Spinal Cord Injuries from Automobile Accidents and Motorcycle Accidents
How a Lawyer Can Help Victims of these Traumatic Events
Few injuries can be as devastating as paralysis, the loss of muscle function that occurs when a person’s brain cannot properly transmit messages to one or more parts of the body (as described by the National Institute of Health). Although there are various causations for paralysis,as a personal injury attorney I have seen many cases where individuals become paralyzed most commonly from a car accident, motorcycle accident or other type of traumatic event where they receive injury to their spinal cord.
Spinal Cord Injury Statistics
Published incident rates for traumatic spinal cord injuries in the US range between 28 and 55 injuries per million people, with about 10,000 new cases reported every year. On average there are approximately 200,000 people living in the United States at any given time that have sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury.
The average age of a victim of a traumatic spinal cord injury is 32 years old, with the greatest frequency between 15 and 25 years of age. In addition, males are four times more likely to sustain a traumatic spinal cord injury than females.
The most common cause of injury to the spinal cord comes from the trauma one receives in a motor vehicle accident. According to statistics, approximately 40% of all new spinal cord injuries were reported to have been the result of automobile crashes. Additional causes are violence at 20%, falls at 19% and recreational activities at around 12%.
As a result many victims can become paralyzed, suffering from either complete or partial paralysis. To distinguish this further, an individual can end up with paraplegia, paralysis of the lower half of the body including both of the legs, or quadriplegia, paralysis of the entire body from the neck down.
What is a Spinal Cord Fracture?
Spinal cord injuries usually begin with a blow to the individual’s spinal cord that fractures or dislocates his or her vertebrae. They are divided and categorized in a number of different ways, including location of the fracture, type of fracture, stability of the fracture and severity of the fracture.
Common Fracture Locations
Anterior column – this is the front part of the vertebra, the part that faces into your body. It is the front half of the vertebral body and supports the intervertebral discs.
Middle column – this is the back half of the vertebral body and supports the intervertebral discs and is the key part for spinal stability. A fracture of the middle column of the vertebral body in conjunction with a fracture through either the anterior or posterior column usually results in nerve damage and spinal instability.
Posterior column – this represents the back side of the vertebral body closest to your skin and includes the pedicles, lamina, facet joints and spinous processes.
Spinal cord injuries can occur in the cervical, thoracic or lumbosacral areas of the spine.
Cervical or neck injuries usually result in full or partial quadriplegia. The specific location and severity of the trauma greatly affects the amount of function that may be retained by the victim.
- Injuries at the C1, C2 and C3 levels result in a complete loss of motor and sensory function of the arms and often results in a loss of breathing, necessitating mechanical ventilators.
- Injuries at the C4 level result in significant loss of function of the shoulders and upper arms.
- Injuries at the C5 level result in potential loss of function of the shoulders and upper arms and complete loss of function at the wrist and hands.
- Injuries at the C6 level result in limited wrist control, but complete loss of hand function.
- Injuries at the C7 and T1 levels result in lack of dexterity in hands and fingers, but allows for some use of the arms.
Victims of traumatic spinal cord injuries above the C7 level cannot handle the normal activities of daily living and cannot function independently. As a result, extensive in home nursing care is necessitated to help with the normal activities of daily living.
Complete injuries at or below the thoracic spinal level result in paraplegia. Functions of the hands, arms, neck and breathing are usually not affected.
- T1-8 results in the inability to control abdominal muscles thereby affecting trunk stability. The lower the level of injury, the less severe the effects.
- T9-12 results in partial loss of trunk and abdominal muscle control.
The effects to the lumbosacral region of the spinal cord are decreased control of the legs and hips, urinary systems and bowel control.
- Bowel and bladder function are regulated by the sacral region of the lumbosacral spine. Therefore it is very common to experience loss of bowel and bladder function with any type of traumatic spinal injury that results in paralysis.
- Sexual function is also regulated by the lumbosacral region of the spine. As a result sexual dysfunction is very common when a victim of traumatic spinal cord injury results in paralysis.
