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Tate Hodges - Summer Law Clerk
Tate Hodges - Summer Law Clerk
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Spinal Cord Injuries – Things to Know

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Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are some of the most tragic, prevalent, and costly injuries that occur in the U.S. Thousands of cases are reported each year, and over a quarter of a million Americans are currently living with spinal cord injuries. Automobile accidents are the leading cause of SCI – therefore, an extremely large percentage of the American population is at risk. Falls and violence also contribute to a large number of injuries. SCI are extremely complex and can have drastic, life-altering effects on a person for the rest of their life.

The two most common effects of SCI’s are whiplash and paralysis. Whiplash, most commonly found in rear-end automobile collisions, is caused by a sudden and violent movement of the neck. This movement will likely cause soft tissue damage around the neck. If you think that you have whiplash, the most common symptoms you should look for are pain and stiffness in the neck, headache, nausea, numbness, and loss of balance. These symptoms may not appear immediately after the accident and may take time to manifest. Unlike other SCI’s, whiplash is difficult to diagnose through modern X-ray procedures, so if you think that you have whiplash, it is very important to consult a doctor who specializes in soft tissue damage. The second most common effect of SCI’s, paralysis, is the inability to control the muscles that move the body. SCI’s may render the injured a paraplegic or a tetraplegic. The paraplegic has lost the partial or complete ability to move the legs while the tetraplegic has lost the partial or complete ability to move both the arms and legs. There is a wide range in the severity of paralytic injuries. The extent of the injury largely depends upon the location of the SCI. Generally, the higher the SCI occurs within the spinal column, the more damaging the results, and consequently, the higher the cost associated with the patient’s care.

After the initial SCI trauma, further unnecessary injury may result if the proper steps are not taken by medical professionals who have undertaken the duty to care for the SCI patient. Early measures that should be considered to avoid further injury include methlyprednisone therapy and/or surgery or traction to decompress – or relieve the pressure of – the spinal cord. Methylprednisone is a steroid that, if given up to 8 hours after the injury, can improve neurological recovery by 20%. Directly after a spinal cord injury, it is important to determine whether: (1) methylprednisone was administered or considered; (2) the spinal cord has been decompressed; (3) blood thinners have been administered to prevent dangerous clotting; and (4) the other organs are being cared for to prevent complications. If further injury results because of the failure to consider any of the above, you may have sufficient grounds for a lawsuit against the patient’s health care providers. 

            SCI injuries are extremely costly to treat. The average lifetime health care and living expenses of a person injured at 25 is $3 million, not including loss of earnings or companionship. If the circumstances of the injury are such that other people may have contributed to the initial injury or unnecessarily made the initial injury more severe, you may wish to hire an attorney and file a lawsuit. A successful lawsuit following an SCI will provide much needed financial support for the patient’s care, and may potentially deter others from acting negligently or recklessly in the future. Hiring a lawyer shortly after an SCI provides several helpful advantages. First, the attorney will help you gather all relevant information and evidence that likely will increase the chances of your lawsuit being successful. Second, legal actions have a statute of limitations, which requires that a lawsuit be filed within a certain amount of time. While hiring an attorney following a SCI is not mandatory, it is strongly recommended if it is likely that someone other than the patient may have contributed to the injury.