Fort Myers Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer
Fort Myers Spinal Cord Injury Attorney
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, about 17,700 new spinal cord injuries are reported each year, not counting those suffered by individuals who died from their injuries. Approximately 288,000 people are currently living with a spinal cord injury, and many will require life-long care. If you acquired a spinal cord injury in Fort Myers due to an accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, you may qualify for compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. An experienced spinal cord injury lawyer can help you understand your legal options.
What Is a Spinal Cord Injury?
As explained by Mayo Clinic, a spinal cord injury (SCI) involves damage to any part of the spinal cord—including the vertebrae, ligaments, or disks—or nerves at the end of the spinal canal. The spinal cord is about 18 inches long, extending from the base of the head to near the waist. The spinal cord is divided into four groups, including:
- Cervical vertebrae, located in the neck
- Thoracic vertebrae, in the upper back
- Lumbar vertebrae, in the lower back
- Sacral vertebrae, in the pelvis
A traumatic spinal cord injury results from a sudden blow to the spine that fractures, dislocates, compresses, or crushes one or more of the vertebrae. Motor vehicle accidents and falls are among the most common causes of this type of injury. Symptoms of SCI include:
- Extreme pain or pressure in the head, neck, or back
- Loss of sensation in the hands, fingers, feet, or toes or altered sensation, such as the inability to feel items that are hot or cold to the touch
- Difficulty breathing
- Partial or complete loss of function in a body part
- Urinary or bowel incontinence
- Exaggerated reflexes, or spasms
- Difficulty with walking or balance
- Unusual lumps on the head or spine or an oddly positioned neck or back
Doctors will evaluate individuals with a suspected spinal cord injury using diagnostic tests, according to American Nurse Today. The tests used to diagnose SCI include radiologic evaluations as well as standardized testing tools. SCIs are then rated as to the type of damage that has been done based on the lowest normally performing area of the spine and the ability of the limbs to function. There are two types of SCI:
- Complete: All feeling and ability to control function below the damaged area of the spine.
- Incomplete: Some sensation and/or motor function exists below the site of the injury.
Paralysis, which is the loss of sensation and motor function, is categorized as either:
- Tetraplegia, also known as quadriplegia, which features loss of sensation and motor function in the arms, legs, trunk, and pelvic region of the body, or
- Paraplegia, which is loss of sensation and motor function in the trunk, pelvis, and legs.
Men constitute 78 percent of new SCI cases, with the average age of those suffering a spinal cord injury up from 29 years in the 1970s to 43 years currently. More than 38 percent of SCIs are caused by motor vehicle accidents, with falls as the cause of another 31.6 percent. Other causes include sports, violence, and medical or surgical procedures.
Spinal cord injuries in the U.S. come with a societal cost of about $9.7 billion a year. $1.2 billion of that cost is the result of the treatment and complication of pressure sores, which are commonly suffered by those with SCI.
What Is Involved in the Treatment of SCI?
The treatment of SCI usually begins before the patient even reaches the hospital, when the emergency medical responders immobilize the spine at the scene of the accident. This early treatment then proceeds in the emergency room with further stabilization as well as diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, and addressing immediate, life-threatening complications of the injury. Afterward, treatment may include:
- Traction to bring the spine into proper alignment and improve blood flow to affected organs and limbs.
- Surgery to relieve compression of a herniated disk, blood clots, or other lesions on the spinal cord.
- Maintenance of regular blood pressure.
- Monitoring of cardiovascular function.
- Adequate ventilation and lung function.
- Preventing and addressing infection and other complications from the injury.
The most common complication of SCI is the impairment of the respiratory system, which may result in the patient needing to be intubated for mechanical ventilation. The higher up on the spine the injury is, the more likely that the patient will have to remain on a ventilator for the rest of his or her life.
In any given year, about 30 percent of all Americans suffering from a spinal cord injury will be re-hospitalized due to complications of the injury. Ongoing medical issues that can lengthen the patient’s stay in the hospital or can cause them to be re-hospitalized include:
- Temperature deregulation, due to the patient’s inability to sweat or shiver
- Acute gastrointestinal problems
- Urinary retention issues that require the placement of a catheter
- Muscle spasticity that can result in chronic pain, sleep disturbances, and bone density loss
- Pressure sores, also known as bedsores, as well as skin problems relating to low blood pressure, friction, moisture, and poor nutrition
The vast majority of patients with SCI are discharged from the hospital before their recovery is complete. After discharge, additional medical interventions will likely be necessary, including:
- Rehabilitation in either a medical facility or in-home
- Assistance with personal care and management of complications from the injury
- Medications to help with effects of the spinal cord injury, including medications that control pain and muscle spasticity, and those used to improve bladder control, bowel control, and sexual functioning
- Psychological counseling for the patient and his or her family members as they cope with the stresses that the injury caused
Most of a patient’s ability to recover will take place within the first six months after injury, though some people experience small improvements for as long as a year or two.
