A spinal cord injury is devastating for the victim and his or her loved ones. Often, spine injuries have lasting, life-altering impacts, including temporary or permanent disability, paralysis, cognitive impairment, and other complications. The cost of treatment can easily reach millions of dollars, and the victim may never be able to return to work or his or her normal life. The injury takes a toll on the victim and all those in the victim’s family who often have to provide lifelong care.
At Howry Breen & Herman, we have spent nearly 25 years fighting for the rights of unjustly injured individuals and their families. Our Austin spine injury lawyers have extensive litigation experience and are adept at handling even the most complex of cases. We have helped our clients secure fair settlements and jury verdicts when they were severely harmed by someone else’s careless or reckless actions. We are proud of our verdicts on behalf of quadriplegics, including a $15.8 million verdict on behalf of a woman who was rendered quadriplegic after being struck and run over by a defective utility cart. This was a life changing result for our client. (After a $7,367,684 reduction for credits and offsets, $4,038,316.00 net to client, $600,000 case expenses; $3,794,000 attorney’s fees.)
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
There are several different types of spinal cord injuries, all of which can vary in severity. These injuries are categorized by the location of the injury along the spinal cord, as well as the degree of function loss.
Generally speaking, there are two distinct categories of spinal cord injury:
- Incomplete or partial spinal cord injury: The spinal cord is partially severed or damaged. Victims are usually able to retain some function, depending on the extent of the injury.
- Anterior Cord Syndrome: Damage to the front (anterior) portion of the spinal cord, resulting in loss of motor function, pain, and temperature sensation, while preserving touch and proprioception (awareness of body position).
- Central Cord Syndrome: Primarily affects the central part of the spinal cord, often with more severe motor deficits in the upper extremities than in the lower extremities.
- Brown-Sequard Syndrome: Injury to one side of the spinal cord, leading to motor weakness or paralysis on the same side as the injury and loss of pain and temperature sensation on the opposite side.
- Conus Medullaris Syndrome: Injury to the lower part of the spinal cord (conus medullaris), resulting in variable motor and sensory deficits in the lower limbs, as well as dysfunction of the bladder and bowel.
- Cauda Equina Syndrome: Injury to the bundle of nerves at the base of the spinal cord (cauda equina), leading to a range of symptoms such as lower limb weakness, numbness, and bowel or bladder dysfunction.
- Complete spinal cord injury: The spinal cord is completely severed. This eliminates all function at or below the break and typically results in temporary or permanent paralysis.
- Complete Tetraplegia (Quadriplegia): Total loss of motor and sensory function below the level of the injury, affecting both the upper and lower limbs. This often occurs with cervical spine injuries.
- Complete Paraplegia: Total loss of motor and sensory function below the level of the injury, affecting only the lower limbs. This can result from injuries to the thoracic, lumbar, or sacral regions of the spinal cord.
Because the central nervous system runs along the spine, spinal cord injuries can affect everything from movement to sensation to brain function to bladder and bowel control. Sometimes, the effects of a spinal cord injury may only impact one area of the body, such as the left arm or the lower body. Other times, the effects may be more widespread, affecting cognitive ability or full body sensation.
How Do Spinal Cord Injuries Occur?
Some of the most common types of accidents that lead to spinal cord injuries include:
- Car crashes: Motor vehicle accidents, including car crashes, are a leading cause of spinal cord injuries. The force and impact of a collision can cause trauma to the spine, resulting in fractures, dislocations, or other spinal cord injuries.
- Truck, bus, and commercial vehicle accidents: Accidents involving larger vehicles like trucks and buses can be particularly severe due to their size and weight. Collisions with these vehicles can lead to significant spinal cord injuries for occupants of smaller vehicles involved.
- Golf cart and utility vehicle accidents: Even though these vehicles are smaller than cars, accidents involving golf carts or utility vehicles can still cause spinal cord injuries, especially if they overturn or collide with other objects.
- Motorcycle collisions: Motorcyclists are vulnerable in accidents due to the lack of protective barriers. High-speed collisions, impacts with other vehicles, or ejections from motorcycles can result in spinal cord injuries.
- Pedestrian and bicycle accidents: Pedestrians and cyclists are at risk of spinal cord injuries when struck by vehicles. The impact, particularly in high-speed accidents, can lead to severe trauma to the spine.
- Slip and falls: Falls are a common cause of spinal cord injuries, especially among older adults. Falls from heights, on slippery surfaces, or due to tripping hazards can result in fractures or compression injuries to the spine.
- Construction and oilfield accidents: Accidents at construction sites or in oilfields can involve falls from scaffolding, being struck by falling objects, or other incidents that can cause spinal cord injuries. Heavy machinery and equipment pose additional risks.
- Sport-related accidents: Sports injuries, especially in contact sports or those with a risk of high-impact collisions, can lead to spinal cord injuries. These injuries can occur in activities such as football, rugby, gymnastics, and diving.
In far too many cases, spine injuries are the result of negligence. A drunk driver might run a red light and crash into another motorist, causing severe whiplash and spine damage. A grocery store might fail to clean up or adequately warn shoppers of a spill, causing an individual to slip and fall. A construction worker might fall from unsafe scaffolding. A child may be thrown from a golf cart or utility vehicle or injured in a pool or swimming accident. All of these and other similar situations are examples of how negligence causes spinal cord injuries.
