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What You Need to Know After Suffering a Spinal Cord Injury

Injuries to any part of the spinal cord or nerve endings can cause permanent damage.

If you or a loved one has recently suffered a spinal cord injury, it’s more than likely a life-changing event. The effects are typically not only limited to physical injuries but also emotional distress that could harm your mental health and compromise your sense of well-being.

There is optimism in the healthcare community that the repair of spinal cord injuries may be repairable someday. However, in the meantime, treatments and rehabilitation might restore some semblance of your life.

Cohen & Marzban has over 45 years of experience in personal injury cases, including spinal cord injuries.

In this guide to what you need to know after suffering a spinal cord injury, we’ll cover:

  • Facts and Figures
  • Types of Spinal Cord Injuries
  • 9 Things to Do After a Spinal Cord Injury
  • What NOT to Say After a Spinal Cord Injury
  • Proving Negligence
  • Do You Need a Personal Injury Attorney?
A healthcare worker visiting a patient in a wheelchair who suffered a spinal cord injury

Cohen & Marzban helps clients to get the compensation they deserve for injuries sustained to their spinal cord or nerve endings.

If you or a loved one suffered spinal cord injuries due to the negligence of another party, our spinal cord injury attorneys stand ready to help you.

Facts and Figures

– Courtesy of the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC).

  • There are about 17,810 new traumatic spinal cord injury cases in the United States each year. (Excluding those who die at the scene of an accident that caused the spinal cord injury).
  • An estimated 294,000 people with spinal cord injuries live in the United States.

Causes

The leading causes of spinal cord injuries are:

  • Vehicle crashes *38.6%
  • Falls 32.2%
  • Violence (mainly gunshots) 14.0%
  • Sport & Recreation 7.8%
  • Medical/Surgical 4.2%
  • Other 3.2%

* Vehicle accidents include:

Historical Lifetime Costs

Spinal cord injury patients stay, on average, approximately 11 days in the hospital acute care unit and 31 days in rehabilitative care.

In addition, about 30% of people are re-hospitalized one or more times during any given year following injury – the length of hospital stay averages about 18 days.

The treatment of spinal cord injuries can be prohibitively expensive.

For example, according to the NSCISC, the health care costs and living expenses for someone with high tetraplegia average $1,149,629 in the first year and $199,637 each subsequent year.

It means the estimated lifetime costs will be $5,100,941 for a 25-year-old and $2,803,391 for a 50-year-old. It does not include indirect costs such as lost wages.

Historical Life Expectancy

The life expectancy for people with spinal cord injuries is significantly less than for other people.

However, mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years.

The causes of death that appear to have the most severe impact on reduced life expectancy are pneumonia and septicemia.

NSCISC has a customizable Life Expectancy Calculator.

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries can be either complete or incomplete.

Complete – A total loss of all motor and sensory functions below the level of injury. Both sides of the body are equally affected. 

Incomplete – Some function remains below the primary level of the injury.

Spinal cord injuries based on the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) grading scale:

  • ASIA A: The injury is complete – the patient has no sensory or motor function
  • ASIA B: A sensory incomplete injury with complete motor function loss
  • ASIA C: A motor incomplete injury, where there is some movement, but less than half the muscle groups are anti-gravity
  • ASIA D: A motor incomplete injury with more than half of the muscle groups being anti-gravity
  • ASIA E: normal

Notes:

  1. Sensory neurons carry signals from receptors to the spinal cord and brain whereas motor neurons carry signals from the central nervous system to effector organs.
  2. Anti-gravity means you can lift body parts, such as your leg, with a full range of motion.

Signs or Symptoms of a Spinal Cord Injury

According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of a spinal cord injury might include one or more of the following:

  • Loss of movement
  • Loss of or altered sensation, including the ability to feel heat, cold, and touch
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
  • Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity, and fertility
  • Pain or an intense stinging sensation caused by damage to the nerve fibers in your spinal cord
  • Difficulty breathing, coughing, or clearing secretions from your lungs

Emergency signs and symptoms

  • Extreme back pain or pressure in your neck, head, or back
  • Weakness, incoordination, or paralysis in any part of your body
  • Numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet, or toes
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Difficulty with balance and walking
  • Impaired breathing after injury
  • An oddly positioned or twisted neck or back

9 Things to Do After a Spinal Cord Injury

If you or a loved one suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident and are able to, we recommend doing the following:

#1. Seek immediate medical attention

Call 911 immediately and, if you can’t, ask someone at the scene to do it for you. Do not wait for the police.

Leave your contact details with the other party and get theirs, if possible.

#2. Do not move the injured party

If you suspect someone has head, neck, or spine injuries, do not move them. Moving them might cause permanent paralysis.

If you have to move them due to an immediate threat, try to support their head, neck, and back while moving them.

#3. Call the police

Vehicle crashes are responsible for 38.6% of spinal cord injuries. 

If you or a loved one were involved in a vehicle accident, attempt to notify the police.

In California, the driver of a vehicle involved in any accident resulting in injuries or death has to make a written report of the crash to the California Highway Patrol or to the police department of the city where the accident occurred within 24 hours. 

If a law enforcement officer comes to the scene of your accident, the officer will prepare a written report. In that case, you need not make a separate written report.

#4. Gather as much evidence as possible

Take photos or record a video of the accident scene. If you cannot, ask someone to do so using their camera or cellphone.

