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Spinal Cord Injury Accident FAQs

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) often result in catastrophic life-altering changes to the victim that was harmed through someone else's negligence. A spinal cord injury can result from car accidents, semi-tractor-trailer crashes, motorcycle collisions, or other traumatic events leading to a personal injury.

A spinal cord injury accident can leave the victim with a heavy financial burden, even if they can recover fully over time. The victim may face ongoing medical expenses, health care costs, rehabilitation bills, home modifications, and the need to use medical devices, including wheelchairs. 

A personal injury attorney from our law firm answered the most common spinal cord injury accident frequently asked questions (FAQ) below to help a client understand the facts of a case and possible outcome.

What is Spinal Cord Injury?

According to the Mayo Clinic, spinal cord injuries result from damage to the spinal column and nerve endings at the cauda equina (spinal column end). Typically, spinal cord injuries are permanent, restricting the victim's body functions, sensation, and strength from the point of the injury down to the toes.

Recent advances in medical technology have minimized swelling at the injury site, reducing the extent of injuries when the spinal column is damaged. However, many victims still lose control of their limbs through complete or incomplete damage.

Complete – The injured victim has lost motor function, the ability to control movement, and the associated sensory (feeling) in the torso and limbs. 

Incomplete – The loss of motor functioning skills and sensory only affects the area where the injuries occurred and below. There are numerous degrees of incomplete motor function loss.

Spinal cord injury can cause paralysis under varying levels of tetraplegia and paraplegia.

Tetraplegia – Commonly referred to as quadriplegia, this paralysis caused by spinal column injuries removes full sensation in the arms, hands, abdomen, trunk, pelvic organs, and legs.

Paraplegia – The loss of motor functioning skills occurs at the point of spinal cord injury, affecting the trunk, pelvic organs, and legs.

Spinal cord injuries often result in extreme pressure on the head, back, or neck, leading to paralysis, coordination, or overall weakness. Many spinal cord accident victims suffer from impaired breathing, walking and balance challenges, loss of bowel and bladder control, and numbness or tingling sensation in the fingers, hands, feet, and toes.

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What Causes Spinal Cord Injury?

According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), common causes of spinal column injuries in the United States include:

Motor vehicle accidents – For decades, automobile accidents in motorcycle crashes have been the leading cause of most spinal cord injuries caused by accidents, accounting for 50% of all new SCI cases annually.

Falling – Individuals sixty-five years and older are highly susceptible to suffering spinal cord injuries from falling. Nursing home accidents involving falls account for nearly a third of all spinal cord injury accidents.

Recreational and sports injuries – The traumatic blunt force trauma occurring in a recreational or sports activity accounts for approximately one out of every ten spinal column cases every year. Many victims become paralyzed or diving and shall water or suffer a head impact during sports, including football, soccer, boxing, and others.

Acts of violence – Violent encounters are involved in approximately one out of every seven spinal cord injury cases each year, usually involving gunshots and knife wounds.

Diseases – Spinal Cord Injuries Can Be caused by numerous medical conditions including spinal cord inflammation, osteoporosis, arthritis, and cancer.

Alcohol use – Approximately 25% of all spinal column injuries each year are related to consuming alcohol.

There are numerous risk factors associated with spinal Cord injury causes, including being a male between sixteen and thirty or older than sixty-five. Individuals engaging in reckless or risky behavior have a higher risk of suffering a spinal cord injury, as are patients who have a joint or bone disorder.

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What is the Treatment for Spinal Cord Injury?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), medical science has yet to develop effective treatments for reversing spinal cord injuries. However, through the use of new medications and prostheses, medical technology is working to promote nerve cell regeneration to improve nerve function after a spinal column injury.

Life-altering injuries can occur if the emergency personnel in a car accident do not follow protocol when removing an injured victim from the car wreck. The emergency personnel are trained to immobilize the victim's spine quickly and gently while using a rigid carrying board and rigid neck collar. The victim is carried on the board from the accident scene, into the ambulance, and entering the emergency room.

The ER medical team continues to immobilize the victim's neck to avoid any further damage to the spinal column while ensuring that the victim can breathe. 

The patient may undergo surgical procedures, be placed in traction, or be given the steroid medication Medrol (methylprednisolone), known to reduce nerve cell damage and decrease injury site inflammation.

Experimental treatments are also available under controlled circumstances if the patient qualifies. These treatments help control inflammation, stop cell death, and promote regenerating or repairing damaged nerves.

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Will My Spinal Cord Injury Get Better Over Time?