Proving Negligence with Certainty
Blaming someone for your spinal cord injury is not enough to get compensation from them. It is not even enough to say that they made a mistake. You have to say – and prove with a preponderance of evidence – that they were negligent.
In legal contexts, negligence is an action or decision that someone else reasonably would not have done or made in the same situation. For example, someone who decides to get behind the wheel after having an alcoholic beverage is negligent because the average reasonable driver would not do the same. But someone who runs over a small pothole that pops their tire and makes them crash probably was not negligent because most people would likely not see the pothole either.
Here are the general elements you may need to establish to succeed in a personal injury claim for a spinal cord injury:
- Duty of Care: You must show that the party you are holding responsible (defendant) owed you a duty of care. In personal injury cases, this often involves demonstrating that the defendant had a legal obligation to act reasonably and avoid causing harm to others.
- Breach of Duty: You need to establish that the defendant breached their duty of care. This means demonstrating that their actions (or inactions) fell below the standard of care expected under the circumstances. In the context of a spinal cord injury, this might involve proving negligence, such as reckless driving in a car accident or failure to maintain a safe environment.
- Causation: You must establish a direct link between the defendant's breach of duty and the spinal cord injury. It's not enough to show that the defendant was negligent; you need to demonstrate that their negligence was a proximate cause of the injury.
- Damages: You need to prove that you suffered actual damages as a result of the spinal cord injury. Damages can include medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other losses. The extent of damages will depend on the severity and long-term impact of the spinal cord injury.
To prove that the other party was negligent, you should come prepared with different forms of evidence, which will vary depending on what type of accident or incident caused your spinal cord injury. Eyewitness testimonies, police reports, medical records, and so on can all come in handy when establishing negligence. Furthermore, if you are found to be more than 50% liable for your spinal cord injury, then you cannot recover any damages from the other party.
Outcomes & Consequences of Spinal Cord Injuries
The outcome of a spinal cord injury is often dire because damage to the spinal cord is usually considered irreversible. The nerves in the spinal cord cannot heal on their own, especially from severe damage. Medical specialists and rehabilitation experts will generally prescribe treatments that are designed to prevent any further harm from happening to the spine since the damage that has been done cannot be undone.
Lifelong consequences to spinal cord damage can include:
- Loss of mobility
- Labored breathing
- Digestion complications
- Depression and PTSD
Technology and medicine are racing to improve the treatments and therapies available to spinal cord injury patients. Ultralight wheelchairs, for example, can make moving around for entire days effortless. If such advances in medical technology would benefit you, then we can fight to get you access to them as part of your settlement.
Financial Impact of a Spinal Cord Injury
Living with a spinal cord injury is not just physically painful but it is also financially draining. The cost of medical care and technologies can reach millions of dollars across a lifetime for severe spinal cord damage. Tetraplegic patients – those who cannot use any of their four limbs – usually need $5 million or so in lifetime medical treatments, surgeries, and therapies, for example.
The inability to find gainful employment also causes a dramatic financial impact on someone living with a spinal cord injury. For as much as you might want to be self-sustaining and make a great living on your own, the pain and disabilities caused by your injury could simply be too much to overcome. You might be forced into limited, part-time work that provides minimal amounts for expenses. If you want to live without the fear of bankruptcy, then legal action against the party that caused your spinal cord injury must be taken at once.
How Much Is a Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuit Worth?
When considering the potential value of a spinal cord injury case, there are many factors that come into play. An important thing to remember is that every case is unique, and the exact value of your lawsuit will depend on the specific details involved. That being said, however, spinal cord injury lawsuits tend to be relatively high in value due to the significant damages most victims sustain.
Common damages sustained by spinal cord injury victims include:
- Emergency medical care costs, such as hospitalization
- Expenses associated with ongoing treatment and rehabilitation
- Immense pain and suffering, including physical limitations and emotional distress
- Disability and loss of earning capacity (temporary or permanent)
- Lost income/wages and loss of future earnings and employment benefits
- In-home assistance and care, home modifications, and other miscellaneous expenses
Because spinal cord injuries have such a major impact on most victims’ lives, the overall cost of their damages tends to be extremely high. As such, the value of these types of claims is also usually high.
Many spinal cord injury lawsuits are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; some may even be worth millions. One of the most important things you can do to improve your chances of recovering the full, fair compensation you deserve is hire a personal injury attorney with experience in spine injury claims. At Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP, we are prepared to assist you at every stage of the legal process, drawing on more than 25 years of experience in this area of law to build the strongest possible case on your behalf. As true trial lawyers, our award-winning attorneys are prepared to take your case to court if that is what is needed to obtain the maximum compensation you are owed.
How Can a Spinal Cord Injury Attorney Help?
The smallest details of a spinal cord injury claim can completely change the outcome and your chances of securing a fair settlement or verdict amount. To give proper attention to every detail, you should rely on our team from Howry, Breen & Herman, LLP in Austin. We can work with medical experts in our professional network to get a clearer idea of your spinal cord injury and the hardship it has caused and will continue to cause you for many years to come. Knowing the extent of your injury is crucial to correctly calculate the damages you seek.
We can speak with chiropractors, surgeons, rehabilitation specialists, and more to build your case with meaningful, convincing evidence. The insurance defense team will likely plan to do the same exact thing, except they will only work with medical professionals who want to downplay the severity of your spinal cord injury. When you let our trial attorneys manage your claim from the beginning, you can feel confident that your claim is being built the right way and by a team that genuinely cares about your future and wellbeing.