Photographic evidence can help your spinal cord injury lawyer to piece together what happened and who was at fault. It can also protect you if someone later claims you are responsible for your injuries.

#5. Do not leave the scene of the accident

Do not leave the scene of an accident if someone was injured or killed unless you require immediate medical assistance. If you do leave the scene, you can face a hit-and-run charge. Wait for the police to arrive.

#6. Exchange contact information

Obtain the contact information of other parties involved in the accident. It includes their names, addresses, and telephone numbers.

In the event of a car crash, try to get the following additional information:

  • Driver’s license numbers from all drivers
  • License plate(s) and vehicle identification numbers

Get names, addresses, and telephone numbers of passengers and witnesses, if possible. If a law enforcement officer arrives on the scene, write down their name.

Give your contact information to the other parties regardless of who is at fault.

#7. Document your injuries

Document the injuries you or a loved one sustained, or ask someone to help you. The more evidence you have, the better the chances are that a personal injury attorney can seek damages on your behalf.

Photos or videos taken shortly after the event that caused your injuries and details of the extent of your injuries can support your case.

If you are in a hospital, ask a healthcare professional to take photos of your injuries and obtain copies of your medical records.

#8. Make notes of what you remember about the event

Write down everything you can remember about the event while it is still fresh in your mind. Include as many details and observations as possible, even if they seem unimportant.

Going back to the scene of the accident may also jog your memory.

The longer you wait to record details of the accident, the more likely you won’t remember everything.

#9. Report the accident to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMC)

If you have a vehicle accident, you or your insurance agent, broker, or legal representative must report it to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMC) within ten days using an SR 1 form if at least one of the following occurs:

  • Any vehicle or property involved has over $1000 in damage
  • Anyone is injured (no matter how minor the injury) or dies

Many of the above tips refer specifically to vehicle crashes (the most common cause of spinal cord injuries).

However, principles such as seeking medical assistance, gathering evidence, and documenting your injuries don’t only apply to vehicle crashes.

They also apply to falls, acts of violence, and any other event that caused your or your loved one’s injuries.

What NOT to Say After a Spinal Cord Injury

If you or a loved one suffer a spinal cord injury, people may use any of your answers or comments against you or take them out of context.

Here are helpful tips:

  • Do not admit fault or any wrongdoing
  • Avoid saying you are well or not hurt
  • Do not share information not asked of you
  • Withhold the names and contact details of relatives or friends
  • Reject making a recorded statement
  • Decline a quick (low ball) settlement offer from your insurance company

Proving Negligence

To succeed in a personal injury claim for spinal cord injuries, you need to prove the defendant was negligent.

It consists of three key elements, namely:

  1. Duty of care owed – The defendant owed you a duty of care
  2. Duty of care breached – The defendant failed to fulfill their duty of care
  3. Causation – The defendant’s breach of duty was a substantial factor in causing your spinal cord injuries

Evidence that can help you prove negligence includes a police report, eyewitness testimony, photographs, and expert testimony.

Do You Need a Personal Injury Attorney?

Spinal cord injury lawsuits can be complex, time-consuming, and expensive. Without a top attorney at your side, most insurance companies won’t take you seriously

As mentioned earlier in this article, spinal cord injuries can be prohibitively expensive. Lifetime costs can exceed $5,000,000 and do not include indirect costs such as lost wages.

You might be entitled to recover economic and non-economic damages if you or a loved one suffered a spinal cord injury due to the negligence of another party.

Economic damages

  • Emergency medical expenses
  • Future medical treatment
  • Psychological counseling
  • Rehabilitation or physical therapy
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Medical or assistive devices
Physiotherapist helping man in wheelchair

Non-economic damages

  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Emotional distress

Note that the statute of limitations in California for personal injury cases is two years.

California Code of Civil Procedure Section 335.1. states:

“Within two years: An action for assault, battery, or injury to, or for the death of, an individual caused by the wrongful act or neglect of another.”

What if You Are Partly to Blame?

California is a comparative fault state. That means that even if you are partly to blame for suffering a spinal cord injury, you can still be awarded damages.

However, the amount will decline based on your percentage of fault.

For example, if you are 20% liable and the damages total $1,000,000, you will receive $800,000.

Why Choose Cohen & Marzban?

We deliver results!

  • Cohen & Marzban has already recovered $2,000,000,000+ in damages for our clients in personal injury cases!
  • With 45+ years of experience, we know the ins and outs of spinal cord injury lawsuits.
  • Our lawyers leave no stone unturned to gather evidence and get you the best possible settlement. 

We settle most claims out of court. However, if we cannot obtain a fair settlement agreement from the defendant, we will not hesitate to pursue litigation.

 Our list of accolades includes winning The Litigator Award™ – an honor given to only the top 1% of trial attorneys in the United States.

If you need a reputable Los Angeles law firm with the best spinal cord injury attorneys, look no further than Cohen & Marzban.

We offer all new clients a FREE consultation. If we agree to accept your case, we don’t get paid unless you get paid!

Call us at (213) 205-6113 to schedule an appointment. Our phone lines are open 24/7.

Inform us if you cannot travel to our offices due to your injuries. We will gladly send a spinal cord injury lawyer to visit you at home or in the hospital anywhere in Southern California.

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