According to the National Spinal Injury Statistical Center there are approximately 17,900 spinal cord injuries (SCI) that occur each year, which are most commonly caused by vehicle collisions, falls, and medical malpractice in some cases. If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury due to no fault of your own, request a free case evaluation from a lawyer at Brown & Crouppen Law Firm. Since 1979, our personal injury lawyers have helped clients recover over $1 Billion in compensation including those who have suffered from a serious spinal cord injury.
Whether caused by an auto accident, medical malpractice or as result of a work-related injury, spinal cord injuries can be extremely impactful to the individual’s overall quality of life including their ability to work, social life, and ability to pay for outstanding medical bills and long-term medical care. Our attorneys at Brown & Crouppen are dedicated to helping our clients pursue legal action and achieve favorable results that hold a high degree of accountability to the liable party. We provide free case evaluations to help answer legal questions, and determine whether you have a strong claim.
At the Brown & Crouppen Law Firm, we operate on a contingency-basis, meaning there’s no upfront cost to you — if you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid. If you or someone you know is suffering from a spinal cord injury due to no fault of their own, request a free case evaluation to get help with a spinal cord injury claim.
Common Causes of a Spinal Cord Injury
There are several ways that a spinal cord can be injured. Spinal cord injuries can present after damage to the vertebrae, ligaments, or disks of the spinal column or the damage can occur directly to the spinal cord itself. The single most common cause of a spinal cord injury is trauma from a motor vehicle collision. Additional causes can include falls, sports injuries, and surgical errors (although less common).
Types of Spinal Cord injuries
- Complete – A complete spinal cord injury occurs when the spinal cord is completely severed. When this occurs, the person often loses complete sensory and motor function below the level of the injury. This is often when you see either Tetraplegia (quadriplegia) or Paraplegia. Tetraplegia indicates the arms, hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs are paralyzed, where Paraplegia indicates the trunk, legs and pelvic organs are affected.
- Incomplete – An incomplete spinal cord injury occurs when the spinal cord (or a portion of the spinal cord) is left intact, resulting is some function below the level of the spinal cord. Function often varies from person to person, and although complete paralysis is uncommon, most affected will exhibit either partial paralysis or extreme weakness in the affected limbs.
Locations of Spinal Cord Injuries
There are four levels of the spinal cord which include the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacrum vertebras. The location of the spinal cord injury will dictate the body systems affected. Typically, one can expect either paralysis (if a complete spinal cord injury) or functional limitations (if an incomplete injury) of all systems below the level of the injury.
Cervical Region (C1-C7) — An injury to the cervical area of the spinal cord is considered the most severe of all spinal cord injuries. In the C1-C4 region, extensive paralysis appears including the arms, hands, trunk, and legs. In addition, this region also affects the diaphragm which controls the muscles which allow you to breathe. If you have a high cervical spine injury, expect to require 24-hour care with extensive assistance to perform all activities. An injury to C5-C7 is still severe but you will retain the ability to perform basic functions such as breathing and speaking. You will also be able to have some (although not all) functions of the hands and arms which will allow you to help with self-care. Both bowel and bladder control are limited in all cervical spinal cord injuries.
Thoracic Spine (T1-T12) — An injury to the thoracic spine typically results in paraplegia, in which there is normal upper body movement, but both legs are paralyzed. Bowel and bladder are also affected with thoracic injuries; however, self-care can be performed. There is much added freedom with a thoracic injury as opposed to a cervical injury. Often you will be able to drive a car (modified of course), along with the ability to use hands and arms to help care for yourself and move about in a wheelchair.
Lumbar Spine (L1-L5) — A Lumbar injury presents with loss of function in the hips and legs. All upper body movement in the hands and arms are maintained, often, no assistance is required for self-care. Depending on the strength in the legs, a wheelchair may be needed, although with the proper therapy and determination, you may be able to walk with braces.
Sacrum Spine (S1-S5) — Although the sacrum is made up of 5 vertebrae, they are all fused naturally into 1. Sacrum injuries are the least severe when speaking about spinal cord injuries. Most often the ability to walk is maintained, but there is some loss of function in the hips and legs. Typically, with therapy, you will still be able to walk, although an assistive device, such as a cane or walker, may be utilized to assist.
Treating A Spinal Cord Injury
To this date, there is no definitive method of reversing a spinal cord injury, although research continues to find this treatment. There are, however, several ways to try to limit the damage and prevent the injury from worsening.
Following trauma to the spinal cord, it is imperative that the spine is immobilized. This is typically one of the first assessments and maneuvers by paramedics on the scene of an accident. Additional movement can further damage an incomplete injury and cause lasting effects that are irreversible. This sounds simple, however, when multiple injuries are present, such as those following a car accident, minimizing movement can be difficult, but is necessary to protect the remaining function.
Once a spinal cord injury has been identified in the emergency room, ICU care is always the next step. This will allow for close monitoring of the injuries themselves, along with preventative care of other major body systems, such as the cardiovascular system.
If it has been determined that there is additional injury to the spinal cord, such as a spinal cord injury with multiple herniated discs, blood clots, or other lesions, surgery may be required. Even though surgery will not be able to reverse damage to the cord itself, alleviating pressure off the cord will reduce the chance for further injury, treat pain, or deformity. This is a risk vs. reward situation which the surgeon will discuss with the family the best options for everyone.
