Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) resulting from accidents are often severe and life-altering. Individuals who suffer these injuries are frequently subjected to intensive, long-term treatment and extensive medical bills. The price of living with a catastrophic injury also includes emotional distress due to the enormity of one’s physical and personal losses.
The Arlington spinal cord injury lawyers at the Domingo Garcia provide legal and personal support for persons who have sustained severe accident-related injuries. Contact us to learn more about your legal rights and options for pursuing compensation for your many losses.
How a Lawyer Can Help with Your Claim for Spinal Cord Injury Compensation
Managing your legal matters following a severe injury can be daunting or impossible. An attorney can help simplify the legal process of compensation recovery, allowing you to focus on healing. In particular, a personal injury lawyer can help you by doing the following:
Understanding All Aspects of Civil Law
Personal injury attorneys handle spinal cord injury claims and those involving various accidents and injuries. In other words, you do not have to understand every aspect of the law to build a case. Instead, you could have consistent access to an attorney who can answer any questions or concerns you have throughout the legal process while ensuring you know your rights and that you are protected.
Investigating Your Accident and Collecting Evidence
Any successful insurance claim or personal injury case must be supported by evidence. Therefore, your attorney will thoroughly investigate the unique circumstances surrounding your injury. They will also document the accident scene and help you gather the vital evidence you need to develop your case, including:
- Evaluating the accident scene
- Police reports
- Surveillance or traffic footage of the incident
- Medical bills and receipts
- Pay stubs to show lost wages from missing work
- Eyewitness statements
- Statements from expert witnesses, such as doctors, nurses, police officers, accident reconstructionists, etc.
Your attorney will be able to determine what evidence best supports your case to maximize your settlement’s value.
Identifying the Liable Party
The correct person or entity must be identified to pursue a claim or lawsuit. This is often relatively straightforward but can become complicated if multiple parties are responsible for an accident. Furthermore, negligence may be challenging to prove in some cases. And occasionally, it may be unclear whether a case should be based on negligence or strict liability.
When lawyers determine who is liable, it is done through a thorough investigation and examination of evidence. Moreover, even if it seems obvious who is responsible for your injuries, it must be shown by a “preponderance of the evidence.” A spinal cord injury attorney will make sure they can prove who is liable before your case continues.
Identifying and Calculating Damages
When pursuing a claim or lawsuit, it is also necessary to identify all the losses you have sustained due to your injuries. Some of these losses have a definite value, such as medical bills, and can be easily calculated. Others are more subjective, such as pain and suffering, and attorneys must use legal formulas to determine what amount you should pursue.
For severe, enduring injuries and disabilities, it is imperative to know your recoverable damages, including those that are ongoing or will occur in the future. In other words, an SCI may indefinitely affect your physical and mental health, and your financial losses will continue to accumulate accordingly.
An attorney will ensure that your upcoming medical bills, loss of income, etc., are pursued as damages. Unfortunately, and sadly, waiting until later could mean you will never be compensated for these, regardless of how much suffering you end up enduring.
Negotiating with Insurers
One of the critical jobs of a spinal cord injury attorney is to negotiate with the liable party’s insurance company in an attempt to settle. If the insurer ends up agreeing to an offer that covers all your losses, you can avoid going to trial. During this process, an attorney will guide you through negotiations, help you formulate counterclaims, and advise you on accepting a settlement. Remember, however, that the final decision in all these matters is yours to make.
Although the insurance company will have access to the same body of evidence as you and your attorney, they will search for excuses to reduce the amount they owe you instead of finding evidence to support your claim. In addition, insurance companies are motivated by profits, so it is safest to let your attorney handle negotiations, as they know how to circumvent insurers’ tactics to minimize your claim.
For example, a common strategy insurers use to limit your compensation is to stall negotiations for as long as they can. In doing so, they hope you will become impatient and take the first settlement they offer. However, this amount will probably be far below what you deserve. You and your attorney can devise a counteroffer demanding the actual amount they owe you.
Your lawyer will understand the importance of patience in this process and be persistent throughout negotiations, regardless of the time it takes. They can wait out the insurance adjuster until you receive a reasonable offer.
Understanding Spinal Cord Injuries
While spinal cord injury attorneys are far from being medical experts, they should have a fair amount of understanding concerning the medical aspects of these conditions. This includes the types of spinal cord injuries, treatment protocols, local healthcare providers, and other resources to help ensure their clients receive appropriate treatment.
In addition to physical needs, SCI survivors often experience emotional wounds related to their accidents and severe injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. For this reason, attorneys must understand their client’s psychological needs and will require access to therapy and other mental health resources to facilitate a holistic recovery.
Acknowledging an SCI Survivor’s Unique Needs
If you have recently suffered a spinal cord injury, you may not yet understand its full impact on your life and the intensive treatments you might need now and far into the future. For example, depending on your SCI’s severity and your functional impairments, you may need rehab, surgery, injections, immobilization, physical and occupational therapy, etc., for years to come.
