New York Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer
Each year in the United States, about 12,500 people incur spinal cord injuries, most of which are due to some type of accident. Due to the catastrophic nature of this type of injury as well as the high likelihood of ongoing symptoms and chronic conditions related to it, the victims of spinal cord injuries and their families often face significant injuries.
If you suffered a spinal cord injury in New York that was caused by someone else’s negligent, reckless, or intentional actions, you may be eligible to seek compensation for these expenses through a personal injury claim.
While a lawsuit cannot give you back your mobility, it can ensure that you have the funds necessary to pay for medical treatment, physical therapy, aides and attendants, social services, mobility devices, home modifications or accessible housing, a vehicle that can accommodate you, and more.
What Causes Spinal Cord Injuries?
There are four main causes of spinal cord injuries, which include:
- Motor vehicle accidents, which account for around 46 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
- Falls, which account for 22 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
- Violence, which results in 16 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
- Sports injuries, which cause 12 percent of all spinal cord injuries.
As many as one-quarter of all accidents resulting in spinal cord injuries involve alcohol impairment.
What Are Spinal Cord Injuries?
Spinal cord injuries may result from a sudden blow to the spine that fractures or crushes one or more vertebrae. This type of injury may also result from violence, such as a gunshot or knife wound that penetrates or severs the spinal cord.
Contrary to popular belief, spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis don’t always involve a severed spinal cord. In fact, most people who suffer this type of injury have a spinal cord that is bruised but intact. Unfortunately, the initial damage isn’t the only harm sustained when one suffers a spinal cord injury. After the initial damage occurs, a loss of oxygen and the release of chemicals at the site of the initial injury can cause further damage to nerve cells.
The spinal cord is responsible for coordinating the body’s movement and sensation. Therefore, an injury to the spinal cord often results in loss of sensation and function beneath the site of the injury.
There are two types of spinal cord injuries:
- When an individual can retain some function and sensation below the site of the injury, then the injury is considered incomplete.
- When an individual loses all function and sensation below the site of the injury, the injury is considered complete.
Some of the symptoms of a spinal cord injury—which may vary drastically based on the severity of the injury—are:
- Loss of movement
- Loss of sensation, including the ability to feel heat, cold, or touch
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Exaggerated reflex, or spasms
- Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity, or fertility
- Pain or an intense stinging sensation
- Difficulty breathing or coughing
A severe spinal cord injury isn’t always immediately obvious, which means that the condition may worsen if not immediately recognized. The time between the injury and treatment may be a critical factor in determining the extent of the severity, complications, and expected recovery. If a person is moved after suffering the injury, the condition may also worsen.
The amount of function a person retains in his or her limbs depends on the location of the injury. The spinal cord is divided into four regions, which include:
- Cervical region: This is the area of the spinal cord that is located in the neck and controls signals to the neck, arms, hands, and—in some cases—the diaphragm. Injuries to this area are most likely to result in tetraplegia, also known as quadriplegia, which is loss of sensation and function to the feet, legs, pelvis, torso, chest, arms, and hands. The lower on the neck the injury occurs usually means more function, with some sufferers retaining enough wrist control to operate an adaptive vehicle and complete some personal hygiene tasks as well.
- Thoracic region: This part of the spine is located in the upper back and controls signals to the torso and some parts of the arms. The lower into the thoracic region the injury occurs, the more control the individual has of his or her torso and abdominal muscles.
- Lumbar region: This part of the spinal cord can be found in the mid-back. Injuries to the lumbar region may impact an individual’s ability to control signals to the hips and legs.
- Sacral region: The sacral segment of the spinal cord is located in the lower back. Injuries to this region may impact sensation and function to the groin, toes, and some parts of the legs.
Early treatment of spinal cord injuries is mainly focused on maintaining the individual’s ability to breathe, preventing shock, immobilizing the neck or back to prevent further injuries, and avoiding potential complications such as blood clots in the extremities.
The patient is generally admitted to the intensive care unit and may be transferred to a regional treatment center for spinal cord injuries. The patient may also be given IV medications to reduce swelling of the spinal cord. Generally, after the swelling from the injury goes down, an improvement in function will be noticed.
The fastest rate of recovery for spinal cord injury patients typically occurs within the first six months after the injury. However, smaller improvements in function and sensation may be seen over the first several years. There is no known cure for spinal cord injury.
Additionally, the development of new technologies has given spinal cord injury patients the ability to communicate and complete daily tasks independently through electronic devices.
Around 1.2 million people in the United States are currently living with spinal cord injuries. More than half of these injuries are in the cervical area, a third are located in the thoracic area, and the remainder are mostly in the lumbar region. About 80 percent of those living with spinal cord injuries are male. Those who sustain spinal cord injuries are generally in their teens or twenties, though the age of those living with paralysis is increasing.
