Spinal cord injuries not only are tragic, they can also be life-threatening. Approximately 250,000 people in the United States currently suffer from spinal cord injuries and there are nearly 11,000 new cases each year.
Spinal injuries are some of the most serious that a person can suffer. The spine is both part of the central nervous system and the literal backbone of the body, so injuries can be painful and debilitating.
What Is the Spinal Cord?
The spinal cord is made up of a bundle of nerves that run from the base of the brain down the middle of your back and ending just above the waist. The nerves in the spinal cord relay information from the body directly to the brain.
The spinal cord is protected by 33 vertebrae, which are ring-shaped bones. A spinal injury might be an injury to one of these bones or to the nerves contained within them. Either type of injury can be devastating to one’s quality of life.
Injuries to your spinal cord can result in a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from inconvenient to life-changing. Common symptoms include:
- Temporary or permanent pain in the neck, back, or head
- Persistent numbness
- Difficulty moving limbs
Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
There are two types of spinal cord injuries: 1) complete and 2) partial.
- Complete: A complete spinal cord injury involves a loss of function below the point of injury and both sides of the body are usually affected. This sometimes results in paralysis of all four limbs (quadriplegia) or paralysis of the lower half of the body (paraplegia).
- Partial: A partial spinal cord injury involves a loss of function that is not as devastating but still can be life changing. Those who suffer from a partial spinal cord injury may be able to move one limb more than another or may have more feeling on one side of their body than the other.
Injuries might be obvious immediately after they occur, or they might take months or even years to manifest. In some cases, whether an injured person receives compensation depends on whether they can prove to the jury that their accident caused the injury and nothing else. For example, in Edwards v. Walsh, a woman suffered a herniated disc in her spine after a car accident. She sued the other driver, who admitted he was at fault for the accident but claimed her injury was caused by a degenerative disease, not the accident. Doctors testified for both sides, and the jury ultimately awarded the woman $289,216 in damages.
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Determining Liability for a Spinal Injury
Most spinal injury lawsuits are about negligence. The basic theory of any negligence case is that the person who caused the injury was not acting with the care a reasonable person would take, and that the injury would not have occurred if that person exercised reasonable care. This concept applies broadly to most types of accidents, from medical malpractice to a car crash.
Who the negligent party is varies from case to case. It might be a drunk driver, a municipal government that didn’t put up proper road signs, or a doctor who improperly treated a patient after a crash. It’s possible to have multiple parties at fault. An experienced personal injury attorney can gather all the facts of an accident and build the strongest possible case against all responsible parties.
How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Affect My Life?
Spinal cord injuries affect one’s life in many ways. A spinal cord injury can result in a very long hospital stay and extremely expensive medical costs. Even worse, spinal cord injuries can lead to permanent paralysis, which may leave a person unable to perform their job or daily tasks.
Even after being released from the hospital, medical expenses during the first year after being the victim of a spinal cord injury can often exceed $100,000. This does not include lost wages or the intangible costs of emotional trauma and lifestyle changes, especially in the case of paralysis.
Spinal injuries can follow someone for the rest of their life. Even after going through treatment at the hospital, there are often complications, including bladder and bowel dysfunction, greater risks of stroke, and reduced sensation and limb function. Dealing with these complications can be expensive. One government study found that the average cost for just medical treatment and living expenses in the first year of a spinal cord injury ranges from $218,504 to $741,425, depending on the severity of the injury.
Spinal Cord Injuries Resulting from a Car Accident
New Jersey is unlike many other states in that it has a no-fault insurance system. This means that every car insurance policy is required to include Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage, which compensates the policyholder and their dependents for injuries suffered in a car accident. PIP coverage is available no matter who is at fault for an accident, so it is the first source of compensation available for someone who suffers a spinal cord injury in an accident.
However, PIP has limits. It only covers what the law calls economic damages, meaning medical bills and lost wages from missing work. PIP does not cover pain and suffering, emotional trauma, or disability, all of which are common for spinal injuries. Additionally, while the law requires PIP to pay for up to $250,000 worth of economic damages for significant spinal injuries, medical bills may exceed this amount.
Receiving full compensation for a spinal injury in a car accident may require filing a personal injury suit against the other driver. Part of New Jersey’s no-fault insurance system is the limitation on lawsuit, or verbal threshold, written into most car insurance policies. The verbal threshold prohibits lawsuits over car accidents unless the person bringing the suit suffered a permanent injury.
A permanent injury does not necessarily mean a serious injury; it only means an injury that a person will not fully recover from. In the case of DiProspero v. Penn, for example, the New Jersey Supreme Court allowed an accident victim who developed lower back pain and difficulty chewing after an accident to sue the other driver, even though the injuries did not prevent her from pursuing a college education or performing household tasks.
Spinal injuries, like the one in DiProspero, are often, but not always, permanent. Proving an injury is permanent involves expert testimony by doctors. Whether an injury is deemed permanent determines whether a case can move forward or is dismissed before it ever reaches a jury. Having an experienced personal injury attorney to make the case that an injury is permanent can make the difference between receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars and receiving nothing at all.
Common Accidents That Cause Spinal Cord Injuries
The following is a list of common causes of spinal injuries, but these are not the only ways spinal injuries may occur.
- Car Accidents (Due to the Negligence of Another Driver)
- Car Rollovers and Roof Crushes (Due to a Defective Part)
- Defectively Manufactured or Designed Products
- Falling from Ladders
- Construction Site Injuries
- Improper Medical Treatment
- Seatback Failures
- Sports-related Accidents
Frequently Asked Questions
In New Jersey, any personal injury case, including spinal injuries, has a two-year statute of limitations. This means anyone who has suffered an injury loses their claim unless they file suit within two years of the injury. If your spinal injury resulted from an accident involving public transportation, a filing must be made within 90 days of the incident.
It is possible to at least partially recover from less severe spinal injuries, but some spinal injuries have lifelong consequences.
Every case is different, and there’s no way to say exactly how much a person will receive. In general, the more severe the injury and the greater the degree of the responsible party’s fault, the more an injured person can receive. It’s not unheard of for victims of severe spinal injuries to receive millions of dollars.
Who Should I Contact if I’ve Suffered a Spinal Injury?
If you or a loved one suffer from spinal cord injuries that were caused by the negligence of another person, contact Rosenblum Law for a free consultation. Our team of experienced New Jersey personal injury attorneys will defend your legal rights and help you get the money you deserve. Contact him today via e-mail or at 888-815-3649.