Offering Other Forms of Support
Although legal support is the primary reason people seek counsel, attorneys must also be empathetic listeners and understand their clients’ challenges. Unquestionably, SCIs are some of the most devastating injuries a person can experience. Treating these cases like it is all business is not fair to those who suffer day in and day out.
For these reasons, spinal cord injury lawyers give special consideration to their clients because their needs can be far-reaching. For example, in addition to offering personal support, they can help you access community resources, such as other SCI survivors’ and peer groups.
Recoverable Damages in a Spinal Cord Injury Claim
SCIs are often life-altering, and medical care can be incredibly expensive and long-lasting. However, if another party is responsible for your injuries, you should not have to pay outstanding bills related to treatment. Nor should you be forced to struggle through economic losses due to an inability to earn the same wages you did before.
Fortunately, a spinal cord personal injury claim will allow you to recover compensation for both economic and non-economic damages you have incurred, such as the following:
- Medical bills—ambulance fees, emergency room care, surgery, hospital stays, labs and tests, rehab, therapy, medications, medical equipment, etc.
- Lost wages from missing work due to your spine injury
- Diminished earning capacity
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of quality and enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium or companionship
- Long-term or permanent disability, such as paralysis
In Texas, personal injury claims allow potential plaintiffs to file a lawsuit up to two years after the date they sustained their injuries per Texas Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 16.003. Failure to meet this deadline can result in your case being barred from being heard in court.
Overall, your attorney should fully acknowledge your physical, emotional, and financial needs and goals from the onset and what you expect from your outcome. As an SCI survivor, you will probably have many unique needs, which should be reflected in your compensation.
The Real Costs of Injured Spinal Cords
Recent statistics from the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) report that the average first-year health care and living expenses for the most severe SCIs (complete high tetraplegia) are about $1.15 million. However, on average, a much less severe spinal cord injury resulting in motor function loss is about $375,000. In addition, every subsequent year of care for an SCI survivor ranged from approximately $45,500 to nearly $200,000.
Lifetime costs for 25-year-olds who suffer an SCI range from $1.7–$5.1 million for motor function loss to high tetraplegia and $1.2–$2.8 million for 50-year-olds.
The costs of SCIs go well beyond that of health care and living expenses. Many individuals will be unable to return to their jobs for an extended period or work in the same capacity for the rest of their lives. This means that the total financial burden placed on SCI survivors and their families includes the lost income the person was expected to earn over their lifetime.
Finally, injuries of this magnitude can affect a person’s life in countless ways and completely alter how a person interacts with their environment. The pain, suffering, and emotional distress experienced when a person can no longer engage in everyday activities is a truly immeasurable loss.
No amount of money can fully reimburse you for all of the losses you might suffer over your lifetime. However, an Arlington spinal cord attorney can help you secure compensation for financial damages and some of those related to your lost quality of care.
Determining Liability in a Spinal Cord Injury Case
To recover compensation for your losses, your attorney must prove that another party was negligent, which requires establishing the following:
- Duty of care: Each person has a duty to act with enough caution to avoid harming others. For example, motorists have a responsibility to others on the road to obey traffic laws and drive with care to prevent accidents.
- Breach of duty: When a person fails to fulfill their duty of care to another party, this is referred to as a breach. In the case of a car accident, a breach might be evidenced by a traffic citation for speeding, failure to yield, etc.
- Causation: Your attorney must demonstrate that the other party’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of your spinal cord injury. This means your injury was not-preexisting or caused by any factor other than the person’s breach of duty.
- Damages: Your attorney must also prove you sustained quantifiable losses, such as medical bills, due to your spinal cord injury.
Common Accidents That Injure Spinal Cords
Your spinal cord injury’s cause will determine who is liable for your losses. Uncommonly, SCIs are caused by the misconduct of others, including assault. However, most spinal cord injuries are related to accidents involving the following:
Despite being a normal part of everyday life, driving is generally hazardous. Even the lightest of passenger vehicles weigh nearly 2000 thousand pounds, and collisions can be devastating when traveling at high speeds. When cars collide, the forces are so great that even relatively minor crashes can result in a spinal cord injury. In addition, if you sustained a spine injury due to the actions of another driver, their insurance company might be liable for covering your losses.
Texas is an at-fault state for car insurance, meaning you can sue the liable party for damages, including your injuries. The other at-fault person’s insurer will be responsible for paying your claim. You will not have to file a claim with your own insurance company. If your damages exceed the driver’s policy limits, you may be able to sue them personally and seek money for the difference.
Slip, Trips, and Falls
Another common cause of SCIs is slip, trip, and fall accidents. These can occur under various circumstances, from slipping on a wet floor to falling off a balcony. Unfortunately, older individuals are most likely to experience a spinal cord injury due to these accidents.
Slip and fall accidents usually fall under premises liability, in which compensation for injuries resulting from a slip and fall is typically assigned to the property owner and their insurance company. For example, if a hazard existed on premises that the owner should have known about, a person who injures themselves due to this hazard might have grounds to seek compensation.
