The spine is not just one long bone going from your neck to your waist; it has many different sections and each one controls the functions of a different part of the body. When the spinal cord is injured, the consequences can be disastrous. There are 17,000 new cases of spinal cord injury (SCI) each year in the U.S., and it is the cause of many missed work days, lost wages and high medical bills for many Americans. When it happens as a result of someone else’s negligence, being fairly compensated can be just as long of a process as the recovery. An experienced Chula Vista spinal cord injury attorney can help.
The spine is an incredibly nuanced and complicated part of the body that one has to study their whole lives to be an expert in it, and even then it might not be enough. Basically, the spine, along with the brain, more or less controls every function your body ever has. These are the different parts of the spinal cord:
A back injury does not necessarily mean you’ve suffered a SCI, and it’s possible to break your back or your neck and not suffer a spinal cord injury. Seeking care as early as possible after an injury is incredibly important, so that complete recovery remains possible. The effects of a SCI injury are numerous and they include chronic pain, low blood pressure, bladder dysfunction and the inability to sweat below the point of injury. The effect from an injury is different depending upon where on the spine it occurs.
Obviously with so many different parts of the spine, an injury to one part of it means something very different than an injury to another. A SCI in the neck is usually traumatic and has lifelong effects, while injuries to the lumbar region can usually be treated with drugs or physical therapy. Even the difference in injury effects from one vertebra to the next is huge.
Where on the spine an injury occurs matters in terms of figuring out the severity of the injury and a recovery prognosis, but where exactly on the vertebra the injury occurs can matter just as much. There are four places on a vertebra that can sustain an injury, and different parts of the body will experience loss of function or feeling:
These types of injuries involve a break, fracture or compression of one of the vertebra in the spine. Many people function normally, although in a good amount of pain, with pinched nerves and sprains, but a SCI typically proves to be debilitating in some form or another. There are many stories of people with Cervical cord injuries who learn to walk again, but rarely does that happen.
While data isn’t available for Chula Vista specifically, approximately 39 percent of all new spinal cord injuries nationwide happen due to a motor vehicle accident (about seven percent of those are from motorcycle accidents), which is far and away the most common cause. Falls are the next most common cause, accounting for 29 percent of SCI. Sports injuries are not as big of a culprit of SCI as one may think, with just over eight percent in the last ten years. And contrary to popular belief, there have been 11 times the spinal cord injuries due to diving than there have been due to football. Some other facts about spinal cord injury:
Once a person suffers a spinal cord injury, there is usually one thought which prevails above all others: will I be able to walk again?
The chances of walking again in any capacity after a SCI really depends upon whether it is diagnosed as a complete or incomplete injury. According to the American Spinal Cord Association, a complete injury means that the person has no sensory or motor function in the perineal or anal region, which is the S-4 and S-5 of the sacral region. To put it in more succinct terms, the person has no function whatsoever below the injury level. A complete injury does not necessarily mean that the spinal cord has been severed, but clearly significant damage has been done.
Otherwise, it is diagnosed as an incomplete injury, which is broken down into three different groups depending on the severity:
Recovery time, or whether the person will recover at all, has to take all of these factors into account. For a cervical injury, the chances of any motor function recovery at all is less than 10 percent. Even if motor function is recovered, loss of sensory function will likely still be significant or complete. The less severe the injury – that is, the lower on the spine – the greater the chance of walking again. Motor incomplete SCI patients are given a 75 percent chance of walking again, although it will likely be with aids such as braces or crutches.
Another thing that makes a big difference is the age at which the injury occurs. Motor incomplete injuries to someone less than 50 years old has an 80 percent chance of recovery while someone older has less than half that chance. The average life expectancy, in terms of number of years survived after the accident, obviously is dependent upon the person’s age at the time of the accident as well. A 20-year old who suffers a catastrophic SCI and is ventilator dependent lives another 19 years on average. If the person is 60, they only live for another two years.
In California, the statute of limitations for any personal injury claim is two years – and spinal cord injury cases are no different, starting from the time of the accident. However, this differs a bit depending on the injured person’s age and the severity of that injury. For example, if the injury happened to someone under the age of 18, they would have until their 18th birthday plus two years to file a claim. If the claim is against a government agency, a written intent of filing a claim must be sent to them within 60 days. Exceptions can be made if the person is incapable or mentally incapacitated to file a claim.
California is a comparative negligence state, which means that if you are awarded a $100,000 settlement, but are 25 percent at fault, you would only receive $75,000 of that. You are entitled to seek compensation, not just for medical bills, but for any lost wages, happiness or consortium (18 percent of people with an SCI are no longer married five years after the fact) that the injury has caused.
When hiring a Chula Vista spinal cord injury attorney, it’s important to choose one who has experience in this specific area, rather than a general personal injury lawyer. The Law Offices of Howard Kitay not only has that experience, but the expertise to handle your spinal cord injury lawsuit. We pay attention to every detail, and we always strive for the highest compensation possible for all the pain, physical and emotional, that the injury has caused.