The spine is the body’s central structure of support and connects the various parts of your musculoskeletal system. You need it to complete almost every movement you make, such as sitting, standing, twisting, and bending (not to mention digging, diving, and dancing). Unfortunately, many Americans experience pain daily — or even partial or complete paralysis as a result of back and spine injuries. A life-changing spinal cord injury can happen in a second if you are involved in a traumatic vehicle or slip and fall accident.
According to the NSCSC (National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center), approximately 291,000 people in the United States live with spinal cord injuries. Causes are varied, but motor vehicle crashes top the list.
Causes of spinal cord injuries since 2015
- Vehicle accidents 39.3%
- Falls 31.8%
- Violence (mainly guns) 13.5%
- Sports 8.0%
- Medical/Surgical 4.3%
- Other 3.1%
The spinal cord is a large column of nerves inside the spinal column that go from the base of the brain to the upper lumbar region.
The spinal cord allows your body to:
- Feel hot and cold sensations
- Sense the positions of your arms and legs
- Control your heart rate or body temperature
- Control bodily functions, such as urinating, defecating, and breathing
Fragile nerves that branch off from the spinal cord are divided into five sections:
The higher your spinal cord injury, the more bodily functions will be affected.
Anything that disrupts the flow of signals back and forth to the brain is potentially life-changing. The spinal column houses the spinal cord and consists of 33 bones (vertebrae) divided into five sections:
- Cervical: These bones connect the skull to the spine and protect the spinal cord, arteries, and nerves. They are responsible for the neck’s mobility. An injury to the spinal cord at the cervical level could result in quadriplegia (also called tetraplegia), meaning that you would have paralysis in both arms and legs as well as your trunk. Anything below the neck could be paralyzed.
- Thoracic: These bones are at chest level and serve as attachments for the rib cage. Injuries to the spinal cord at this level could result in paraplegia, which is paralysis of the legs and lower back.
- Lumbar: This section of the spine is what we refer to as the lower back. This is the section of the spine that helps support the weight of the upper body as well as transferring loads between the spine and the legs. Injuries to the lumbar nerves can result in loss of voluntary urination and bowel movements. There may also be a loss of function in the hips and legs.
- Sacrum: The pelvis is connected to the sacrum. Injuries to this part of the spine are rare except in cases of extreme trauma, such as serious car accidents. Damage to the nerves in the sacrum can result in loss of control of the bowel, bladder, and sex organs.
- Coccyx: This is the small triangular bone at the bottom of the spinal column. Although the spinal cord does not extend down to the coccyx, the coccyx does include a spinal canal and nerves. Any injury here is extremely painful.
Spinal cord injuries resulting from vehicle crashes can cause injuries to different parts of the back, depending on where the car was struck and the speed of the vehicles involved. The most common of these are listed below in order of severity:
- Vertebral fractures: Enough force in an MVA (motor vehicle accident) can fracture one or more vertebrae. This could cause the spinal cord to be pinched or even severed.
- Burst fractures: The vertebra is fractured in several places and possibly tiny pieces of it embed themselves in the spinal cord.
Symptoms of burst fractures include:
- Moderate to severe back pain (made worse by moving)
- Numbness, tingling, and weakness
- Difficulty or inability to empty bowel or bladder (when the spinal cord is involved)
- Flexion/Distraction fractures: These occur in head-on collisions where the top of the body is propelled forward while the seat belt holds the lower part of the body in place. The vertebrae are torn apart.
Symptoms of flexion/distraction fractures include:
- Possible spine deformity
- Gastro-intestinal injuries (as a result of the way the injury happened)
- Vertebral compression fractures (VCF): These can occur after accidents when part of the spine collapses (compresses). They generally occur in the lower part of the middle spine (thoracic spine).
