Posted On April 20, 2023

Catastrophic Spinal Injury Lawsuit

After a catastrophic spinal cord injury, victims can file a lawsuit to recover damages. Catastrophic spinal cord injuries are serious because they damage nerves that travel from your brain down the middle of your back and through your spinal column. The consequences of these types of injuries often result in loss of movement of arms and legs or permanent paralysis. 

Different Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

A catastrophic spinal injury damages the bones, nerves, and tissues that surround and protect the spinal cord. Typically, this type of injury is caused by a sudden and severe blow to the vertebrae, the spinal bones that surround the spinal cord. When the spinal column takes a severe blow, the vertebrae break or fracture from the impact. In rare cases, a severe blow can even sever or split the spinal cord. A spinal cord injury is not the same as a back injury. While back injuries may cause damage to bones or soft tissue in the spine, they do not affect the spinal cord.

Spinal cord injuries are divided into two categories – complete and incomplete. A complete injury is usually much more severe, with life-threatening or permanent consequences:

Complete Spinal Injury – A complete spinal injury impacts both sides of the body and causes paralysis (loss of function) below the areas of the body where the injury occurred. In complete injuries, it is common to see paralysis of both arms and both legs (quadriplegia) or paralysis of only the lower half of the body (paraplegia).

Incomplete Spinal Injury – With an incomplete spinal injury, some function remains on one or both sides of the body, so the brain and body can still communicate along certain pathways that are functional. A person with an incomplete injury may be able to move one arm or leg more than the other, or may have more functioning on one side of the body than the other.

Spinal cord injuries can also cause spinal concussions, which can be either complete or incomplete. In these types of injuries, spinal cord dysfunction is temporary and generally resolves within a few days. Football players, boxers, and other types of athletes are especially susceptible to spinal concussions and spinal cord contusions (bruises) which often result in neurological symptoms including tingling, numbness, burning in extremities, and electric shock-like sensations.

The Leading Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries

According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, as many as 450,000 people in the United States are living with a spinal cord injury. Every year, an estimated 17,000 new spinal cord injuries occur, and most of them are caused by trauma to the vertebral column, which impacts the ability of the brain to communicate with the body.

The major causes of spinal cord injuries include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Sports injuries
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Surgical complications

In younger adults, vehicle accidents are the leading spinal cord injury cause, while falls are the leading cause for adults over the age of 65. Sports and recreational activities are responsible for common summer injuries that cause spinal cord damage, especially for professional athletes, adults between 18 and 25 years old, and school-age children who participate in school sports.

Long Term Impact of Spinal Injuries

When a person suffers any type of spinal injury, it is essential to seek medical help right away. He or she should get a thorough examination and diagnostic tests to determine the amount of damage that has occurred, because injuries aren’t always evident at the scene of a crash.

A doctor will check for nerve damage to determine motor function, the ability to move parts of the body, and sensory function, the ability to feel touch. To get a more accurate assessment and diagnosis, the doctor will need to run 3 series of imaging tests that include: 1- X-rays to show broken or dislocated bones, 2- CT scan to see broken bones, damage to blood vessels, and blood clots, and 3- MRI to see the spinal cord and soft tissues. In some cases, the doctor may perform an EMG (electromyography) to check activity in nerve cells and muscles.

In a catastrophic spinal injury, the victim may face long-term complications which include:

  • The inability to regulate body temperature or blood pressure
  • An increased risk of heart or lung problems
  • The loss of bladder and bowel control
  • The contracture of joints (spasticity)
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Chronic and persistent pain

Generally, catastrophic injuries to the cervical spine that occur higher up have more severe symptoms and long-term consequences for the patient. For example, an injury to the neck occurs in the first and second vertebrae in the spinal column (C1, C2), as well as the mid-cervical vertebrae (C3, C4, and C5). These injuries impact respiratory muscles and the patient’s ability to breathe, which may have fatal consequences. An injury that occurs lower down in the lumbar vertebrae may affect the nerves and muscles that control the bladder, bowel, legs, and sexual function, but will not impact the patient’s breathing.

In some cases of catastrophic spinal injury, surgery may be necessary to evaluate the injured spinal cord, stabilize fractured backbones, release the pressure from the injured area, and manage any other injuries that may have occurred. For the patient, this usually includes spending time in the intensive care unit (ICU), using a mechanical ventilator to help with breathing, using a bladder catheter tube to drain urine, using a feeding tube to provide food, and taking medications to decrease swelling in the spinal cord.

Recovery from a spinal cord injury often requires long-term hospitalization and physical therapy to prevent contractures and wasting of muscles and aid in mobility and movement. Occupational therapy is also used to help the patient learn new ways to accomplish everyday tasks in spite of physical limitations. Patients who suffer catastrophic spinal injury often require wheelchairs, communication devices, and a live-in nurse or aid to help with everyday tasks like preparing meals, eating and drinking, bathing and grooming, and toiletry needs.

Currently, there is no way to repair a bruised or damaged spinal cord, but researchers are working on ways to stimulate spinal cord regeneration. In most spinal cord cases, the location of the injury and the severity of spinal cord injury levels determine whether long-term impacts will be mild, severe, or fatal.

Damages That Can Be Recovered in a Spinal Injury Lawsuit

If you suffer any type of spinal cord injury, it is important to talk with a catastrophic injury lawyer as soon as possible after your injury occurs. Catastrophic injuries usually have life-long impacts on the victim’s lifestyle, ability to work, perform everyday tasks, and earn money. Your lawyer can build a successful case that will hold the at-fault party liable and seek compensation to offset massive financial losses that often occur with spinal cord injuries. Your lawyer will seek maximum compensation for your damages, including:

  • Medical Costs – Accident victims who sustain catastrophic spinal injuries are often awarded large payouts for medical costs and other expenses. This is essential to pay for the initial hospitalization costs and other expenses for medical treatments and rehabilitation, supportive medical equipment, and long-term care that may be required throughout life.
  • Loss of Earning Capacity – Catastrophic injuries often cause victims to lose their anticipated lifetime earnings. Fortunately, some injury victims may be able to return to work, but that may be after years of physical therapy and rehabilitation. A vocational expert can testify to what the victim would have earned if he pr she had not sustained the injury and the loss of his or her income from the injury.
  • Life Care Costs – Living with a spinal cord injury usually requires varying degrees of ongoing care throughout your life. These costs may include long-term or permanent in-home care from nurses, aids, housekeepers, and family members. In most cases, family members are willing to help with responsibilities, but ongoing care for a person with a spinal cord injury typically requires outside professional services.
  • Pain and Suffering – Pain and suffering and the loss of enjoyment of life are significant compensable damages in a spinal injury case. Pain and suffering damages are non-economic damages that include physical pain, mental anguish, emotional distress, disfigurement, disability, and loss of consortium.

Working with a lawyer who handles catastrophic injury cases will help you win your lawsuit in court against the at-fault party who caused the accident that injured you. Your lawyer will explain your legal rights and guide you through the entire legal process from start to finish.

Catastrophic injury lawyers have extensive working knowledge of all types of injuries, the necessary treatment procedures, access to medical records, and necessary information regarding hospitals, doctors, and healthcare professionals. Your lawyer can file your lawsuit in civil court or negotiate a settlement agreement on your behalf. Most importantly, your lawyer will work on your behalf to get you the best compensation award to cover your damages for present expenses, as well as future expenses for your injuries.