Of all the life-altering consequences of an automobile accident, back injuries in one form or another can be the worst. From the condition known as whiplash which is seriously painful and debilitating enough to paraplegia or even quadriplegia – paralysis of one or more of the limbs – spinal cord injuries can be catastrophic. As you may already know, when injuries to the spine are involved, victims’ lives can be radically changed in tragic ways.
There are many kinds of spinal cord injuries all with differing consequences. In today’s article, we hope to give you some basic facts about the spine, the spinal cord, how it functions, and what its failure to function can mean following traumatic high-energy crashes. We’ll give you an example of how such a case might play out, how the settlement might be determined, and to whom you can turn for help and effective representation.
At first glance, you might wonder at the size of the spine. It appears to be small and inconsequential, but it is through this apparatus that your brain controls all of your body’s functions. Injury anywhere along the length of the spinal cord can put an end to your ability to control some necessary functions like breathing, elimination, or reproductive ones.
Generally speaking, the higher up on the spine that an injury happens, the more serious and debilitating the consequences. For example, a break at C2 – the cervical spine or neck – is often referred to as the ‘hangman’s break.’ An injury to the spinal cord at this level most likely results in instantaneous death just as the hangman hoped to accomplish in gallows’ executions.
Injury to the nerves farther down the spine at, say at T6 near the middle of the back, will impact the function of body parts below the injury – bowel and bladder control, sexual function, the ability to walk or even feel one’s feet can be forever impacted.
Words that describe the degree of functions lost include the word paraplegia – it is the loss of function in the lower extremities. Here is an example of how paraplegia can happen.
A thirty-two year old husband and father of two is on his way to work at the Kroger grocery store where he has worked since he was a junior in high school. He is the produce manager there and is very proud of his continuing success with the corporation. He has just purchased a house and is the picture of what most people would want their young sons to be.
He congratulates himself as he approaches the last intersection before his turn into the store’s parking lot – the light has just turned green as if by magic and he will make it to work on time. As he enters the intersection, he sees a blur out of the corner of his left eye. His compact car is hit broadside by an older Chevrolet Suburban. He remembers nothing else until he awakens in the hospital.
He has suffered a complete spinal cord lesion at T6. This means that his spinal cord has been severed causing complete and permanent loss of function below his injury at the mid-point of his back. He is now a paraplegic. It means that he will enjoy normal upper body movement and be able to balance his trunk from a seated position. He will no longer have control of his bladder or bowel function and he will not be able to function sexually.
The good news is he’s not dead. He may eventually be able to use a manual wheelchair and may even learn to drive a car that has been specially modified to accommodate his handicap. The bad news is everything else.
After she is certain that her husband’s condition isn’t life threatening, his wife calls a personal injury attorney.
Demonstrating in court the degree to which this accident changes the lives of this man and his family will be challenging. Fortunately for our young man, the accident that cost him his mobility happened literally in front of many of his co-workers. He will have plenty of eye witnesses who were arriving at the store to begin work that morning as the accident occurred. The police report cites the other driver for inattentive driving. The medical records will speak to his injury, but there will still be the need to bring expert witnesses to testify to the extent to which he may be able to recover.
In thinking about how else this injury changes this young man’s life, he might simply say that every last thing about life as he knew it has changed. Sadly, that won’t work in a court of law. He begins an itemized list of everything that is no longer the same. Here are just some of the items on the list:
- He will need a different job – he can no longer lift and carry cases of lettuce or bananas. He can no longer stand to stock a bin or a shelf.
- He will need training for this new job, whatever it happens to be so schooling is necessary.
- He won’t be able to support his wife and children while he is in school and/or out of work.
- He will need a wheelchair and may need another one or two as his life progresses.
- He will need a specially modified car and/or a handicapped van if he ever wants to leave the house.
- His house will need to be modified to accommodate wheelchair use
- He will need extensive therapy in order to re-learn to do everything from a sitting position.
- He will suffer the indignity of having his wife help him with bodily elimination
- His wife will (he hopes,) learn to love him in spite of the things he can no longer do for her as a husband and a life-mate.
- He will never play baseball with his son or coach little league
- He will not walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding
In order to be appropriately compensated for the things he’s lost, he must also document his own feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and his new and unwelcome sense of uselessness.
His wife, who will claim damages of her own related to loss of consortium – the loss of society and comfort associated with the physical and psychological needs her husband can no longer fulfill– should also keep a journal of her thoughts and feelings. This would include her sense of suddenly being a ‘single mother’ in some ways. She finds herself carrying a much heavier burden without her husband’s physical and financial help and those feelings also have value.
Attorneys for the other driver’s insurance company will argue that the victim is a young man and it will be relatively easy for him to find a new line of work. They will claim that there is no real reason that he cannot do everything any other father can do and that his injury is being dramatized in order to get more money. They might even claim that his injuries might have been actually caused by the slip and fall he had at work a week before the accident. They will stop at nothing to minimize his settlement.
This decision about how much compensation might be receive for a spinal cord injury will depend in large part upon the thoroughness of the victim’s documentation of losses. It will include his medical costs, his pain and suffering at the time of the accident as well as the day-to-day disappointments and difficulties he will experience as time goes by.
The lawyers will most likely negotiate a settlement amount. If they are unable to come to satisfactory agreement, the matter will go to trial and the decision will be left to a jury. (This is a gamble all by itself since the jury may empathize with the man and his family and conclude that a very large settlement is due.)
Ultimately, other similar cases may be reviewed and the worth of the case will be determined similarly and, if approved by the judge, will be ordered by the court. Barring appeals, this will mean that the family will be able to begin healing.
We don’t believe there is ever a personal injury case where just any lawyer can perform as well as a specialist. Personal injury cases are complicated and difficult. Not every attorney knows all the tools of this particular trade. But in a case like our example, there are 40 or more years left in a lifetime that must be lived differently than our victim had originally planned. This is no place to settle for less. Therefore, we encourage anybody who has been injured in such a way by somebody else’s negligence to consult an attorney or law firm that specializes in personal injury law.
At The Millar Law Firm in Atlanta, Georgia, we only handle cases like this one. We are 100 percent committed to finding justice for those who have been injured through no fault of their own. We work tirelessly to help make up for the life changes that have been thrust upon them by negligent others.
To do this as well as we do, we begin with a free case evaluation. Once we have examined and evaluated the facts in your case, we can better advise you about how to proceed. You will know that if we take your case, you have amongst the best representation available. We take great pride in our reputation as champions for the broken individuals whose only mistake was getting out of bed on one fateful morning.