As reported by the University of California, San Francisco, the common protocol for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating new spinal cord injuries has been somewhat ineffective due to the presence of other injuries that may cause the patient to seem less mobile than he or she really is. Doctors at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center have now set a new standard of care for their patients suffering from spinal cord injuries. This standard includes:
- Tests that check for the patient’s own blood flow to the spine so that they can artificially boost the blood flow to reach the individual’s own resting pressure rather than simply artificially increasing everyone’s blood pressure to the spine in the same way and to the same number, regardless of the age or general health of the patient.
- Getting the patient into surgery sooner, preferably within the first 12 hours after the injury takes place. Previously, surgery was held off for at least two days so that doctors could evaluate the patient’s mobility. However, by performing the surgery earlier, decompression of the spinal cord can happen sooner, as well as a fusion to stabilize the vertebrae.
By improving blood pressure to the spine and operating sooner rather than later, patients are achieving a faster and better recovery. One patient who underwent this new protocol was walking with the aid of a walker within a month and a half, and had gained most of his motor control within four months. He can now walk unassisted for more than a mile, climb stairs, and even lift weights. At the time of the UCSF publication, that patient continued to work on improving his hand dexterity.
Another treatment showing promise for those suffering spinal cord injuries is the use of stem cell injections. As explained by the Mayo Clinic, which is currently conducting a stem cell therapy clinical trial on SCI patients, the injection of stem cells is designed to enable recovery without the use of surgery or medications.
The stem cells are harvested from the patient’s own tissue from the abdomen or thigh. The cells are then developed into the type of cells needed for the patient after four to six weeks in the lab. They are delivered to the patient without the use of an implantable device or surgery and it does not require maintenance of the device throughout the patient’s life. Mayo has already conducted successful clinical trials using stem cell therapy for neurodegenerative disease. The hope for SCI patients is that the stem cells will reduce inflammation following SCI and promote regeneration of spinal nerve fibers to promote function.
The Mayo Clinic stated in its search for clinical trial candidates that, while scientists already know that stem cells promote nerve regeneration, questions still need answers, such as the optimal time for the treatment, the most effective mode for delivering stem cells to the body, and the optimal number and type of stem cells. Phase 1 of the Mayo study is scheduled for completion in late 2023.
How Does Florida Law Protect Those Suffering from SCI?
Depending on factors such as the severity of the injury, neurological impairment, and the educational and employment history of the patient before the accident, those suffering from SCI can expect expenses related to the injury of up to a million dollars or more for the first year, and more than $100,000 per year for the rest of their lives. The life expectancy of someone dealing with SCI is significantly lower than those who are not. Premature death due to SCI complications most commonly feature pneumonia and septicemia.
Because a spinal cord injury is such a significant injury, Florida’s personal injury law allows for victims to seek compensation for SCIs caused by someone else’s negligence or recklessness, even in the case of car accidents, where there is a serious injury threshold that must be met before a personal injury suit can be filed.
The Florida serious injury threshold includes injuries that:
- Cause significant and permanent loss of an important body function
- Are permanent, within a reasonable degree of medical probability
- Cause significant or permanent scarring or disfigurement
- Lead to the claimant’s or the claimant’s loved one’s death
To obtain compensation from an at-fault party in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must be able to prove that the at-fault party’s actions were negligent. Negligence is established by proving the following:
- The defendant (at-fault party) owed the plaintiff (claimant) a duty of care. This duty of care depends on what was happening when the accident occurred. For example, the duty of care in a car accident case would be the duty to obey traffic laws and drive the vehicle safely.
- There was a breach in this duty of care that resulted in an accident.
- The accident was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries and financial damages.
A personal injury lawsuit may result in compensation for the following expenses:
- Past, current, and future medical expenses
- Lost wages from work, including time spent traveling to and from appointments
- Permanent disability
- The cost of hiring someone to complete household chores that you can no longer do
- Emotional distress, including anxiety or depression
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium, which means the injury has interfered with your familial relationships
- Any property that was damaged in the accident
- Other expenses that were a direct result of your injury including the cost of wheelchairs and adaptive features on your car or in your home
Even if you were partially responsible for the accident that caused your injuries, you may still qualify for compensation through Florida’s comparative negligence standard. This standard means that you may file a personal injury lawsuit, but a court will reduce your damages award by the amount of responsibility you bear. For example, if you are 20 percent responsible for causing the accident that resulted in your injuries, a court will reduce your award by 20 percent.