Once the injury itself has stabilized, therapy is initiated. This is often long term and consists of both physical and occupational therapy, along with mental health therapy. Training may also be needed for the family to show safe methods for providing care for their loved one. Emotional therapy for the patient, and the family is often needed because of such a dramatic change in lifestyle.
Long term, many families dealing with a spinal cord injury will adjust to the new lifestyle. One of the most critical issues with spinal cord injuries is the secondary complications that arise from immobility. For those with cervical, particularly high cervical, injuries, the risk for pneumonia, deep vein thrombosis, pressure ulcers, and bowel and bladder issues are quite common and can become fatal if not treated properly.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is The Average Settlement of a Spinal Cord Injury Claim?
Spinal Cord Injuries Cases are amongst the highest valued cases in the personal injury realm. Many cases are settled for over a million dollars, depending on the location of the injury and severity. This is consistent across numerous states, including Missouri and Illinois. One of the largest determining factors when negotiating a settlement is the consideration of future medical costs.
Depending on the location of the injury and the total amount of care that is required over a lifetime, the cost of care for spinal cord injury victims can easily soar over $5 million dollars. For an individual affected with a high cervical spine injury (C1-4), first year injury costs alone are estimated at $1,064,716 according to the Spinal Cord Injury Model System (SCIMS) projected by the National Spinal Cord Institute Statistical Center. Additional care is estimated at nearly $200,000 annually following the initial expenses of the first year. Estimated costs decrease depending on severity, but even care for paraplegics who can perform much self-care, are estimated at over a half a million dollars for the first year and $50,000 dollars per year following. These are considered economic damages.
Additional damages will also be considered. This includes any previous treatment from the moment of the accident through present, lost wages, and earning capacity. Last published by SCIMS in 2014, the estimated amount of fringe benefits at that time was over $71 thousand dollars.
Further considerations with the settlement may include, but is not limited to, ongoing mental health treatment, treatment for secondary complications, modifications to both the vehicle and the home to accommodate physical limitations, and if severe, round the clock nursing care or placement in a nursing home or rehabilitation center.
The two most difficult amounts to estimate, and seek compensation for, are diminished quality of life as well as pain and suffering. These are considered both for the victim of the spinal cord injury, as well as family members when appropriate. Economic costs, although time consuming, can be determined with relative ease depending on the level of assistance that is needed. However, figuring compensation for a complete alteration in lifestyle for someone with catastrophic injuries is not so simple.
Typically pain and suffering along with diminished quality of life are figured using a multiplier method. In this method, the economic damages incurred are multiplied by a number based on the severity of the injury. This is then added to the settlement as well.
Does a Spinal Cord Injury Qualify for Disability?
The SSA (Social Security Administration) will consider each individual case when determining if an injury qualifies for disability benefits. Guidelines for qualifying benefits are found in the Blue Book written by the SSA, which describes the medical criteria necessary for an individual to receive benefits. Specifically, section 1.04-Disorders of the Spine list the requirements which must be submitted to provide medical evidence of a spinal cord injury. These include, but are not limited to, proving the injury has caused nerve root compression resulting in pain, weakness, and an inability to walk effectively. Sufficient proof may be presented as medical images (such as from a CT or MRI), statements from physicians, along with any records of surgeries or other treatments that have been performed.
Anyone with a spinal cord injury can apply for disability benefits if the condition has lasted for three months and is expected to alter the working ability of the person with the injury for the next twelve months. Specifically, one of the three following conditions must be met to qualify.
- Complete loss of function of any part of the body because of a spinal cord injury. Paraplegia and quadriplegia are automatically qualified for benefits under this section. This section also applies if an organ system, such as the gastrointestinal system which controls the stomach, intestines, and bowel may qualify. Urological system would also be considered under this section. This is the system that controls the bladder.
- Abnormal ability of movement in at least two extremities (either an arm and leg, or two arms, or two legs) resulting in extreme difficulty to balance while standing or walking, standing from seated, or to use the arms and/or hands.
- Significant physical spinal cord problem not severe enough to be extreme, combined with a serious mental limitation. These may include problems with understanding, remembering, or using information. They may also include impaired social interaction, the inability to concentrate or work quickly (delayed processing), or the inability to take care of oneself or adapt to new changes.
If, for any reason, the above conditions are not demonstrated, section 11.00-Neurological Disorders in the Blue Book will often give an additional means of obtaining disability benefits.
With an injury as complex as a spinal cord injury, and the risk for future complication, it is reasonable and recommended that an attorney weigh in on the case to help fill out the appropriate paperwork and provide sufficient evidence. Even incomplete spinal cord injuries may qualify for at least partial disability if there is an alteration in work ability. The most important thing to remember is that to qualify for disability, you must prove that you are unable to work because of the spinal cord injury, regardless of the severity.
Request a Free Case Evaluation From A Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer At Brown & Crouppen
If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, you may have the right to financial compensation for hospital costs, your loved one’s lost wages, and pain and suffering. Getting started is easy. You can call us at 800-536-4357 for a free consultation, or tell us about your case with our Free Case Review form. And remember, there’s no upfront cost to you — if you don’t get paid, we don’t get paid.