Spinal cord injuries are among the most catastrophic injury types, severely limiting mobility and function. The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves within the spinal column that sends signals from the brain throughout the body. Injury to the spinal cord typically causes paralysis of the body below the point of injury. If the spinal cord is damaged in the lumbar or thoracic region, it will cause paraplegia, or paralysis of the lower portion of the body including both legs. An injury to the spinal cord in the neck area will generally cause quadriplegia (also called tetraplegia), which is paralysis of most of the body, including all four limbs.
Incidence of Spinal Cord Injuries
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 200,000 Americans are currently living with spinal cord injuries, with between 12,000 and 16,000 new injuries adding to the number every year.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries are mostly preventable and are frequently caused by another person’s negligence, carelessness, or deliberately violent act. Motor vehicle crashes are responsible for 46 percent of all spinal cord injuries, followed by falls, which cause 22 percent, violence, which causes 16 percent, and sports injuries, which cause 12 percent of all the injuries. Alcohol plays a major role in one of every four spinal cord injuries.
Many victims of quadriplegia require use of a ventilator to assist with breathing due to paralysis of the diaphragm. Both paraplegia and quadriplegia cause the loss of bowel and bladder control, and many victims opt for a colostomy to help deal with the bowel management problem. Urinary tract infections are common. Other potential complications are bedsores and psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.
Spinal cord injuries cause permanent, lifelong damage, requiring years of expensive medical treatment, in addition to lost earnings and earning potential that typically comes with paralysis. The average cost of medical treatment for a spinal cord injury is between $15,000 and $30,000 per year, with an estimated lifetime cost as high as $3 million for a severe injury. This varies with the severity of the injury and whether additional surgeries are required after the original treatment period.
Lost earnings vary according to the victim’s pre-injury earning potential. All spinal cord injury victims lose many months from work, and a large majority are never able to resume their previous occupation. Some can benefit from vocational rehabilitation, combining physical therapy, occupational therapy, and job training to teach new skills that will provide some earning capacity, often considerably less than that which was lost. Many will never be able to work again and will require assistance with even the most basic life functions. It is estimated that the cost of lost productivity due to spinal cord injuries is around $5.5 million per year.
On top of the cost of medical treatment and lost earnings costs, spinal cord injury victims usually require assistive devices and alterations to the home if they are to be able to live relatively independently. First of all is the requirement of a wheelchair. In addition, alterations to a vehicle to accommodate the disability will usually be needed. Adding hand controls may allow a victim of paraplegia to drive. In other cases, a vehicle equipped with a lift to accommodate a wheelchair will be necessary.
Making the home more accessible will usually require a ramp for wheelchair access, the widening of hallways and door frames, and lowering of countertops and work surfaces to a level where they can be reached by a person in a wheelchair.
In many cases, a service animal can make a tremendous difference in the victim’s quality of life. Training and caring for these animals is extremely expensive, but the benefits are well worth it for those who are able to afford one.
Most spinal cord injury victims will need some form of in-home assistance.
How the Law in Texas Can Help
Considering the extremely high costs associated with spinal cord injuries and the devastation to the victim’s quality of life, as well as that of his or her family, it is absolutely essential that the person responsible for this catastrophic upheaval of a life is held accountable and made to pay. Having the resources to support oneself and one’s family and to obtain the best medical, psychological, and rehabilitative services can make an enormous difference in the patient’s ability to adapt to the restrictions and damages imposed by the injury.
Insurance companies fight spinal cord injury claims vigorously, because of the impact a high dollar payout will have on their profits. If you or a member of your family has sustained a spinal cord injury for which someone else is responsible, it is absolutely essential that you retain a skilled Dallas-Fort Worth personal injury attorney with a history of significant recovery awards for clients with catastrophic injuries.