Fort Myers Spinal Cord Injury FAQ
More than 17,000 people in the U.S. suffer a spinal cord injury each year, and more than 300,000 people are currently living with this type of injury. Around 59 percent of these people cannot move their arms or legs. Many cannot breathe on their own. 77 percent of the people who suffer a spinal cord injury become unemployed after the injury takes place, while the lifetime costs of treating the injury often fall in the range of $5 million.
Spinal cord injuries, in other words, constitute some of the most serious injuries imaginable. If someone else’s negligence or reckless behavior in the Fort Myers-area caused you or a loved one to suffer a spinal cord injury, then you may have the right to obtain compensation for your expenses and the significant impacts the injury has had on your life. An experienced Fort Myers spinal cord injury lawyer can help.
What is a spinal cord injury?
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves housed within the bony protection of the spinal canal, which extends from the base of the skull to the tailbone. The spinal cord, along with the brain, makes up the body’s central nervous system that controls the movement of the limbs and other body functions.
Contrary to popular belief, spinal cord injuries do not always involve a severed cord. In fact, the majority of spinal cord injuries leave the cord intact. A typical injury to the spinal cord instead involves damage to the nerves that results in loss of function and sensation below the site of the injury, which is known as paralysis. Injuries to the spinal cord may be described as complete, meaning a total loss of function below the injury site, or incomplete, meaning that the injured person has retained some sensation or function below the site of the injury.
The severity of the impacts of a spinal cord injury often depends on the area of the spine that the injury affects. The spine is divided into four regions:
- The cervical region: The segments of the cervical spine are located in the neck. These segments are referred to as C1-C8, and they control the signals to the arms, hands, and diaphragm. Because this is the highest portion of the spine, an injury in the cervical region may result in tetraplegia, which is the loss of sensation and function to all limbs, torso, and pelvis. Those suffering injuries to C1-C3 may lose the ability to breathe on their own and require a ventilator. Injuries to C5-C8 often allow for some movement in the shoulders, biceps, wrists, and hands. This movement may be enough to allow the individual to eat and complete personal grooming tasks independently.
- The thoracic region: The thoracic region of the spine is located in the upper back and is made up of 12 segments, known as T1-T12. This region relays signals to the torso and some parts of the arms. Individuals with injuries to this region may experience paraplegia, which is the loss of function and sensation of the legs. If the injury takes place higher up in the thoracic area, the injured person may have lost function of the torso, resulting in abdominal muscle loss. Those suffering an injury in T8-T12 generally maintain movement of the torso and retain abdominal muscle control.
- The lumbar region: The lumbar region is located in the mid-back. It comprises five segments, which are referred to as L1-L5. This region of the spine controls movement to the hips and legs. Those with injuries to L4-L5 may often extend their knees.
- The sacral region: The sacral region is located below the lumbar region and controls signals to the groin, toes, and some parts of the legs. This area is made up of five segments, known as S1-S5.
What are the most common causes of Fort Myers spinal cord injuries
Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries, resulting in almost half of all new spinal cord injuries each year. Other common causes of this type of injury include:
- Falls: Falls are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries in individuals over the age of 65, and account for around 31 percent of all new spinal cord injuries.
- Acts of violence: Violence, including assault or even gunshot wounds, results in about 13 percent of all new spinal cord injuries in the U.S.
- Sports and recreation: Around 10 percent of all new spinal cord injuries are the result of sports and recreational activities. The most common culprits in this category include diving, surfing, and high impact sports, such as football.
Alcohol use is a factor in around one-quarter of all new spinal cord injuries. This type of injury most commonly affects males, who account for 80 percent of all new spinal cord injuries. More than half of all spinal cord injuries take place in the cervical area, and a third occur in the thoracic area. The rest mostly involve the lumbar region of the spine. The average age at the time of injury is 43 years old.
What complications and expenses can a spinal cord injury survivor expect to face?
The spinal cord has a limited ability to heal itself. Currently, few options can increase function in affected areas after an injury. A spinal cord injury thus results in health complications, many of which require expensive, long-term medical treatment.
Some of the most common complications experienced by victims of spinal cord injuries include:
- Loss of bladder control, which may result in urinary tract infections.
- Loss of bowel control, which can cause complications, such as a bowel obstruction.
- Loss of skin sensation, which can make the injured person prone to bedsores. Bedsores are a leading cause of infection in people suffering from spinal cord injuries.
- Circulatory issues, which may result in low blood pressure, high blood pressure, or swelling. These issues increase the risk of blood clots in the legs, known as deep vein thrombosis, which can result in a fatal condition called a pulmonary embolism. Pulmonary embolisms are caused when the blood clot travels from the legs to the lungs.
- Respiratory issues. The most common cause of premature death in individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury is pneumonia, which can result from the body’s inability to use the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to cough up secretions in the lungs.