What Are Some Complications Related to Spinal Cord Injuries?
The secondary issues related to a spinal cord injury can be numerous. Some of them include:
- Respiratory issues: Respiratory complications are not only a worry immediately after a spinal cord injury has been suffered but also throughout the life of the individual. Respiratory problems may include an inability to produce a sufficient cough, insufficient ability to control the respiratory muscles, and pneumonia.
- Cardiovascular complications: Spinal cord injury victims may have difficulty regulating their blood pressure.
- Urinary and bowel complications
- Spasticity: A frequent condition suffered by spinal cord injury patients, spasticity involves involuntary and often painful muscle spasms.
- Chronic pain: Chronic pain impacts about 80 percent of those suffering from spinal cord injuries. Chronic pain may result in functional disability and may negatively impact the individual’s ability to participate in community gatherings. Nociceptive pain is a chronic musculoskeletal pain caused by abnormal gait, posture, and overuse of the arms and shoulders often caused by the use of a wheelchair. Neuropathic pain is related to damage to the nerves, nerve roots, or the spinal cord itself and may occur either above, at, or below the site of the injury.
- Pressure ulcers: Also known as bedsores, pressure ulcers are a common condition with paralyzed patients who are unable to regularly change their position. Pressure ulcers may be life-threatening as they can become infected and result in the need for further medical treatment and even surgery.
- Osteoporosis: Bone loss after a spinal cord injury generally occurs 12 to 18 months following the injury but can take place over several years.
- Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism: Deep vein thrombosis, which is blood clots in the legs, occurs in 47 to 90 percent of spinal cord injury patients. Pulmonary embolism, which is a blood clot in the lung, occurs in 20 to 50 percent of spinal cord injury patients.
What Expenses Are Associated With Spinal Cord Injuries?
The treatment of spinal cord injuries results in costs to the country’s healthcare system of around $45 billion a year. But how much does it cost each individual to obtain the treatment they need for their injury? Estimated costs are between $320,000 to $985,000 in the first year after the injury, and as much as $5 million during the individual’s lifetime.
Often individuals who have recently suffered a spinal cord injury are solely concerned with the medical expenses involved in treating the injury. However, these injuries can be quite complex and can result in other types of expenses, as well. Some of those expenses include:
- Medical expenses: The medical expenses for treating spinal cord injuries can range in the millions of dollars. Some of the services that are necessary to treat this type of injury include spinal surgery; trauma care that may include the use of a ventilator; hospitalization, which may be extensive; rehabilitation services such as physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, and mental health counseling; long-term care such as the use of in-home aides; medical equipment, such as wheelchairs and home modifications to accommodate the injured individual when he or she returns home. Most spinal cord injuries involve secondary conditions that may result in the further need for treatment throughout the life of the individual.
- Travel: Spinal cord injury patients often have to travel far from home to participate in treatments not available in the region where they live. This travel comes with associated costs such as the cost of airfare, lodging for family members, eating out on the way to and from the hospital, parking, and tips for valet and other services.
- Lost wages and earning potential: One year after suffering a spinal cord injury, fewer than 12 percent will be employed. 20 years after the injury, only 35 percent will be employed. If an individual can return to his or her job after suffering a spinal cord injury, there will have been a significant amount of lost wages due to hospitalization and the need to miss work to attend medical appointments. Many spinal cord injury sufferers can work, but cannot perform the same duties that were part of their job descriptions before their accidents. Their injuries may force them to accept lower paying jobs.
- Other expenses: Those who have experienced a spinal cord injury will often require mental health services to cope with the extreme changes to their employment and lifestyle. These extreme changes can produce non-economic costs in the form of impacts to the person’s quality of life, including pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.
What About Life Expectancy?
Death from a spinal cord injury and related complications are most likely during the first year, and among the most severely injured individuals.
Complications from the injury can result in death. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death for spinal cord injury patients. Other conditions that can dramatically shorten an individual’s life expectancy after a spinal cord injury include pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, and infection from pressure ulcers.
For a ventilator-dependent patient over the age of 60, life expectancy after the injury is about 1.5 years. For a 20-year-old injury victim who has preserved motor function, the life expectancy is about 52.6 years. The life expectancy of spinal cord injury patients has not changed much during the past three decades.
If someone’s negligence robbed you of a portion of your life in this way, you deserve the compensation that an experienced spinal cord lawyer can help you recover.
Call Jacoby and Meyers if You Suffered a Spinal Cord Injury in New York
Have you or a loved one suffered a spinal cord injury that was caused by someone else? Let our experienced New York spinal cord injury lawyers help you to understand your legal options.
Jacoby & Meyers, LLP
39 Broadway Suite 1910,
New York, NY 10006