Wilmington Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers
Spinal Injuries & Paralysis
Catastrophic injuries are life-altering. They include severe traumatic brain injury, loss of a limb, or conditions such as paralysis. The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation reports that nearly one in 50 people in the U.S. lives with some form of paralysis - that is, about 5.4 million people.
The leading causes of paralysis include stroke, injuries to the spine, and multiple sclerosis. Only 41.8% of those with paralysis are able to work, and the cost to their families is devastating. If your injuries were caused by the negligence of another party, you may be owed compensation for those injuries.
Types of Paralysis
Paralysis is a loss of muscle function when there is a lack of communication between the brain and muscles. Essentially, the signals or messages that the brain sends are not being transmitted. Paralysis may be:
- Partial: When some muscles are still able to be controlled.
- Complete: A total inability to move the affected muscles.
- Temporary or permanent: With temporary paralysis, the ability to control muscles returns to some degree. Not so with permanent paralysis.
- Spastic or flaccid: Spastic muscles are tight, rigid, and tend to “jerk” (spasm); flaccid muscles shrink and sag.
Partial paralysis is further classified as being localized, when it involves only one area or part, or generalized. Localized paralysis commonly impacts specific areas such as the hands, feet, face, or vocal cords. Generalized paralysis is classified as follows:
- Monoplegia: One limb is affected, such as a leg.
- Hemiplegia: One side of the body is affected, such as the left arm and left leg.
- Paraplegia: Affects the lower extremities - both legs.
- Quadriplegia: Affects both of the arms and both of the legs.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries are a leading cause of paralysis. This is because the spinal cord is the primary pathway for transmitting information between the brain and the body’s muscles. If it is damaged, the nerves may lose their function and cause problems that are mental and emotional in addition to physical. The location of the damage to the spinal cord, and its severity, impact a person’s level of ability to control the muscles beneath that location.
Here are the most common causes of spinal cord injuries:
- Vehicle accidents: Crashes involving automobiles and motorcycles account for almost half of spinal injuries in the U.S.
- Falls: Falls cause spinal injuries about 15% of the time, most commonly among those over 65 years of age.
- Violence: Incidents involving knives, guns, or physical assault account for about 12% of cases.
- Sports and recreation: Account for roughly 10% of cases. Christopher Reeve’s horse-riding accident would be considered a recreational cause of spinal injury and consequent paralysis.
As a side note, alcohol is a potentially contributing factor in about 25% of injuries.
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How Spinal Cord Injury Is Treated
After a potential injury, the spine needs to be immobilized and the injury diagnosed. Traction may be used to better stabilize the spine, but should only be done by trained medical professionals.
Diagnosing these injuries involves various types of scanning or imaging methods. The most basic way to examine the spine is with an X-ray, which will generally show damage to the spinal column. For a closer, more detailed assessment, either a computerized tomography scan (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be employed.
Recovering from a spinal injury, if possible, requires the assistance of several types of medical professionals. If the injury is temporary, a victim may require a neck collar and a special bed until healed. There are also various surgical options available, particularly if the victim has fragments of bone that require removal. Afterward, rehabilitation would be focused on strengthening the muscles in the damaged region, improving motor skills, and working to manage day-to-day tasks through occupational therapy. In addition, physical therapy can be used and would include exercise, stretching, heat, and massage. Common assistive devices for a spinal injury victim, either long-term or short-term, include wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and supportive braces.
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Damages a Victim of Negligence May Recover
- Medical expenses: With severe injuries, your medical expenses can be significant. These damages include long-term future medical costs.
- Lost wages: May include past lost wages and future lost earnings.
- Modifications: Your home may require some renovations such as ramps to accommodate your injuries. In addition, you may recover costs for assistance with daily tasks.
- Pain and suffering: Includes the stress, pain, and anxiety that you endure.
- Punitive damages: If the defendant’s actions presented with aggravating factors of fraud, malice, or willful or wanton conduct to cause the injury, North Carolina law allows an award of punitive damages to punish the defendant and deter similar wrongful acts.
In addition, your spouse may have a claim for:
- Loss of consortium: Compensation for loss of consortium (marital services, society, companionship, sexual gratification, and affection) as a result of your injury. The spouse’s claim must be joined with that of the injured spouse. In North Carolina, the spouse is the only one who can bring a claim for loss of consortium. North Carolina does not recognize claims of parents or children for loss of consortium.
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