Medical mistakes during surgeries and procedures can cause SCIs, even those intended to improve pain or functionality related to the spine. Ways in which a health provider can cause a spinal cord injury include the following:
- Making an error with instruments during surgery on the back or neck
- Delaying an emergency surgery too long, resulting in permanent damage
- Improperly applying a nerve block or anesthetic into the spine
- Failing to diagnose or misdiagnosing an infection of the spine
- Not following proper safety protocols
- Failing to assess a patient for fall risk, leading to a fall out of bed
Sports and Recreational Activities
Many sports and recreational activities are common causes of spinal cord injuries. For example, contact sports such as football, hockey, or soccer can easily lead to an SCI during a rough fall, hit, or tackle.
Recreational activities, especially those involving extreme sports, are high-risk and severe injuries are common. These include mountain biking, skydiving, rock climbing, snowboarding, base jumping, bungee jumping, etc. If you engaged in an activity in which you were required to sign a waiver, an owner or operator might still be liable for damages if someone was guilty of negligence.
In some instances, SCIs can be caused by a defective product. If this occurs, multiple parties may be held liable for damages due to product liability laws. For example, faulty construction equipment, unsafe flooring, and poorly designed or manufactured products can lead to accidents resulting in an injured spine.
In some circumstances, strict product liability provisions can be enough to assign liability to a manufacturer or retailer. In other words, if you sustained an SCI due to a faulty product, you might not have to prove that negligence was a factor in causing your injury. Also, breach of warranty can sometimes be used as a basis for a lawsuit.
As noted, sometimes SCIs are caused by the deliberate actions of others, such as violent assaults. In particular, gunshot and knife wounds near the spine can permanently damage the spinal cord. However, other violent events, such as fistfights and sexual assaults, can cause spinal cord injuries.
If you suffered an SCI in an assault, you might consider filing a spinal cord injury lawsuit against your attacker. Unfortunately, in these cases, it is not uncommon for violent offenders to lack the means to cover such extensive losses. That said, if your attacker is convicted of your assault, this would significantly increase the chances of a civil lawsuit if you decided to pursue one.
There are many other ways an SCI can occur purely by accident. These include incidents involving nonstandard vehicles, such as motorcycles, boats, ATVs, jet skis, and snowmobiles. An Arlington spinal cord injury lawyer can help you recover compensation for your losses regardless of why your SCI occurred.
Classifications for Spinal Cord Injuries
Medical experts classify spinal cord injuries based on how much they impair an individual’s ability to move their limbs, i.e., paralysis. Paralysis can be complete or incomplete.
An individual with complete paralysis loses movement and feeling in their body below the damaged spinal cord area. Complete paralysis occurs when the spinal cord is completely severed or so critically damaged that messages cannot be transmitted from the brain. Unfortunately, individuals with complete paralysis require extensive and continuous care. Also, they are more likely to face other health problems related to the heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract.
Incomplete paralysis is similar in that the person’s body will be affected below the damaged part of the spinal cord. But the extent to which individuals with incomplete paralysis lose function and sensation varies widely.
Incomplete paralysis can be subdivided into further classifications, including the following:
Central Cord Syndrome (CCS)
CCS is the most common form of incomplete paralysis. It occurs when the central part of the cervical spinal cord is damaged. This can be caused by an acute injury, such as extreme whiplash from a car accident, or by arthritic bone changes that compress the spinal cord.
CCS symptoms include weakness and reduced sensation in the extremities, difficulty urinating, and trouble with everyday tasks, such as getting dressed.
Anterior Cord Syndrome (ACS)
ACS is a rare condition that occurs when two-thirds of the front (ventral) part of the spinal cord is damaged. It results from ischemia or lack of blood supply to part of the spinal cord. A common cause of ACS is accidental spinal artery occlusion during aortic heart surgery due to medical error per the Journal of Orthopaedic Case Reports. Other causes include crush injuries, spinal fractures, gunshot or knife wounds, and vasculitis.
ACS causes a total loss of motor function below the damaged area. Also, a person with ACS has reduced or absent pain and temperature sensation below the damaged area, but they retain proprioception and can sense vibrations. Common symptoms of ACS include bladder and bowel control issues and sexual dysfunction.
Brown-Sequard Syndrome (BSS)
BSS is a rare form of incomplete paralysis that occurs when one side of the spinal cord sustains damage. Individuals with BSS lose all forms of sensation on one side of their body below the affected spinal cord area. However, they often retain motor function, but they can experience generalized weakness.
If the injury is addressed promptly, people with BSS could lose the ability to walk but later regain it through therapy. BSS symptoms include weakness, atrophy, and bladder and bowel dysfunction.
Get Professional Help from an Arlington Spinal Cord Injury Attorney Today
Domingo Garcia has been representing injured accident victims for more than 35 years. A spinal cord injury lawyer in Arlington can handle your case so you can concentrate on your recovery and reclaiming your life.
We are committed to pursuing compensation for our clients to cover the many costs associated with their financial, physical, and personal losses. Contact our law office today to receive a free case review and learn more about how we can help you get the economic justice you deserve.