Spinal Cord Injury

Each year about 12,000 new spinal cord injury cases are reported in the United States. These injuries can vary in severity, but many tend to cause an immediate change in the lives of the victims. Learn more about spinal cord injuries, litigation for these types of personal injuries, and what your rights are if you have been affected by a spinal cord injury.

Illustration of a spinal cord injury
Spinal cord injuries can range in severity, but almost all trauma will affect the patient's mobility.

Do I Need an Attorney?

The debilitating and devastating effects of a spinal cord injury are serious, often permanent, and sometimes even fatal. In some cases, the most distressing aspect of the injury is that it was caused by the negligence of someone else. Obviously, the most urgent and pressing matters are regarding the immediate health and condition of the injured party. Medical treatment is the foremost priority immediately after the accident.

A personal injury lawyer can provide sound advice and counsel regarding any legal action. An experienced lawyer will evaluate each case on an individual basis and, depending on the circumstances, either encourage or discourage the injured person from filing a claim against a negligent or liable party. If the lawyer does advise filing a spinal cord injury lawsuit, and the case goes to trial, the lawyer can use his or her experience in the courtroom to help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

Obtain Financial Compensation

Assuming that the spinal cord injury victim is successfully placed under the care of an experienced doctor and medical team, he or she will incur staggering expenses from medical bills. Most people are not financially equipped to handle such expenses by themselves, and even with insurance policies, they may be left without adequate financial resources. Bills not only include emergency care and hospital stays; bear in mind the costs of living with a disability – wheelchairs, transportation, housing, medical supplies, and personal care are other expenses to consider. By filing a lawsuit, you may be able to obtain compensation to cover the costs of medical bills and other losses.

Should I Sue?

If the spinal cord injury has been caused by the negligent actions of another person, filing a lawsuit could result in substantial financial compensation to subsidize the medical bills and costs of living with a disability. An experienced personal injury lawyer will help the case against someone whose fault or wrongdoing has contributed to the injury.

However, before making a decision to file a lawsuit, consider all the ramifications of the suit – including the emotional and physical burden that it may cause. Lawsuits can last for years before a verdict is rendered. However, in addition to potentially bringing guilty persons to justice, a favorable verdict may provide the injured person with the financial resources they need to live with their disability.

The decision to sue is an important one, but it should be made in a timely manner. If the injured party decides to sue, they should seek legal representation as soon as possible. The lawyer will need to quickly begin collecting all of the reports, documents, and physical evidence to start the case and file a claim.

Spinal Cord Injury Causes

Car and motorcycle crashes, falls, sporting accidents, violence, and disease can cause spinal cord injuries. Learn more about the causes of injuries to the spinal cord.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 11,000 people sustain spinal cord injuries each year. The most common causes of spinal cord injuries are:


Most spinal cord injuries occur when the spine suffers sudden, blunt trauma. This can result from an accident, act of violence, or sporting activity.

Motor Accidents

Almost half of new spinal cord injuries each year result from a car collision or motorcycle accident. Driving under the influence, not wearing a seat belt, or speeding can contribute to these accidents.

Violent Acts

Violent acts, such as a shooting or stabbing, can cause severe trauma to the spine. In some cases, the gun shot or stab wound can cut the spinal cord.


Falls account for many spinal cord injuries in people over the age of 65. This includes slipping in the bathtub or shower, tripping down a flight of stairs, or falling while reaching for an object in a high place. Unsafe conditions, like wet floors or tripping hazards, can contribute to an unintentional fall and cause the property’s owner to be held liable for the injury.

Sports and Recreational Activities

High impact sports – like football, rugby, and wrestling – can cause spinal cord injuries. Gymnastics, cheerleading, and, most recently, snowboarding have also been shown to cause spinal injuries. Diving can be dangerous if the depth of the water is unknown.


Tumors can contribute to spinal injury. The tumor may press the vertebrae into the surrounding tissue, causing pain or paralysis.

Disease or Disorder

Other causes of spinal cord injuries include disease, infection, or inflammation around the spinal tissue, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. Common diseases are polio, spina bifida, transverse myelitis, and multiple sclerosis.

SCI Statistics

A study by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center in Birmingham, Alabama, sheds light on the average spinal cord injury victim, costs associated with the injuries, and what life is like following a spinal injury. Review the study's spinal cord injury statistics.

Statutes of Limitations

State laws, a victim's age, and the government's involvement in the injury can all affect the length of time you may have to file a lawsuit. Learn more about the statutes of limitations for spinal cord injury litigation.

Depending on the state and its personal injury laws, there is a certain time period in which plaintiffs must file a lawsuit before they lose the legal right to do so. This is known as the statutes of limitations; it varies from state to state and is usually between one and three years. The statutes of limitations can also depend on what kind of claim is being filed. It begins from the time that the person becomes injured.

In certain cases, the plaintiff doesn’t realize they have suffered a spinal cord injury right away; it may take a few weeks for them to develop serious symptoms or pain, and receive a spinal cord injury diagnosis. The statutes of limitations could begin when the plaintiff discovers their injury, depending on the state and personal injury laws in that area.

If a Minor Is Injured

The statutes of limitations are longer for a minor (under the age of 18). Depending on the state, the statutes of limitations may not begin until the minor turns 18. For example, if the statutes of limitations for the particular state are two years, the minor would have two years starting on the date they turn 18 years old. If the minor is 12 when they are injured, they would have a total of eight years to file a claim -- six years until they turn 18, plus the normal two years set by the statutes of limitations.

