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The Damages Available in Spinal Cord Injury Cases

[fa icon="calendar"] Jun 15, 2016 3:39:42 PM / by Kristen Collins, Esq.   

Kristen Collins, Esq.

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Spinal cord injuries can be devastating not only on a patient’s quality of life and mental well-being, but also on that of their loved ones. Of course, the impact of such an injury on one’s life is profound, but the exorbitant costs involved in the pursuit of effective medical treatment -- not to mention ancillary expenses -- can make matters even worse.

After all, patients facing high cervical spine injuries are reportedly spending as much as $1 million in the first year and roughly $185,000 each subsequent year. However, many patients suffering from these injuries oftentimes have grounds to file a legal case against a liable party to seek compensatory damages to help defray the mounting costs.

Frequently Cited Causes of Injury

Many spinal cord injuries result from scenarios where a responsible party is at fault. For instance, more than 30 percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by automobile accidents.

Here are some of the most common causes of injuries to the brain and spinal cord:

  • Automobile accidents
  • Falls
  • Unintentional blunt force trauma
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Assaults
  • Sports-related injuries

Potential for Legal Claims

Typically, a lawsuit seeking spinal cord injury damages belongs to one of two basic categories:

  • Negligence: The most common basis for personal injury claims are negligence. Negligence occurs in situations where a person owes a duty to act in a reasonable way but fails to do so, and an injury results from that failure to act accordingly. To prove successful in such a case, you must be able to show a demonstrable obligation and a correlation between the negligent action (or inaction) and the injuries.
  • Faulty (or defective) products: Products liability is a major tenet of consumer law and applies in an injury case where a design or manufacturing flaw in a product leads to a harm of some kind. Moreover, the defect could be tied to inadequate instructions or warnings for the product in question, rendering adequate use far more difficult or harmful than anticipated. As with negligence, in order to have a valid claim against the manufacturer and/or the seller of a product, you must be able to establish an undisputed connection between the defect and the injury itself.

Types of Spinal Cord Injury Damages

Since no cure for spinal cord injuries exists, oftentimes the best course of action for plaintiffs to receive assistance with the astronomical expenses of medical treatment and related costs is to file a lawsuit against a liable party. The resulting compensatory funds may not be able to reverse the damage done, but at least they equip you with the tools you need to begin rebuilding your life.

Here are a few of the types of compensatory damages your case may be able to pursue:

  • Medical expenses: Due to the severity of spinal cord injuries, the most obvious target for damages will be medical expenses, as the potential funds won in court will help pay for some of these costs. Medical expenses may include anything from hospital and doctor’s bills, prescriptions, therapist sessions, rehabilitation, ambulance costs and any necessary assistive devices. Damages obtained for the costs associated with medical expenses are not limited to the costs already paid. Rather, damages for medical care often will include future costs associated with the injury. This is especially true in cases of spinal cord injuries since rehabilitation and recovery from such injuries are fairly certain future medical expenditures. 
  • Lost wages: Just like damages for medical expenses cover past and future expenses likely to be incurred, damages can also come from lost wages and future loss of those wages. Damages can also cover income you’ve been forced to forego because of your limited mobility from your injury, as well as the ensuing hospitalization and recovery. Chances are that your ordeal has led to missing more than a little of work. So a lawsuit designed to compensate you for the various ways in which you’ve suffered at the hands of your injury wouldn’t be complete without addressing the wages you’ve lost both prior to taking legal action and any you’ll be forced to miss in the future, as you work to return to some sense of normalcy following your injury.
  • In-home assistance and renovations: Even when you are able to return home, there’s a very real chance that your lifestyle will undergo some drastic changes following your injury. Spinal cord injury cases can often help compensate you for any assistance you may require at home. This could extend from simple tasks like cleaning, cooking and landscape work, to even transportation services and child care. If deemed necessary, damages could also cover the installation of a wheelchair ramp, widened doorways or any other necessary modifications required to make your home a hospitable environment for your new lifestyle. Granted, every case is different, and the damages you receive to compensate your specific injury will depend on the details of your case and the damages your legal team deems appropriate.
  • Pain and suffering: Few physical and mental ordeals take as much of a toll on a patient as spinal cord injuries. While no amount of money can truly make up for the suffering that accompanies an injury of this scope, this form of damages attempts to compensate one for their pain and emotional distress -- such as anxiety, depression and humiliation --  that result from the physical damage and the accompanying mental anguish associated with spinal cord injuries. However, some tort reform laws may limit the extent to which you may pursue pain and suffering damages. So consult your attorney for details.
  • Loss of consortium: When a life-altering ordeal like a spinal cord injury comes your way, your loved ones are unavoidably affected by it. In fact, your relationships and even your marriage can often suffer during the trying times you’ve endured at the hands of your injury. Loss of consortium damages are designed to compensate them for how they’ve been affected, though the reach of your claims in this regard will again greatly depend on your specific case. It does, however, play an essential role in situations wherein an injury resulted in the death of a loved one, as its scope applies more fully in this case.
  • Punitive Damages: This type of damages intends to punish a defendant for its acknowledged behavior and/or actions that caused tangible harm, and while it may or may not apply to your specific case, you and your legal team should at least consider the role that punitive damages may play with regard to your injury.

An Easier Way

Dealing with the aftermath of a spinal cord injury can be stressful and traumatic enough. In the event that you’re able to minimize any additional suffering, it’s worthwhile to consider legal action to alleviate some of the financial burden this incident has brought upon you and your family.

Because every case brings its own challenges, be sure to reach out to a legal professional to assess the grounds of your specific situation, especially as the laws in your state may make time a key factor in assembling a credible suit. With everything you’ve been through, don’t miss the chance to spare yourself from additional heartache.

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Topics: SCI Law, Injury Law

Kristen Collins, Esq.

Written by Kristen Collins, Esq.

Kristen Collins is an attorney at Swope, Rodante PA and is licensed to practice law in Florida and Georgia. She has a history of supporting causes that directly impact the SCI community and those with disabilities. During law school, Ms. Collins clerked with a prestigious law firm in Atlanta, Georgia, the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, and the ACLU of Georgia. While clerking she advocated for those with disabilities and strived to help those who needed it most. Recently she has been actively involved in Push Nation, an annual Florida event designed to bring together and empower all members of the paralysis community.

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