Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries are life-altering. The physical, emotional, and financial toll presented by spinal cord injuries is overwhelming. As many as 450,000 Americans live with spinal cord injuries. More than 80 percent of spinal cord injuries are in men between the ages of 16 and 30.
According to estimates by the Mayo Clinic nearly 11,000 Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year. These injuries can result from car and truck collision, medical malpractice, workplace injuries, and premises accidents. Spinal cord injuries result in permanent or partial paralysis. People with spinal cord injuries may be left with inability to use their arms and legs.
Spinal cord injuries may result from
— car and truck collisions,
— workplace injuries,
— medical malpractice,
— sports injuries,
— blood clots,
— tumors, and
Spinal cord injuries may result from a sudden traumatic blow to the spine that fractures or dislocates a vertebra or result from the gradual build up of pressure within the spinal canal. After the initial trauma, a cascade of biochemical and cellular events that kills neurons, strips axons of their myelin insulation and triggers an inflammatory immune system response follows resulting in further damage.
Spinal Cord Symptoms
Any trauma that pulls, compresses, pushes sideways or cuts your spinal cord may cause spinal cord injury. Spinal injury at the neck level may impair a person’s breathing and paralyze arms, legs and trunk (quadriplegia). Injury lower in the spine may cause weakness and loss of movement or feeling only in the legs and lower parts of the body (paraplegia). A severed spinal cord cannot be repaired. In less severe cases, recovery depends of the extent of the damage.
A “complete” spinal cord injury means that the spinal cord has absolutely no function below the affected area. An “incomplete” or partial spinal cord injury means that the spinal cord has some function left below the affected area.
Spinal cord injuries are defined as follows:
— Quadriplegia: loss of movement and sensation in all four limbs.
— Paraplegia: loss of movement and sensation in the lower half of the body.
— Hemiplegia: loss of movement and sensation on one side of the body
Symptoms of spinal cord damage may include:
— poor coordination,
— foot drop,
— inability to walk,
— inability to use arms,
— numbness, tingling,
— loss of bowel or bladder control, pain.
If a spinal cord injury is suspected, a timely CT scan, MRI or myelogram will aid in making the diagnosis. Time is of the essence because the buildup of pressure within the spinal canal can quickly cause permanent and irreversible neurological damage. Immediate medical treatment should focus on stabilizing the spine and aggressive treatment with corticosteroid drugs to limit damage. Surgery may also be necessary to stabilize the spine or fuse the spine with metal plates or pins. Once the initial injury heals, functional improvements may continue for at least six months. After that time period, any remaining disability is likely to be permanent.
Litigating cases involving spinal cord injuries present unique challenges. An attorney must be familiar with physical and financial consequences of spinal cord injuries, including proving damages maximizing recovery. We have utilized “day-in-the-life” to educate juries about the lifetime effect of spinal cord injuries. We work with “life care planners” to lay out the lifetime costs of providing care to victims of spinal cord injuries.
Life care plans. Our office uses life care planners to describe to the jury the future care needs of the injured person and the costs of that care. This includes projected therapies, education and development programs, medication, equipment, and supply needs, assistive technology requirements, and architectural renovations required to make homes inhabitable following injury.
Economist. In a spinal cord injury case an economist expert witness assess the injured party’s lost earnings and future medical and non-medical costs described and itemized in the Life Care Plan. These two figures provide a basis for a monetary award by the jury.
Day in the life video. The goal of a Day In The Life Video is to depict the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s family in their typical daily routine and demonstrate to a jury how difficult it is to get through the day when you are a paraplegic or quadriplegic.