How a Lawyer Can Help You Recover the Costs of These Spinal Cord Injuries
Plaintiffs may bring spinal cord injury lawsuits against individuals, companies, or multiple parties. The plaintiff can sue for negligence if they were injured by a defendant who failed to exercise reasonable care when they had a duty to exercise that level of care. Spinal cord injury cases can involve car accidents, slip and fall cases, workplace accidents, and more, and can result in severe injuries.
In some cases, trauma to the spine affects its ability to send and receive messages from the brain, resulting in the plaintiff losing the function of their limbs. This loss can be in the legs, known as paraplegia, or the arms and legs, known as quadriplegia or tetraplegia. This loss creates a huge impact on the plaintiff’s career, finances, day-to-day life, and relationships. These are known as catastrophic injuries.
Spinal cord injuries usually incur extensive medical expenses. These will relate to the medical costs of the immediate injury, and also the long-term costs of rehabilitation and recovery.
Paraplegia and Quadriplegia
Spinal cord injury (SCI) occurs when the spinal cord is damaged, either due to trauma, an illness, or some other cause. This damage results in a loss of motor and sensory function below the level of injury. When the injury affects all four limbs it is called tetraplegia (formerly known as quadriplegia). When the injury affects just the lower half of the body and the legs, it is known as paraplegia. Not only do these injuries result in a loss of movement, they also cause a loss of sensation and touch, and can affect internal bodily functions as well.
Both paraplegia and tetraplegia can be complete or incomplete. In complete injuries, you lose all function and sensation below the injury (regardless of whether the spinal cord is severed fully). In incomplete injuries, there may still be partial function or sensation.
Incomplete tetraplegia is the most common SCI. It makes up about 45 percent of all SCIs. Incomplete tetraplegia means that the trauma to the spine occurred higher in the spinal cord, above all four limbs, or that there was trauma in multiple parts of the spine affecting the arms and the legs.
It also means that there is not a complete loss of function and sensation, either in the limbs or internally. Incomplete paraplegia is the second most common SCI, making up 21 percent, meaning the trauma occurred above the legs and there is some retention of function and/or sensation. Complete paraplegia—total loss of function and sensation in the lower limbs—constitutes 20 percent of SCIs, and complete tetraplegia—total loss of function and sensation in all four limbs—makes up 14 percent of SCIs.
SCIs are an incredibly serious and traumatic event, regardless of paraplegia vs tetraplegia. In all cases, less than 1 percent of people experience complete neurological recovery by the time they’re discharged from the hospital. This leads to a huge amount of medical costs.
How Common Are Paraplegia and Tetraplegia?
About 17,000 new spinal cord injury cases arise every year, and approximately 300,000 people live with SCI in the United States. Most SCIs occur in males, and the average age is about 42 years old at the time of injury. SCI victims stay about 11 days initially in the hospital, followed by an average of just over a month in rehab.
About 30 percent of people with an SCI have to be re-hospitalized in the first year following their injury. Follow-up hospitalizations occur not only because of the loss of function to the limbs, but because of the effects the injury has on the other systems in the body, including respiratory, digestive, circulatory, musculoskeletal, skin, and genitourinary issues.
Paraplegia and tetraplegia not only affect the body and its functions, but they greatly affect a person’s day-to-day life and relationships. The divorce rate among SCI victims soars in the years following injury, doubling from one year post-injury to ten years post-injury.
Moreover, only 12 percent of people with SCI can maintain employment in the year after their injury. This results from the extent of follow-up care and rehabilitation needed, and the increased need for hospitalization in the first year after the injury.
Medical Expenses Associated With Paraplegia and Tetraplegia
Both paraplegia and tetraplegia cost an exorbitant amount of money. The more limbs and bodily functions are affected, the costlier the injury will be, so tetraplegia injuries can be much more costly. Average yearly expenses (which include health care costs and living expenses) increase with the injury’s severity.
For tetraplegia, the first year post-injury can cost from $750,000 to over $1 million, with each subsequent year costing from $100,000 to $200,000. For paraplegia, the first year post-injury costs over $500,000, with each subsequent year costing almost $70,000. These costs do not include loss of wages, benefits, or productivity.