Specific Fracture Types
Compression fracture – this type of fracture results in a compression or collapsing of the vertebral body. A minor compression fracture can heal without surgical intervention or long term medical problems. A compression fracture that is in excess of 50% of the normal vertebral height usually results in significant spinal instability and requires surgical instrumentation to stabilize the spine and prevent additional injury such as paralysis.
Burst fracture – a burst fracture is a severe compression fracture that results in the vertebral body essentially being crushed with fractures in multiple places. Because the vertebra is completely crushed, bone fragments can go into the spinal cord or exiting nerve roots causing severe neurological damage or paralysis. Burst fractures almost always require surgical intervention in order to stabilize the spine and prevent additional injuries.
Flexion distraction fractures – a flexion distraction type fracture usually fractures in the posterior and middle columns. It results from a sudden severe forward movement that places more stress on the spine than the body can tolerate.
Fracture dislocation – any type of vertebral fracture which results in significant movement of the vertebral body is classified as a fracture dislocation. This usually results when you have fractures of all three columns of the vertebral body and your spine becomes very unstable. All fracture dislocation injuries require surgical intervention and a high percentage result in severe neurological damage including paralysis.
Stable and Unstable Fractures
Stable fractures usually involve only the anterior column or posterior column of the vertebral body. As long as the middle column stays intact, a victim of a traumatic spinal fracture has a much greater chance of having a stable fracture. With the stable fracture, the spine can usually still carry and distribute your weight and doesn’t cause spinal deformity or neurological problems.
A fracture that involves both the middle column and either anterior or posterior column has a much greater chance to be an unstable fracture, making it difficult for the spine to carry and distribute weight. Unstable fractures can result in vertebral body dislocations which can severe the spinal cord causing paralysis. In addition, unstable fractures can result in the migration of bone chips into the spinal cord which can tear into cord tissue, causing irreparable damage and paralysis.
Major and Minor Fractures
A minor fracture usually refers to a fracture of a part of the posterior column of the vertebra, the parts that are not as vital to spinal stability. A fracture to a spinous process and the facet joints usually is not too serious. A major fracture usually refers to fractures of the vertebral body, the pedicles, or the lamina. A fracture to the vertebral body is major because it carries and distributes so much weight. If it is broken, you can have serious problems with migration of the spinal fragments or proper spinal alignment. A fracture to a pedicle or lamina is major because it usually results in impingement on the exiting nerve roots and possible severe nerve damage. The American Spinal Injury Association defined an international classification based on neurological responses and are graded from A to E, with A being the worst, and E being normal.
- A indicates a complete spinal cord injury where no motor or sensory function is preserved below the site of the injury.
- B indicates an incomplete spinal cord injury where sensory but not motor function is preserved below the neurological level.
- C indicates incomplete spinal cord injury where motor function is preserved below the neurological level and more than half of the muscles have a muscle grade less than 3.
- D indicates an incomplete spinal cord injury where motor function is preserved below the neurological level and at least half of the muscles have a muscle grade in excess of 3 which indicates active movement or full range of motion against gravity.
- E indicates normal motor and sensory function.
How a Lawyer Can Help Victims of Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries
When someone suffers a spinal cord injury in an auto accident, motorcycle accident or other traumatic event, he or she will often need the help of an attorney. This is because a lawyer who is knowledgeable in personal injury can help to properly file the claim and get the support of appropriate experts which will help protect the victim from the enormous expenses that will occur in the future.
Examples of the types of medical expenses and damages that a victim of a traumatic spinal cord injury from an automobile or motorcycle accident can incur include:
- past medical costs
- future medical costs
- physical rehabilitation
- in home nursing care
- medical equipment
- handicap accessible vehicles
- construction costs to modify their home for wheelchair bound individuals
- past and future lost income
- loss of earning capacity
- past and future pain and suffering
- loss of enjoyment of life and companionship
The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra, P.A. and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.