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Most traumatic spinal cord injuries are associated with vehicular accidents. Most of the victims are either the driver or a passenger in a vehicle, but we also handle cases where the injured person was walking on the street (generally a crosswalk where pedestrians have the right-of-way), or someone riding on a bicycle or motorcycle.
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerve cells and their projections (called axons) approximately 1 ½ feet long that extends from the brain down the back. It is housed in the spinal column, a collection of 33 interconnected bones called vertebrae. There are three types of vertebra: cervical (neck bones), thoracic (chest area) and lumbar (lower back).
A sudden or traumatic blow to the spinal column can displace spinal disc material, free ligaments, or fracture the vertebrae which can then bruise, compress, penetrate, or cut the spinal cord. The degree of severity of the injury will depend on the level (higher or lower) of the injury and the type of injury. The most severe form of injury is a complete severing or “transaction” of the cord (called a complete spinal cord injury), but this is rare.
These injuries can result in changes in the ability to move and feel parts of the body, loss of bladder control, and loss of other bodily function. The spectrum of injury runs from complete recovery to complete paralysis.
In the immediate period after a spinal cord injury a phenomenon know as “spinal shock” may ensue. During this period the spinal cord shuts down and little function can be detected. Upon coming out of this period of shock the doctors may begin to observe reflexes in the arms and/or legs. The extent of the spinal cord injury can be assessed once the spinal cord recovers from this initial “shock”.
The neurons in the spinal cord do have limited ability to be repaired. Under the right conditions the axons mentioned above can actually repair and reconnect themselves following injury. The repair of the nerve cells and their axons in the spinal cord then leads to “recovery of function”.
Some complications of spinal cord injury include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Bowel or bladder retention or incontinence, that is, inability to control the bowels or bladder;
- Paralysis (full or partial) of the legs or arms (a broken neck can result in quadriplegia);
- Ataxia (loss of balance); and
- Kidney disease/failure.
- Medical expenses;
- Past earnings;
- Future earning capacity;
- Cost of care; and
- Pain and suffering , including physical pain, emotional distress, disability and loss of quality of life.
A lawsuit against a negligent driver (and others) should seek enough compensation to make sure the accident victim has the resources he or she needs for life. Because of this, it is a good idea to hire an attorney who has won multimillion dollar settlements and verdicts.