Insight From A Personal Injury Lawyer: Paralysis

paralyzed patients in wheelchairsParalysis means the loss of muscle function in a part of the body.  If the paralysis is caused by a spinal cord injury (SCI), it is further classified as a complete or an incomplete injury.

A complete paralysis injury is where the spinal cord cannot convey any messages to the body below the injury, resulting in a complete loss of sensory and motor function.  An incomplete injury is where the spinal cord can still convey some messages to and from the body below the injury.

Spinal cord injuries are also classified by the level of the injury (also known as a lesion), which refers to the spinal cord segment where the injury occurred.  In the United States, about 1,275,000 people have suffered spinal cord injuries (men account for 61% of all SCIs).  And about 5,596,000 people in the United States have suffered some form of paralysis.

Causes of Paralysis: (chart)

  • Spinal cord injury (SCI) – usually caused by injury to the nerves in the spinal canal (accounts for 23% of paralysis) (causes of SCI – motor vehicle accident, work accident, falls, sports, violence, natural disaster, birth defects)

  • Stroke (accounts for 29% of paralysis)

  • Multiple Sclerosis (accounts for 17% of paralysis)

  • Cerebral Palsy (See “Cerebral Palsy Lawyers FAQ”) – affects movement/posture

  • Nerve diseases (ex – ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease (a progressive neurological disease))

  • Autoimmune disease (ex – Guillain-Barre syndrome – immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system))

  • Brachial Plexus injury Bell’s palsy

  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

  • Neurofibromatosis

  • Botulism

  • Neuropathy

  • Polio

Types of paralysis/spinal cord injury (depends on which areas of the body are affected):

  • Quadriplegia (Tetraplegia) – spinal cord injury above the first thoracic vertebra (cervical spinal cord injury C1-C8) – paralysis of all four limbs, abdominal and chest muscles also affected, sometimes causes loss of physical sensation, bowel/bladder/sexual dysfunction, respiratory issues.

  • Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury (T1-T12) – paralysis or weakness in legs (Paraplegia), person usually can move arms and hands, can cause loss of physical sensation, bowel/bladder/sexual dysfunction.

  • Lumbar Spinal Cord Injury (L1-L5) – paralysis or weakness of legs, the shoulders/arms/hands are unaffected, can cause loss of physical sensation, bowel/bladder/sexual dysfunction.

  • Sacral Spinal Cord Injury (S1-S5) – can cause loss of bowel/bladder/sexual dysfunction, weakness or paralysis of hips and legs.

  • Cauda Equina Syndrome – nerves at the end of spinal cord are compressed

Secondary conditions commonly associated with paralysis:

  • blood clots – can be prevented with support hose, compression devices, blood thinners, filters

  • pneumonia – can be caused by build up of secretions in lungs

  • bladder management – catheters are often used

  • bladder care – bladder/urinary tract infections are common but can be prevented with a bladder management routine, proper hydration, and sterilized equipment

  • bowel management

  • sexual health

  • automonic dysreflexia

  • respiratory health

  • skin care/pressure sores (See “Pressure Sores Injury”)

  • hypertension (low blood pressure)

  • spasticity – increased muscle stiffness, jerks, involuntary spasms

  • pain

  • depression

Prognosis for paralyzed patients

Currently, there is no cure for spinal cord injuries, but there is ongoing research looking for surgical and pharmaceutical therapies.  Still, there is always a chance of recovery after a spinal cord injury(SCI); however, the chance of recovery is better for people with incomplete SCI.  Generally, the faster your muscles start moving again after injury, the better chance you have of additional recovery.  The longer the time that elapses after your injury without any improvement, the lower the odds are of recovery.

Rehabilitation options for paralysis patients

Paralysis can cause dramatic life changes and it is important that each aspect of the patient’s recovery is provided for through medical treatment and rehabilitative options.  This often includes counseling for the entire family because it requires everyone to adapt and become educated in order for the patient to achieve maximum independence and support.

A good rehab center has experience with your specific diagnosis/condition, is accredited, has a wide variety of professionals to support your recovery including: psychiatrists, rehab nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, recreational therapists, vocational therapists, and counselors.  In addition, specialized medical equipment is also required including: wheelchairs, specialized beds, and cushion and positioning gear.

Research and clinical trials related to spinal cord injuries and paralysis

While there is no cure, research is being done and there are clinical trials available.  Before enlisting in a clinical trial, it is important that you educate yourself to ensure that the trial is well run, safe, and appropriate for your condition/injury.  The International Campaign for Cures of Spinal Cord Injury Paralysis (ICCP) has a guide on experimental treatments for SCIs.  It covers the types of clinical trials available, risks, clinical trial phases, ethics, participation, and functional benefits.

The guide emphasizes that a good trial has already undergone extensive investigation in animals and has shown a strong and repeatable outcome and will be divided into placebo and treatment groups.  The website,, is a registry and results database of federally supported and privately supported clinical trials in the United States and worldwide.

Legal options for people paralyzed in an accident

If you or a loved one suffered a spinal cord injury or paralysis due to a motor vehicle accident, personal injury, someone’s negligence, medical malpractice, or criminal actions, you may be entitled to compensation.  These types of injuries can be very complicated and require that you find an attorney who is qualified to get you the compensation you deserve.  We encourage you to contact us to discuss your legal options.

These types of cases require medical experts to testify about the cause of the injury, the medical care necessary, and the long-term care needs of the individual.  If you were paralyzed due to a surgical or medical procedure, you will need doctors to testify about how your physician deviated from the appropriate standard of care and how their actions caused your injury.  A lawsuit requires you, as the plaintiff, to prove liability:

  1. duty of care
  2. breach of that duty
  3. the breach of duty caused the injury,
  4. you suffered damages as a result.

Damages may include physical and mental pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of consortium, past/current/future medical care, and long-term medical and therapy services.

Spinal cord injuries and paralysis affect both the individual and the entire family.  Providing care for a paralyzed individual has significant emotional, physical, and monetary affects.  While there is no way to undo the damage done, a lawsuit may help you hold those responsible accountable for their actions, compensate you for your pain and suffering, and help you pay for medical services.

The cost of living with SCI can be very high, especially for more severe injury because of the extent of medical treatment required. Many SCI require long-term care, which can quickly add up.  The average expense for the first year of Paraplegia is $480,431 with subsequent yearly costs totaling &63,643.  Low Tetraplegia injuries (C5-C8) cost $712,308 in the first year, and $105,013 for each subsequent year.  High Tetraplegia injuries (C1-C4) are a more severe injury and cost an average $985,774 for just the first year, then an average of $171,183 each subsequent year.

Paralysis injury lawyers

If you or a family member was involved in a serious accident resulting in paralysis, our Chicago personal injury lawyers may be able to help you recover the money required for medical care and recreation.  We have been successful in recovering significant damages for clients with significant disabilities. Our law office has working relationships with some of the most respected life care planners and economists to assist in presenting your case to an insurance company or jury.