Damage to the spinal cord is certainly among the most devastating injuries an individual can endure. Because the spinal cord is responsible for communication between the brain and the rest of the body, spinal cord injuries can often result in full or partial loss of motor control and sensation. As such, the physical and emotional ramifications of such an injury can be unfathomable, and the medical expenses involved in treatment and related costs may extend to more than $1 million during the first year (and roughly $185,000 each subsequent year).
Depending on the cause of the spinal cord injury, patients may be able to ease their suffering by pursuing legal action. After all, few families can afford effective treatment without assistance, and patients who have experienced a spinal cord injury because of someone else’s actions deserve compensation for the anguish they’ve endured. However, it all starts with understanding the types of situations where a spinal cord injury actually presents the opportunity for a lawsuit.
Two Types of Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuits
When it comes to spinal cord injuries, lawsuits can generally fall into two primary categories: negligence or products liability. Although, there are other causes of action that could also be basis of a claim, negligence and products liability are the most common. The legal basis for any lawsuit depends upon what caused the physical damage. Causation between the injury and the responsible party must be proven to be successful. We’ll describe each in a bit more detail below.
- Negligence: When an incident occurs that is attributable to an action (or lack thereof), it is typically considered an instance of negligence. Examples of this could be a driver whose behavior on the road is to blame for the automobile accident that caused the spinal cord injury or a fall that could have been avoided if someone had been doing their job properly. In any case, negligence -- the most common argument cited in spinal cord injury lawsuits -- hinges on a specific action or inaction that would have prevented the injury in question.
- Defective products: In the case that a product’s manufacturing or design flaw leads to a spinal cord injury, the prosecution develops an argument based on defective products. For instance, an injury that occurs during an automobile accident because the airbags failed to deploy would be blamed on the defective part of the vehicle that failed to perform as it should have. The companies who designed, manufactured and sold such an item could all be potential defendants in such a case.
Common Actionable Causes of Spinal Cord Injury
While not all spinal cord injuries are readily attributable to an outside influence, the fact remains that some of the most common causes of this debilitating condition can be traced back to an individual or organization that is responsible. In fact, recent research indicates that vehicular accidents comprise roughly 39 percent of spinal cord injuries, and that’s just scratching the surface of potential litigation stemming from the thousands of cases each year.
Here’s a breakdown of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries and why they could lead to a justified lawsuit:
- Automobile and motorcycle accidents: Accounting for 33.71 percent of spinal cord injuries, accidents involving automobiles and motorcycles make up the vast majority of incidents causing spinal cord injuries. Given the high speeds involved and the close proximity of individuals inside the car and between vehicles on the roads, it’s unsurprising that such damage can result from a collision. Naturally, the vast majority of automobile or motorcycle accidents involve two parties. However, one side will likely be more at fault for causing the accident because of some reckless or careless action taken while on the road.
- Slips and falls: Although not every slip or fall will result in serious injuries, sometimes an additional factors can set off a chain of events that lead to a devastating spinal cord injury. In fact, 29.54 percent of such injuries result from some kind of fall. Whether the incident in question involves a wet floor or a defective ladder, there’s a good chance that your accident was caused in part by the influence of some other element that could have otherwise been prevented.
- Gunshot wounds: Perhaps more than nearly every other cause on this list, gunshot wounds can be attributed to an external force. In some cases, these incidents -- which comprise 13.01 percent of spinal cord injuries -- are a clearcut case of negligence or straight-up criminal intent. However, these can also include gunshot wounds that are the result of a faulty product, falling directly within the realm of product liability.
- Sports and recreational activities: In 8.39 percent of spinal cord injuries, sports and recreational activities are the culprit. Diving is the most commonly cited among these. However, the scope of sports-related spinal cord injuries also includes numerous contact sports, which inevitably result in the possibility for negligence from other players, although this can be difficult to prove because of a defense known as “assumption of the risk.” Naturally, the precise circumstances surrounding a sports-related injury will determine whether or not there is a legal cause of action.
- Medical and surgical complications: The extensive medical expenses that spawn from a spinal cord injury are usually a primary motivation in pursuing claims against those responsible for the condition. Ironically enough, 4.7 percent of incidents result from medical and surgical complications. In this case, medical malpractice may be a real possibility, especially if the professionals involved failed to take necessary precautions or were otherwise compromised.
The Pursuit of Justice
A serious spinal cord injury can have life-altering effects on the patient as well as their loved ones, and in many cases, the financial burden of this suffering can largely be alleviated by legal action. If another person or an organization is truly to blame for your tragic turn of events, it’s worth considering a lawsuit.
The viability of such a decision will depend greatly on fault, the severity of the injury and the amount of medical expenses that have resulted. Nevertheless, time is often a critical factor in determining a patient’s ability to file a spinal cord injury lawsuit. If you or someone you care about has experienced a spinal cord injury, investigate the possibility of legal action now while there’s still time to secure legal aid.
Written by Kristen Collins, Esq.Kristen Collins is a former attorney at Swope, Rodante PA. 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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