- Herniated disc (also called a ruptured or bulging disc): This occurs when the soft center of a disc protrudes out, placing pressure on surrounding nerves. These usually occur in the lower back, but can also occur in the neck. Herniated discs cause such symptoms as:
- Arm or leg pain (a sharp, burning pain)
- Numbness or tingling
- Whiplash: When the neck (this is technically a part of the spine called the cervical spine) snaps back and forth in a collision, it causes trauma to the soft tissues. You may not feel the effects until the day after your accident, but then you could experience such symptoms as:
- Difficulty moving your neck
- Numbness or tingling in your arms
When the spinal cord is damaged, it may be complete or incomplete.
- Complete: All feeling and motor function are lost below the place where the spinal cord is injured.
- Incomplete: There is partial feeling or motor function below the spinal cord injury.
The types of testing hospitals will do after an MVA where these types of injuries are suspected include:
- CT scans (computerized tomography): These can show soft tissues, blood vessels, and bones
- MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging): These use magnets, radio waves, and computers to take detailed pictures.
- Evoked potential testing: These tests measure the time it takes for nerves to respond to stimulation.
Spinal cord injuries are expensive
As you can imagine, any injury to the back and spine can be painful, debilitating, and expensive. For example, hospital stays are an average of 11 days. The first year of expenses after a high tetraplegia (all four limbs affected) spinal cord injury averages $1.079 million (as of 2017).
In 2019, there were 115,926 motor vehicle collisions in Maryland. 30% of these accidents resulted in injuries, including spine and back injuries. The last thing you or your family need to do while you are recovering or dealing with a catastrophic injury is to handle an unwilling or argumentative insurance company or to deal with the intricacies of a personal injury lawsuit alone.
The costs of spinal cord injury medical care expenses are prohibitive, especially in the first year. You may face such medical costs as:
- Spinal surgery
- Trauma care (possibly including ventilators)
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Possible speech therapy
- Mental health therapy
- On-going care–such as in-home aides
- Wheelchair, wheelchair-adapted van, and costs of making your home wheelchair accessible
You need an experienced Maryland car accident lawyer who can fight for full compensation for you if you have injured your back or spine in a motor vehicle or other type of accident. At Zirkin & Schmerling Law, we have worked with individuals and families who are dealing with all types of spine injuries, including the traumatic impact of sudden crash-related paraplegia and quadriplegia. These life-altering injuries create mobility challenges, cause financial strain, and change family dynamics.
A life-altering injury deserves the highest level of attention to detail from an excellent personal injury lawyer. The team at Zirkin & Schmerling Law can help you pursue a high-value injury claim that allows you to stop worrying about the financial side of your situation, recover damages, focus on your health and hold the negligent party accountable.
How Do You Select an Experienced Maryland Spinal Cord Lawyer?
In a situation that involves navigating the complex matters of personal injury and cutthroat insurance companies, you need a Maryland spinal cord lawyer who can handle the multiple legal issues that arise. Consider these important factors:
- Experience: Do they have the credentials to represent you? Are they experienced with many types of personal injury cases in Maryland?
- Results: A good spinal cord injury attorney will serve as your legal voice during a difficult time when you may be overwhelmed. Can your lawyer get the best possible results for you while minimizing the impact of this case on your family’s lives?
- Reputation: Your lawyer must have a golden reputation with the courts and a firm grasp of the precise laws involved with spinal cord injuries. Does your lawyer have a reputation for getting very positive results for clients in spinal cord injury cases?
If you have suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident, slip and fall accident, work-related accident, or as a result of medical malpractice, call the lawyers at Zirkin & Schmerling Law to discuss your case. We understand that spinal cord injuries are painful, debilitating, limiting, and traumatic. You need someone on your side who will help restore your peace of mind, dignity, and rights.
Maryland Statute of Limitations
Keep in mind the fact that the Maryland Courts & Judicial Proceedings Code section 5-101 says that a civil lawsuit for personal injury “shall be filed within three years from the date it accrues.”
Have a Legal Question? We Have Answers
When you need to learn more about your rights, the attorneys at Zirkin & Schmerling Law can help. Contact us or call us at (410) 753-4611 to set up an appointment with one of our experienced car accident lawyers today.