According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC), an estimated 17,810 new cases of spinal cord injury occur in the US every year. Spinal cord injuries are defined as damage to any part of the spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal, called the cauda equina. That is the clinical definition, but a severe spinal injury that causes paralysis or irreversible damage redefines the life of a victim. If you have suffered a spinal cord injury that caused you to lose function partially or completely, you are likely to face multiple medical procedures and a lengthy and painful recovery. Moreover, it can mean the loss of the ability to do the things we sometimes take for granted: like reaching for your child, walking to the mailbox, or even tying our own shoes.
Causes of spinal cord injury and paralysis
Most spinal cord injuries are due to either direct trauma or compression from fractured vertebrae. The primary injury is from mechanical forces (the trauma). Secondary injury is a “series of biological phenomena” that may involve vascular damage and initial inflammatory response.
In the San Francisco Bay Area and throughout the U.S., motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. Specifically, 31.5 percent of spinal cord injuries were from car crashes, with an additional 6.8 percent from motorcycle accidents—for a total of slightly more than 38 percent of all spinal cord injuries resulting from motor vehicle accidents. Falls were the second most common cause of injuries to the spine.
Anatomy of a spinal cord injury
The spinal cord is a cylindrical-shaped structure that runs through the spine—the bony vertebral column that protects the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the band of tissues, nerves, and cells and is part of the central nervous system that also comprises the brain. Together, the spinal cord and the brain work to send and receive signals from your entire body and coordinate all functions, from moving your fingers to digesting your lunch to breathing—even your emotions, the decisions you make and the thoughts you have.
When you sustain a spinal cord injury, that line of communication between the brain and the body is damaged. This damage to the spinal cord can result in “temporary or permanent changes in sensation, movement, strength, and body functions below the site of injury.”
At birth, we have 33 vertebrae, the interlocking bones that form the spine. During normal growth and development, the vertebrae at the bottom of the spine fuse—meaning that most adults have 24 vertebrae.
The spine is divided into four sections (not including the tailbone):
- Cervical vertebrae (C1-C7) are located in the neck
- Thoracic vertebrae (T1-T12) are in the upper back and are attached to the ribcage
- Lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5) are in the lower back
- Sacral vertebrae (S1-S5) are in the pelvic region
If you suffer a spinal cord injury, the area in which the damage was sustained affects certain body functions. For example, a thoracic injury may affect bladder bowel control and sexual function. Damage to the cervical spine may affect your ability to move your arms or even your ability to breathe, in addition to the effects of a thoracic injury.
There are complete or incomplete spinal cord injuries:
- Incomplete spinal cord injuries are those in which there is some motor control (movement) and/or sensory function (feeling) below the affected area (the area of vertebrae in which the damage occurred).
- Complete spinal cord injuries are those in which both sensory and motor control are lost in the area below the affected area.
The American Spinal Cord Injury Association (ASIA) grades the level of severity of spinal cord injuries with a letter scale:
- ASIA A is a complete spinal cord injury with no motor or sensory function below the level of injury.
- ASIA B means that impairment is incomplete; there is sensory function but no motor function below the neurologic level (the first normal level above the level of injury).
- ASIA C is an incomplete impairment with the motor function below the affected level, but muscles are too weak to move against gravity.
- ASIA D is incomplete impairment below the affected level, and at least half the key muscles are adequately strong enough to move against gravity.
- ASIA E means normal function with unhindered motor and sensory function.
Paralysis occurs when the messages between the brain and the rest of the body are severely disrupted. Paralysis from spinal cord injuries caused by external trauma may result in:
- Paraplegia: paralysis from the waist down, generally affecting both legs, the hips, elimination of bodily wastes, and sexual function.
- Quadriplegia (sometimes referred to as tetraplegia): paralysis below the neck affecting all four limbs as well as the torso.
Pursuing personal injury claims for spinal cord injuries and paralysis
How do you calculate the price of a spinal cord injury? According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, an organization dedicated to spinal cord injury research, the average lifetime cost of spinal cord injuries with paralysis can range from $$1,113,990 for a 50-year-old with an ASIA D level of injury to more than $4,700,000 for a 25-year-old with an ASIA A, B, or C injury. And those costs are likely to increase over time.
There are personal costs as well: the loss of independence, the time spent in rehabilitation, and the challenges of adjusting to a completely new way of life.
The spinal cord injury lawyer at the Law Office of Scott R. Herndon helps those across California, from the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Valley to Southern California and San Diego. Moreover, we provide cutting-edge, skilled assistance in getting our clients the medical and rehabilitative services they need following a severe injury, including:
- In-home health aide or nursing care/assistance with activities of daily living (ADL)
- Medical equipment
- Modifications to living spaces such as ramps, lifts, grab bars, and transfer benches
- Household services such as cleaning and yardwork
- Specialized or modified vehicles
- Psychological counseling
- Vocational training/occupational therapy
In addition to compensation for bills and expenses related to your current and future medical care, our goal is to secure maximum settlements for our clients, including hard costs plus pain and suffering. There may be multiple parties responsible for your injury—not just the motorist who hit you in a collision but also, product defects, roadway design flaws, or other factors.
We have earned a reputation based on the skill and care we take to analyze every case we handle.
Contact us to learn more about your legal options and your right to financial compensation
To schedule a free consultation to discuss your needs, please call The Law Office of Scott R. Herndon at (415) 360-5477 or contact us online. As a nationally recognized law firm, we have successfully represented clients and secured millions of dollars on their behalf. Our goal is to serve you with intelligence, unrivaled attention to detail, and skilled advocacy, to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.