a range of long-term consequences, both physical and psychological. The severity and type of these consequences largely depend on the location and extent of the injury. In general, injuries higher up on the spinal cord result in more extensive paralysis and associated issues. Here’s a look at some of the long-term consequences of SCIs:
- Paralysis: Quadriplegia/Tetraplegia is the paralysis of all four limbs and the trunk, typically resulting from injuries to the cervical (neck) region. Paraplegia is the paralysis of the legs and possibly part of the trunk, usually due to injuries in the thoracic or lumbar region.
- Loss of Sensation: Reduced or lost sensation below the level of the injury, affecting the ability to feel temperature, touch, and pain.
- Respiratory Complications: Difficulty in breathing or coughing, especially with higher cervical injuries. Some individuals may require ventilators.
- Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction: Loss of control over bladder and bowel movements, often requiring catheterization or other interventions.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Altered sexual function, fertility issues, and changes in sexual sensations.
- Chronic Pain: Ongoing pain due to nerve damage, muscle atrophy, or joint complications.
- Cardiovascular Complications: Reduced circulatory system efficiency, potential orthostatic hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure when standing), and an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis.
- Muscle Atrophy and Bone Density Loss: Unused muscles weaken and shrink, and bones can become more brittle, increasing the risk of fractures.
- Emotional Trauma: Depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress due to the life-altering nature of the injury.
- Financial Strain: Medical expenses, adaptive equipment, loss of work, and other factors can lead to financial challenges.
Rehabilitation, therapy, and support systems play a critical role in improving the quality of life and managing the long-term consequences of spinal cord injuries.
How Do You Prove Negligence in a Spinal Cord Injury Claim?
Proving negligence in a spinal cord injury claim is crucial to establish liability and secure compensation. Typically, there are four primary elements to demonstrate negligence in most jurisdictions:
1. Duty of Care: First, you must establish that the defendant owed you a duty of care. This means that the defendant had a legal obligation to act in a particular manner toward the plaintiff.
2. Breach of Duty: Once a duty of care is established, you must show that the defendant breached that duty. This means proving that the defendant’s actions or inactions failed to meet the established standard of care.
3. Causation: Even if you can prove that the defendant breached their duty of care, you must also establish causation – specifically, that the defendant’s breach directly caused your spinal cord injury.
- Direct Causation: Prove that the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s negligent actions.
- Foreseeability: It should be reasonably foreseeable that the defendant’s actions could cause such an injury.
4. Damages: Finally, you must demonstrate that you suffered actual damages (e.g., medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering) as a result of the injury. It’s not enough to simply prove that the defendant was negligent; there must be quantifiable harm.
To effectively prove negligence, it’s crucial to gather and present compelling evidence. Here are some standard methods and types of evidence used in spinal cord injury claims:
- Accident Reports: Police reports, workplace incident reports, or other official documentation of the incident.
- Medical Records: Documentation of the injury, its severity, treatment recommendations, prognosis, and any related expenses.
- Witness Testimonies: Statements from people who witnessed the incident can help corroborate your account.
- Expert Testimony: Medical professionals can testify about the extent and cause of your injury, while accident reconstruction experts can provide insights into how the incident occurred.
- Photos and Videos: Images or footage of the accident scene, damages, and injuries can be compelling evidence.
Lastly, working with an experienced attorney is crucial when proving negligence in a spinal cord injury claim. They can guide the gathering of evidence, offer strategic advice, and represent your interests effectively in negotiations or court proceedings.
What Damages Can I Recover?
If you’ve suffered a spinal cord injury due to someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional acts, you may be entitled to various damages. In legal terms, “damages” refer to the monetary compensation a plaintiff may receive in a lawsuit. The specific damages you can recover in a spinal cord injury claim vary depending on the jurisdiction and the facts of the case, but generally, they can be categorized as follows:
- Medical Expenses: Costs of immediate medical care following the injury and ongoing medical expenses: surgeries, rehabilitation, medications, medical equipment, modifications to your home (e.g., wheelchair ramps, grab bars), and any future medical treatments.
- Lost Wages: Compensation for the income you lost while recovering from the injury.
- Loss of Earning Capacity: If the injury permanently diminishes your ability to earn a living, you can be compensated for the reduced earning potential over your lifetime.
- Pain and Suffering: Compensation for physical pain, discomfort, and suffering endured due to the injury.
- Emotional Distress or Mental Anguish: Compensation for the psychological impact of the injury, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, or loss of enjoyment of life.
- Loss of Consortium: If the injury has affected your relationship with your spouse or partner, this damage compensates for the loss of intimacy, affection, and companionship.
- Punitive Damages: In some cases, if the defendant’s actions were particularly malicious, reckless, or grossly negligent, the court might award punitive damages. These are intended to punish the wrongdoer and deter similar behavior in the future. Not all jurisdictions allow for punitive damages, and there might be caps or limits on the amounts that can be awarded.
When considering filing a spinal cord injury claim, it’s crucial to consult with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process, gather the necessary evidence, and advocate on your behalf to ensure you receive the compensation you’re entitled to.
Why Should I Hire a Lawyer For My Spinal Cord Injury?
Finding the right spinal cord injury lawyer is critical to ensure that victims get the best possible representation and, consequently, the most favorable outcome in their case. Given the complexity and life-altering implications of spinal cord injuries, having an experienced and competent lawyer is paramount. Here are key attributes and qualifications to look for:
- Experience and Specialization: Seek a lawyer with a proven history of handling spinal cord injury cases and securing favorable settlements or verdicts for their clients. SCI cases can be intricate. A lawyer familiar with medical terminologies, treatments, and prognosis related to spinal injuries will be advantageous.
- Reputation: Look for testimonials and reviews from previous clients. They can provide valuable insights into the lawyer’s proficiency, empathy, and effectiveness. Check if the lawyer is well-respected in the legal community. Peer endorsements can be a good indicator.
- Resources: Ensure the lawyer has connections with medical professionals and other expert witnesses who can testify on your behalf. A strong team, including paralegals, researchers, and assistants, indicates a well-equipped firm.
- Communication Skills: The lawyer should be able to explain complex legal processes and terminologies in a way that’s easy for you to understand. You should feel that your lawyer is accessible, responds timely to inquiries, and keeps you updated about the case’s progress.
- Compassion and Understanding: A lawyer who shows genuine empathy and understanding of your situation can be easier to work with and can advocate more passionately on your behalf.
When seeking representation for a spinal cord injury, it’s essential to do thorough research, ask for recommendations, and interview potential lawyers. Given the significant implications of such injuries, having the right legal partner can make all the difference in the trajectory of a victim’s life post-injury.
Why Should I Choose Munley Law?
If you are considering filing a legal claim for personal injuries, one of the many experienced lawyers on our team can help. We know that we can reach the settlement you deserve. Our spinal cord injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, meaning we get paid only if you receive compensation. This can be beneficial for clients who may not have the funds for upfront legal fees. This arrangement ensures that they are motivated to secure the best outcome for you. Call Munley Law today or contact us online for a free case evaluation.