Car Accidents and Spinal Cord Injuries


Are you or is someone you love among the estimated 276,000 people in the U.S. who are living with a spinal cord injury? If so, it is quite likely that the injury occurred in a motor vehicle accident and that you have questions about life ahead.

Spinal Cord Injury: A Life Ahead

The good news is that there is a life ahead after a spinal cord injury (SCI), though it may have some limits. Twelve percent of those with a spinal cord injury can expect to be employed a year later. Twenty years after their injury, about 33 percent of SCI sufferers are employed.

The Shepherd Center, a private, not-for-profit hospital in Atlanta that specializes in medical treatment and rehabilitation of people with spinal cord injuries, says more than eight out of 10 people who survive the first 24 hours with a spinal cord injury are still alive 10 years later.

Even a 60-year-old patient who suffers an injury that leads to paraplegia or low tetraplegia (C-5 to C-8) has a life expectancy of more than 10 years, according to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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Each year, 12,000 to 12,500 people in the U.S. suffer a spinal cord injury. Approximately 80 percent of spinal cord injuries occur among males. Their average age is 42, but about 60 percent of them are 30 years old or younger.

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Car accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injury, accounting for about a third of injuries, according to the NSCISC. Falls are the second leading cause.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

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A traumatic spinal cord injury is damage that results in a loss of mobility and feeling caused by an accident or violence. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that connect the brain to the rest of the body. It is about 18 inches long and extends from the base of the brain down the middle of the back to about the waist.

When a person has no sensation or voluntary movement below the level of the injury, the spinal cord injury is described as complete. It is described as incomplete, which means the person has some feeling or movement below the point of injury. The injury is described by the closest vertebrae, such a C-1, T-1, L-1 or S-1, for the first cervical (neck) vertebrae, thoracic (back), lumbar (lower back) or sacral (pelvic) vertebrae. The higher the injury on the spine (which runs from C-1 to S-5), the more widespread its effect.

Loss of sensation and movement is known as paralysis. Paraplegia is paralysis of all or part of the legs and pelvic organs. Tetraplegia affects the arms, hands, trunk, legs and pelvic organs.

The typical outcome of spinal cord injury that causes paralysis is:

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There is no cure for spinal cord injury, but as swelling from the injury decreases, less pressure on the spinal cord may result in some recovery. Less than one percent of people with SCI experience complete neurologic recovery before being discharged from the hospital. It may be possible to regain additional function as time goes on, but few people regain full function after a spinal cord injury.

Hospitalization with Spinal Cord Injury

The average stay in the acute care unit of a hospital after a spinal cord injury has declined from is approximately 11 days followed by rehabilitation.

The average number of days in rehabilitation after hospital discharge is approximately 36 days.

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About 30 percent of people with SCI are hospitalized one or more times during a 12-month period. The length of stay averages about 22 days. A return to the hospital is likely to be caused by an infection or disease of the:

  • Genitourinary system
  • Skin
  • Respiratory system
  • Digestive system
  • Circulatory system
  • Musculoskeletal system.

Costs of Spinal Cord Injury

The average annual health care and living expenses and the estimated lifetime costs that are directly attributable to SCI vary greatly according to the severity of the injury. The figures below do not include indirect costs, such as lost wages, fringe benefits, and productivity, which average $71,961 per year in 2014 dollars.

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Life After a Spinal Cord Injury

If you survive the first 24 hours after a spinal cord injury, you have an 85% chance of being alive a decade later. In the first 15 years after SCI, pneumonia is the most likely cause of death. Other likely killers are:

  • Septicemia (bacterial blood poisoning)
  • Non-ischemic heart disease – an unexplained heart attack
  • Endocrine, metabolic and nutritional diseases
  • Nervous system diseases
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Suicide
  • Homicide
  • Additional personal injury.

Life expectancy is the average remaining years of life for an individual. Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after a spinal cord injury than during subsequent years, particularly for those who have been severely injured.

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If you or a loved on has sustained a catastrophic injury caused by the fault of another person in Georgia, you’ll need an attorney who handles SCI cases to help secure your future financially.

Contact Millar and Mixon Law Firm: Atlanta Car Accident Lawyers

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