There are nearly 300,000 Americans today living with debilitating spinal cord injuries (SCI), costing on the order of nearly $2 billion in medical costs each year. The vast majority of these injuries are due to preventable causes like motor vehicle accidents or car accidents, workplace injuries, trucking accidents, and motorcycle accidents.
Spinal cord injuries can result in permanent disability, preventing victims from working and very often causing chronic and untreatable pain. Medical care and treatment for spinal cord injuries are extremely expensive and can continue throughout the patient’s lifetime. Victims and their families may have to pay for surgery, rehabilitation, in-home help or care, and other associated expenses. Additionally, spinal cord injury patients are at a higher risk of contracting secondary conditions or diseases as a result of their loss of functioning and ability. As you continue reading, we have provided valuable information to learn more about spinal cord injuries.
What is a Spinal Cord Injury?
The spinal cord is an organ roughly 18 inches long, extending from the base of the brain to near the waist, and containing bundles of nerve fibers. The spinal cord is the vital pathway by which messages from the brain are communicated to the rest of the body, allowing it to perform all necessary functions.
An injury to the spinal cord results in a disruption of this pathway, resulting in a variety of possibly debilitating symptoms to particular parts of the body, depending where on the spinal cord the injury is located. The higher up on the spinal cord the injury occurs, the greater the effect on a larger portion of the body.
Injuries to the thoracic or lumbar regions of the spine can result in paraplegia, or paralysis of the legs and lower part of the body. Injuries to the cervical region of the spine (located at the neck) can result in tetraplegia or quadriplegia—paralysis or loss of functioning in the entire body below the head.
Complete spinal cord injuries produce a total loss of motor and sensory function below the injured region, and equally affects both sides of the body (left and right). Complete spinal cord injuries do not necessarily mean that the spinal cord was fully severed—in fact, this occurrence is rare. More likely, symptoms are caused by a contusion or bruising of the spinal cord, or a loss of blood flow to the injured part of the spinal cord. Roughly 50% of spinal cord injuries are complete.
Incomplete spinal cord injuries occur when some function remains below the level of injury—for example, the victim may be able to move one side of their body but not the other or have greater functioning on one side of their body. They may experience lessening, but not total cessation of sensation in certain parts of their body, or experience weakened but not complete paralysis of certain parts of their body.
There are different levels of spinal cord injuries
High cervical nerves C1-C4 from the top of the spinal
These are the most severe of spinal cord injuries. They may cause paralysis in all limbs and sometimes victims lose the ability to breath on their own and will need assistance in eating, bathing and all other areas of life.
Lower Cervical Nerves C5-C8
These control a person’s arms and hands. A victim with a severe injury to these vertebras may require assistance in daily living. Depending on the injury, the use of a power wheel chair may allow the victim to move around independently. A person may lose bowel and bladder control.
A C7-C8 injury
Typically arms and shoulders are not affected at these spinal levels. A person, however, may lose bowel and bladder control.
A C7 injury should have some finger extension and a C8 injury should have basic hand function.
The mid-back or Thoracic Vertebras are the middle of the spinal cord.
This impacts the torso muscles, trunk and legs. The severity depends on the injury. A victim is most likely to use a manual wheelchair, with normal arm and hand function.
Normal upper body functions.
Some victims can stand or walk with crutch braces. Bowel and bladder could possibly still be impacted.
Lumbar Nerves L1-L5 injury
This impacts the hips and legs and it may impact bowel and bladder control. May need wheelchair and walk with braces.
Sacral Nerves S1-S5 injury
Possibly least severe in ramifications of spinal cord injuries, but could entail having little or no control of the bowel and bladder. May impact hips and legs. And these could be extremely painful injuries.
Symptoms of Spinal Cord Injury
Common symptoms of spinal cord injuries include:
- Tingling or loss of sensation in the extremities
- Partial or complete paralysis or loss of control over any part of the body
- Extreme pain or pressure in the head, neck, or back
- Difficulty with balancing or walking
- Muscle spasticity
- Difficulty with fine motor skills
- Digestive problems
- Urinary or bowel incontinence
- Sexual dysfunction
- Impaired breathing
In addition to the above symptoms directly related to spinal cord injuries, many patients suffer from secondary diseases or conditions that come about as a result of spinal cord injury symptoms. Respiratory disease is the leading cause of death among spinal cord injury patients, followed by heart disease and infections. Spinal cord injury patients are also prone to problems arising from immobility, such as deep vein thrombosis and bed sores. Spinal cord injury symptoms may prevent patients from recognizing the signs of these secondary diseases and prevent them from seeking medical treatment.
Spinal Cord Injury Statistics
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) reports that there are roughly 17,700 new cases of spinal cord injuries each year—or approximately 54 cases per million Americans. These numbers do not include spinal cord injuries that result in death at the scene of the accident, which is not uncommon.
Spinal cord injury victims are at highest risk of death within the first year after the incident, with a mortality rate of 15% for Americans within the year.
How Much does a Spinal Cord Injury Cost?
The cost of treatment for spinal cord injuries vary significantly based on the severity of the injury and the specific situations of individual patients, however the NSCISC estimates a minimum of $359,783 in expenses during the first year of treatment for relatively less severe cases, and $1,102,403 for patients with severe cases of High Tetraplegia.
And these expenses don’t end after the high-risk first year. NSCISC estimates that a 25-year-old who suffers a low-severity spinal cord injury will pay on average $1,634,139 in expenses over the course of their lifetime, and nearly triple that if they suffer from High Tetraplegia.
Furthermore, these estimates only take into account health care costs and living expenses, and do not include indirect costs such as lost wages, fringe benefits, and productivity lost as a result of a disabling spinal cord injury.
When You Need a Spinal Cord Injury Attorney
The leading cause of spinal cord injuries is motor vehicle accidents—accounting for 38.3% of all reported SCI—followed by falls (31.6%), acts of violence (13.8%), and sports accidents (8.2%). Nearly all of these occurrences (and as a result nearly all incidents of SCI) are preventable.
Unfortunately, no matter how many precautions you take to ensure you and your family’s safety, you cannot always account for the actions of others. If you or someone you love has suffered a serious spinal cord injury as a result of someone else’s negligence, you need an experienced spinal cord injury lawyer to fight for your rights.
When looking for an award-winning spinal cord injury lawyer in Los Angeles, The Dominguez Firm has the skills and law experience to fight for you to get the compensation you deserve. Our lawyers have represented hundreds of personal injury clients in successful claims processes and legal lawsuits. We have won verdicts and settlement awards in the tens of millions of dollars—money that has been essential for injured clients and their families as they recover to rebuild their lives. Contact or call our offices today for a free consultation with one of our attorneys regarding your case at 800-818-1818.
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— Ashley Magana
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My experience with The Dominguez Firm and the attorneys was really good. They were very informative and always returned my calls.
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