Damage to the spinal cord typically results in significant swelling that could cause significant nerve injuries radiating out from the injury area downward. With proper treatment, the swelling can slow down in the days or weeks following the accident, allowing the patient to regain some motor functions.

If the injury does not result in paraplegia or quadriplegia, the victim may regain motor functioning skills eighteen months or later after the injury occurred. Rarely will the injury result in restored functioning in the years following the accident.

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Will Every Person Sustaining a Spinal Cord Injury Need a Wheelchair?

In the first few months, the spinal cord injury victim will need a wheelchair for mobility. Some patients will require the use of a power wheelchair for mobility if they are unable to propel without assistance. 

People with paraplegia or spinal cord injuries lower in the spinal column will likely manage a manual chair that weighs less, costs less, and is easily transported when driving.

Other individuals with a spine injury will use a crutch or brace for ambulation while traveling shorter distances. While the wheelchair may limit the spinal column injury victim's mobility opportunities, other activities are available away from the wheelchair, including skiing, flying airplanes, swimming, and driving with adaptive devices.

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What Affects the Severity of the Spinal Cord Injury?

The severity of spinal cord injuries often depends on the area of impact, the extent of the impact, and the damages it causes the spinal column. 

Total dysfunction can occur when trauma affects the high-cervical nerves (C1 through C4). At this stage, the severity of the injury could cause paralysis and the hands, arms, trunk, and legs. Typically, the patient is unable to breathe without assistance nor controlled or bladder and bowel movements. In catastrophic cases, the victim's speech may be reduced or impaired, and all four limbs are affected (tetraplegia/quadriplegia). Usually, a High-C will require 24-hour/7-day personal care.

Partial dysfunction can occur when a traumatic event damages the low-cervical nerves (C5 through C8). The victim will lose partial control of the arms and hands at this stage but can likely breathe without assistance and speak normally.

Moderate dysfunction occurs when a traumatic injury affects the thoracic vertebrae nerves (T1 through 25), where nerve sensation and motor functioning affect the abdominal muscles, mid-back, upper chest, and muscles. Thoracic vertebrae injury typically leads to paraplegia and the need for a manual wheelchair.

Damage to the thoracic nerves (T6 through T12) can affect nerve muscles in the trunk (back and abdominal regions), resulting in paraplegia. The victim typically loses bowel and bladder control but can manage using special equipment.

Trauma to the lumbar and sacral nerves could result in a loss of hip and leg function, loss of walking mobility, and little or no control over bowel and bladder.

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What Can I Expect from Major Spinal Cord Damage?

Significant damage to the spinal cord usually results in that effective patient's mobility, breathing, and motor functions. These complications typically involve:

Loss of bladder and bowel control – Major spinal cord injury typically results in a loss of bladder and bowel control. However, the kidney continues to send urine to the bladder for storage. However, the severed spinal cord usually destroyed the messenger carrier to tell the brain how to control the bladder.

Loss of skin sensation – The brain can no longer identify any injury to the skin harmed by exposure to cold, heat, or pressure. The loss of skin sensation increases the potential risk of developing pressure sore (pressure wound, pressure ulcers, decubitus ulcer, bedsore), so around-the-clock assistance from others is necessary to change positions frequently to promote optimal skin conditions and avoid skin-related issues.

Loss of circulatory control – Numerous circulatory issues can arise from a spinal Cord injury, including orthostatic hypotension from low blood pressure and extremity swelling. Without intervention, the circulatory problems can increase the potential risk of developing pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis, or another form of a blood clot.

Restrictive respiratory system – The spinal cord injury often makes it challenging to breathe or cough without intervention due to the injury's adverse effects on the chest and abdominal muscles. Any thoracic or cervical spinal cord injury increases the potential risk of developing lung problems, including pneumonia.

Muscle tone issues – Spinal cord injuries can cause numerous muscle tone problems, including the lack of muscle tone (flaccidity), resulting in limp muscles and restrictive muscle motion (spasticity), leading to uncontrolled tightening.

Compromised fitness and well-being – Spinal cord injury victims can suffer muscle atrophy and weight loss. However, the patient's limited mobility could lead to a sedentary lifestyle, increasing the potential risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

Compromised sexual health – While sexual activity is likely still available, sexual function and fertility may be compromised. Males tend to experience ejaculation and erection problems, and females have noticeable changes in vaginal lubrication.

Pain-and-suffering – While spinal cord injuries can result in a loss of nerve sensation, some patients still experience pain, particularly joint muscle pain, from overusing muscle groups.