Filing a Claim Against the Government

The statutes of limitations for claims against the government are shorter; injured parties have a tighter time period in which to file a lawsuit against a government entity they feel has been negligent. This prevents an exorbitant amount of lawsuits from being filed against the government, which would cause a strain on tax dollars and the time and energy of public employees.

Spinal Cord Injury Damages

If a negligent party caused your spinal cord injury, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to cover the costs associated with medical bills, rehabilitation expenses, long-term care, and lost wages, as well as pain and suffering. Get more information about financial damages for spinal cord injuries.

There is no cure paralysis resulting from a spinal injury. No amount of money can make up for the loss of enjoyment of life, the emotional distress, and the psycho-social afflictions that often accompany a serious spinal cord injury. However, if the injury occurred because of another person’s negligent or deliberately wrongful actions, the injured party is entitled to financial damages. These damages may be used to pay for:

  • Medical bills
  • Rehabilitation expenses
  • Future long term care
  • Lost wages
  • Punitive damages for pain and suffering

In preparing your case and establishing liability, a personal injury attorney may use testimony from any or all of the following experts:

Vocational Rehabilitation Expert

A psychologist or expert in the field of vocational rehabilitation can evaluate the extent of the spinal cord injury, and its effect on the plaintiff’s earning potential and employment opportunities. For example, a vocational rehabilitation expert may perform diagnostic tests which conclude that the plaintiff has such severe pain and suffering that their ability to find and maintain employment is substantially decreased. A jury can award damages based on this knowledge.


Your lawyer may ask an economist to testify during a trial to assess lost future monetary earnings of the injured person. The economist evaluates and explains to the jury and/or judge the financial loss that the spinal cord injury has caused the plaintiff. This information can establish a reference point for awarding damages.

Life Care Planner

If your attorney suggests contacting a life care planner, he or she can evaluate the extent of the disability and give insight into how to manage the disability and resources for rehabilitation.

Who Can File a Lawsuit?

Anyone who has suffered a spinal cord injury due to someone else's negligent or deliberately wrongful actions may be eligible file a lawsuit. For victims under the age of 18, their parents or legal guardians may file a lawsuit on their behalf, or they can wait until they turn 18 to file a suit, at which point the statute of limitations will begin.

In the case of a spinal cord injury causing death, a surviving spouse, child, parent, sibling, or relative may be eligible to file a wrongful death claim. A qualified spinal cord injury attorney can provide valuable guidance and support to surviving family members as they cope with their legal, financial, and emotional hardships.

    A spinal cord injury lawsuit may arise from a variety of incidents, including car accidents, use of unsafe products, slip-and-fall accidents on someone else's improperly maintained property, or acts of violence.

    The burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was at fault for his or her spinal cord injury. The plaintiff's lawyer must establish that the injury was not due to a pre-existing condition and was caused by the defendant's negligent or wrongful actions.

    Proving Fault in a SCI Claim

    To obtain compensation for your spinal cord injury, you will need to have the legal representation of a personal injury attorney skilled in this type of litigation in order to prove fault. Learn what is necessary to prove fault in a spinal cord injury case.

    To prove fault in a spinal cord injury case, the injured party, or plaintiff, must prove that:

    • Their spinal cord was injured.
    • Their spinal cord was injured as a result of another person’s negligent or deliberately wrongful behavior and that his or her actions showed a disregard for the plaintiff’s safety.
    • The spinal cord injury was not due to a pre-existing condition.

    Any party whose negligence contributes to the spinal cord injury could be held responsible for damages, including a driver who drove under the influence and caused a car accident, the manufacturer of a dangerous product, or the owner of a hazardous property where the plaintiff slipped and fell.

    To recover financial damages for a spinal cord injury, an experienced personal injury lawyer must build a strong case against the plaintiff based on one of the following legal doctrines:


    Negligence occurs when an individual fails to take reasonable precautions to protect another individual from foreseeable risk of harm. To prove negligence, an attorney must show that the defendant had a “duty to act” in a certain way toward the plaintiff. For example, a driver has a duty to drive safely and obey the rules of the road.

    Contributory negligence

    Contributory negligence means that the plaintiff contributed to the injury by acting in a way that exposed him or herself to risk. The plaintiff neglected his or her duty to act in a reasonable and prudent manner, thus contributing to his or her own accident or injury. In such cases, the plaintiff is generally entitled to a portion of the overall damages relative to his or her degree of fault.

    Strict Liability

    The doctrine of strict liability is generally applicable in cases involving defective products, in which the evidence of negligence is inherent in a flaw in the design, manufacture, or marketing of the product. The plaintiff must show that his or her injury occurred while they were using the product in the manner it was intended to be used and that he or she was not aware of any dangerous defect when using the product.

    Intentional Wrong

    A personal injury lawyer can also establish fault in a spinal cord injury case by demonstrating that the defendant committed an intentional wrong. In such cases, an attorney will present evidence that the defendant acted in a way that he or she knew would cause harm, but continued anyway.

    Notable Settlements

    Although results vary from case to case, many spinal cord injury lawsuits result in settlements for the plaintiff. Review some notable spinal cord injury settlements.

    Paralysis: Quadriplegia, Paraplegia

    A severe spinal cord injury can cause paralysis, including quadriplegia and paraplegia. Learn more about paralysis caused by spinal cord injury.

    Whiplash Symptoms and Treatment

    Whiplash symptoms can surface days after a car crash, sports injury, or another event in which the neck is snapped back and forth. Make yourself aware of the symptoms and treatments for whiplash.

    Find a Personal Injury Attorney Who Can Help

    A spinal cord injury can change your life quickly. If another party was responsible for your injury, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Don't deal with this trying time alone. Find a skilled personal injury attorney for more information about your legal rights.

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