Lifetime costs for both paraplegia and tetraplegia can be incapacitating. The younger a person is when the injury happens, the more years they can both work and need an extraordinary amount of care, resulting in increased lifetime costs as compared to someone older.
For example, a tetraplegia injury can cost $3.5 million – $4.5 million over a lifetime for a 25-year-old, and from $2 million – $2.6 million for a 50-year-old. A paraplegia injury can cost a 25-year-old about $2.3 million in lifetime costs, and a 50-year-old about $1.5 million.
Other Expenses Associated With Paraplegia and Tetraplegia
SCIs are known as catastrophic injuries because they result in a permanent disability, changing how a victim works and lives, and bearing a huge effect on their future. Additionally, not only is the damage permanent, but it also puts the victim at risk for other diseases because of the damage done to the internal bodily systems.
Costs resulting from such a catastrophic injury include medical costs, rehabilitative care, loss of income, caregivers, and effects on family members’ income and mental health.
Damages in a spinal cord injury case can include:
- Medical expenses: as discussed, injuries resulting in paraplegia and tetraplegia can cost millions of dollars over a victim’s lifetime, for costs including hospital stays, diagnostics, tests, specialists, surgeries, skilled long-term nursing, rehabilitation, medicine, medical equipment, physical therapy, and regular doctors’ visits.
- Lost wages and reduced earning potential: an SCI can result in a long, or even permanent, period of recovery. Time not spent at work means no earnings. The extent of the injuries can limit the victim’s ability to work. Tetraplegia will make it much harder for a victim to ever work again, whereas paraplegia may allow some ability to work. Regardless, lost wages and reduced earning potential can be a massive part of the damages claimed in any catastrophic injury case.
Family members can also sustain financial losses from lost wages because they must take time off to help care for the victim.
- Pain and Suffering: Plaintiffs can recover these damages for psychological pain associated with the physical injuries, such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health issues that result from an accident. A plaintiff can also recover damages for lost quality or enjoyment of life.
Again, a plaintiff’s family members may make claims for pain and suffering as well, because they have lost quality of life, or lost emotional support, companionship, and consortium from the victim of the accident.
What Accidents Result in Paraplegia or Tetraplegia?
The biggest cause of paraplegia and tetraplegia in the US for people under 65 is motor vehicle accidents. For those over 65, falls are the leading cause of SCIs. They can also occur due to bike accidents, sports accidents, construction site accidents, physical assault, and medical malpractice.
Any of these accidents can result in SCIs, which may cause:
- Extreme pain or pressure in the neck, head, or back
- Loss of sensation or tingling in the hands and feet
- Partial or complete loss of control over any part of the body
- Incontinence and loss of control over the bowels
- Abnormal sensations in the body
- Impaired breathing
All of these effects can have considerable and long-term living expenses and medical costs associated with them. If you were in an accident resulting in the partial or full loss of your limbs, contact a qualified spinal cord injury attorney as soon as possible.
A spinal cord injury lawyer can help you recover compensation for:
- Ambulance costs
- Emergency room treatment
- Hospital expenses for your initial stay, including any surgical and diagnostic costs
- Ongoing medical expenses associated with the injury, including any follow-up hospitalizations
- Rehabilitative care as you initially recover from the injury
- Long-term care and skilled nursing that you need in your day-to-day life
- Anticipated future care based on the extent of your injury
- Lost earnings and diminished future earning potential for you and your loved ones
- Pain and suffering and emotional distress for you and your loved ones
- Permanent impairment
- Reduction in quality of life
- Wrongful death damages for your loved ones
Responsibility for the Injury
If you are in an accident resulting in the loss of use of your limbs, an experienced spinal cord injury attorney can help you identify the party or parties responsible for your damages, prove they violated the duty of care, and gather evidence that establishes the damages you deserve. They will also help you minimize any comparative negligence arguments to maximize your overall recovery.
The state may limit the time you have to bring a civil lawsuit against the party or parties who caused your injury. A spinal cord injury lawyer can pursue your case before the statute of limitations expires.