Depression – The stress and strains of family life and coping with spinal cord injury changes could lead the individual, a loved one, or another family member, to depression.

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What Is an Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury?

Incomplete spinal cord injury refers to the compromised ability to send (convey) messages from the body to the brain. Incomplete means that the transfer of information is not entirely lost. Many spinal cord injury victims will identify fate to mild sensations and minimal movement below the injured site.

Alternatively, a complete injury indicates a lack of motor function and sensory at the injury area and below.

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How Do People Rehab from a Damaged Spinal Cord?

Physical rehabilitation is available to nearly everyone with a spinal cord injury. How long the process will take to be fully rehabilitated depends on the severity of the injury and the injured party's desire to work for results.

Usually, a multidisciplinary medical specialists group involves doctors, physical and occupational therapies, nurses, speech therapies, psychologists, recreational therapies, and orthotists working together to reduce the patient's pain to restore function.

Rehabilitation of the spine involves physical conditioning, including muscle strengthening, cardiovascular exercise, mobility training, stretching, and respiratory conditioning.

An occupational therapist will work with the spinal injury patient to address functional, emotional, and social aspects of living a life of the spinal injury.

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How Much Force Is a Damage to Spinal Cord?

Some studies show that it takes over 3000 newtons to break the cervical spine. That amount of force equals a 500-pound motor vehicle hitting a wall while traveling at least 30 mph. 

Comparatively, it takes over thirty times that force to kill a human.

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Besides Paralysis, What Are Other Complications That May Result from Spinal Cord Injuries?

Spinal cord injury victims are highly susceptible to a wide array of medical complications. Without treatment, the patient could die immediately from many of these complications. Some include:

  • Spasticity
  • Bone metabolism dysfunction
  • Urological dysfunction
  • Gastrointestinal dysfunction
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Pulmonary embolism 
  • Sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction (ED) and fertility issues
  • Thermoregulation
  • Bone metabolism dysfunction, including heterotopic ossification and osteoporosis
  • Cardiovascular dysfunction
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia
  • Pressure Sores
  • Orthostatic Hypotension
  • Respiratory dysfunction
  • Chronic pain
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How Much Is a Compensation Case Involving Spinal Cord Injuries Worth?

Spinal cord injury lawsuits filed by personal injury attorneys could negotiate an out-of-court settlement for more than $350,000 if the case involves paralysis or other compromise conditions, including brain damage or neck damage.

Typically, higher amounts of compensation are involved in car accidents and truck crashes with the victim's injuries resulting in tetraplegia (quadriplegia), emotional trauma, and a lifetime of financial burden due to the necessity for round-the-clock care.

However, every case's unique circumstances and the extent of injuries place a heavy value on the lawsuit's worth. Many times, the defendant's insurance companies will pay the claim based on the policy limits. 

After a negotiated settlement has been reached, or the jury awards an amount, the victim will receive the total compensation minus attorney fees, medical expenses, court expenses, and lawsuit costs.

Fortunately, many personal injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis, eliminating the victim's need to pay any upfront fees to work the case. Additionally, the personal injury lawyer will pay between $10,000 and $20,000 to hire independent medical experts and damage experts to provide valuable testimony during the negotiation process or trial.

Typically, the attorney from your law firm will charge 33% (one-third) of the total amount to negotiate a settlement or up to 40% to build a case to take the trial (and obtain a jury verdict) if the defendant is unwilling or unable to provide financial compensation to the harmed victim.

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What Does Life Care Costs Mean in a Spinal Cord Injury Case?

Spinal cord injury victims will need various degrees of assistance and medical care for decades. The victim will need a full-time attendant, part-time housekeeper, and other assistance to maintain a household. 

The victim will also require medical services that may include managing around-the-clock care, medical devices, transportation services, an adapted van for driving, and wheelchair accessibility in and out of the house.

A personal injury law firm working on behalf of their client will work with a life care planner to assess all possible future needs to ensure the victim has sufficient money to live their life for decades with the needed support. At the same time, some families choose to assume the care responsibility needed for an SCI patient. However, tackling that job without outside assistance is usually more than a family member can handle.

The spinal cord injury victim must have substantial funds to pay for outside care if the family members can no longer handle the assisting burden alone. Case results are that lifecare costs are often rolled into the final assessment of damages that include medical costs, earning lost capacity, life enjoyment, pain-and-suffering, and lifetime care costs.

In some cases, the total damages in this type of case can reach $3 million or more, paid out in total or through a structured settlement.

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