- Spasticity or flaccidity, which involves an involuntary tightening of muscles and a lack of muscle tone. Each of these conditions can result in a need for medical intervention. Spasticity may result in chronic pain, while flaccidity may cause issues with respiration.
- Sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
- Nerve pain, which is more common in those suffering an incomplete injury.
- Depression. About 20 to 30 percent of all individuals experiencing a spinal cord injury will show significant signs of depression.
Those suffering high tetraplegia as a result of their injuries can expect to incur more than a million dollars in medical expenses in the first year of injury treatment alone. Subsequent years of their lives will come with a medical price tag of around $184,000 for the treatment of complications. Those who experience low tetraplegia can expect more than $700,000 in first-year medical expenses, and around $113,000 in medical expenses during the following years. Individuals who suffer paraplegia can expect a first year of treatment to cost around $518,000, and subsequent expenses of around $69,000 each additional year.
Spinal cord injury patients should expect to stay in acute care at the hospital for anywhere from 10 to 21 days after their accidents. Once released from acute care, injured individuals generally require up to two months of rehabilitation; 87 percent are then discharged to return home, and many require modifications to their homes to accommodate their injuries. Some home modifications that are necessary include wheelchair ramps, widened doors, lifts, lowered countertops, automatic door openers, and roll-in showers. Depending on the severity of the injury, the individual may also need a hand-controlled vehicle or a handicapped-accessible van for transport.
In spite of being two to five times more likely to die prematurely than the general population, 81 percent of individuals who survive their initial spinal cord injuries are still alive ten years later. However, 30 percent of individuals living with spinal cord injuries can expect to be re-hospitalized for treatment of complications of the injury in any given year. The average length of the hospital stay for this treatment is 19 days.
The expenses involved in treating spinal cord injuries don’t just fall upon the injured. Because those suffering spinal cord injuries often cannot work or afford health insurance, the treatment of spinal cord injuries costs the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $40.5 billion each year.
Is there any cure?
There is currently no cure for the damage caused by a spinal cord injury. However, research projects and medical trials involving nerve cell transplantation, nerve regeneration, and drug therapy could prevent the progression of an injury and enable increased function.
How can a Fort Myers spinal cord injury lawyer help me?
If you’ve suffered a spinal cord injury, you likely have serious questions as to how you’re going to pay for the high costs associated with this type of injury. If someone else’s negligent actions caused your injuries, then a personal injury lawsuit may provide you with the financial compensation that you need to pay for treatment.
If you sustained your injuries in an automobile accident, your spinal cord injury will likely meet the serious injury threshold in Florida, as it is a permanent injury causing loss of function. What this means is that you may qualify to seek compensation through a personal injury lawsuit, despite Florida’s no-fault auto insurance laws.
A personal injury lawsuit may help a spinal cord injury victim to seek compensation for damages, including:
- Medical expenses, including ambulance or air transport, emergency services at the accident scene, as well as the emergency department, hospitalization, diagnostic testing, surgical services, prescription medication, and rehabilitation.
- Estimated future expenses based on the severity of an injury and the likelihood of complications.
- Expenses related to home and vehicle modifications that are necessary to accommodate the injury.
- Loss of wages due to being too injured to work or missing work for injury-related medical appointments.
- Loss of future earning capacity, if an injury prevents a person from returning to a job in the same capacity or results in an inability to work at all.
- The cost of hiring someone to perform household or personal care services that the person can no longer perform on their own.
- Emotional distress, and physical or mental pain and suffering.
- Loss of consortium, which is the loss of physical intimacy and companionship that is often suffered by the spouses of individuals with spinal cord injuries.
- In some cases, where the at-fault party’s behavior that caused the accident was particularly egregious, a court may award punitive damages. Punitive damages are damages beyond the expenses of an injury, designed to punish the at-fault party and discourage that individual from exhibiting similar behavior in the future.
To pursue compensation in a personal injury lawsuit, a plaintiff must show that the at-fault party caused the accident. Liability is established by demonstrating the following:
- The at-fault party owed the victim a duty of care. This duty of care depends on the type of accident and the at-fault party’s role in that accident. For example, in a car accident case, the duty of care that one driver owes to another is to operate the motor vehicle safely and legally.
- There was a breach in this duty of care.
- The breach in care resulted in the accident, which in turn caused the spinal cord injury.
Let us help you understand your legal options for pursuing compensation after suffering a spinal cord injury. For a case evaluation in Fort Myers, contact us now.
Call Viles & Beckman’s Fort Myers Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers Today
Spinal cord injuries cause lasting and expensive damage, but we can help recover compensation to access the care and services you need. As advocates for the injured since 1995, Viles & Beckman provide experienced representation of spinal cord injuries and the people who have suffered them in Fort Myers and beyond. We believe that your rights and your recovery are our responsibility. Contact Viles & Beckman online or by calling 239-334-3933 today for a consultation and case review.