Your brain and spinal cord form your central nervous system. Your spinal cord is soft tissue made of nerve cells and groups of nerves – called tracks – that run from the base of your brain to a point just above your waist. Bones called vertebrae surround the soft tissues of your spine.
Spinal cord injuries involve damage to any part of the spinal cord; they can also include damage to the nerves located at the end of the spinal canal.
Typical Results of Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries often cause permanent damage. They can affect your strength and the sensations you experience. In the worst cases, spinal cord injuries can even cause paralysis.
Most Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
According to the Oregon Health and Science University, most spinal injuries are caused by blunt trauma to the spine. This is particularly common with car accidents, slips and falls, and other injuries that are sometimes caused by negligence.
Other common causes include:
- Birth injuries
- Sports injuries
- Diving accidents
- Trampoline accidents
Trauma to your neck or back that results in damage to your vertebrae, spinal ligaments, the disks forming the spinal cord, or even to the spinal cord itself causes a spinal cord injury. Common spinal cord injuries include fractures, dislocations, and the crushing of your spine.
Injury to your spinal cord can continue for days or weeks after the initial trauma as swelling, fluid build-up, inflammation, and internal bleeding can further damage your spinal cord.
Recovery After a Spinal Cord Injury
If you’ve suffered a spinal cord injury, the most important thing for you to focus on is your recovery. The last thing you want to worry about is the growing pile of medical bills and the fact that you have to miss work while you recover.
In the most unfortunate cases, spinal cord injuries are caused by another person’s negligence. If that’s the case in your situation, an experienced spinal cord injury lawyer can help you hold the responsible party accountable.
Symptoms of a Spine or Vertabrae Injury
Because your brain’s ability to communicate with the rest of your body runs through your spinal cord, the symptoms of the injury are often physically debilitating.
The symptoms may include:
- Breathing problems
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of bowel and bladder function
- Loss of feeling
- Loss of voluntary muscle movement
- Stinging sensation in your back and hips
- Changes in sexual function, sensitivity and fertility
- Loss of sensory perception
Complete vs. Incomplete Injuries
Generally, spinal cord injuries are called either “complete” or “incomplete.” Complete injuries occur when all feeling and all motor function is lost below the injury.
Incomplete injuries occur when you retain some feeling and some motor function below the injured area.
Paralysis: Tetraplegia, Quadriplegia and Paraplegia
Trauma to the spinal cord can cause paralysis. Doctors call the paralysis tetraplegia or quadriplegia when a person’s hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs are all affected.
When only a part of a person’s trunk, legs, and pelvic organs are affected, it’s called paraplegia.
Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers in San Francisco Can Help
Experienced spinal cord injury lawyers can help you decide if the events that led to your spinal cord injury create the basis for a successful personal injury lawsuit. If your spinal cord injury is the result of someone else’s negligence, a lawyer can protect your rights.
Your lawyer may be able help you get compensation for your past and future medical expenses, loss of income if you are physically incapacitated, and the pain and anxiety you might experience as a result of your injuries.
Proving Negligence in a Lawsuit
American tort law is based on the assumption that if someone is harmed by the wrongful actions of another, the person harmed should be compensated for the harm he or she experienced.
Many spinal cord injuries happen because someone was negligent.
Courts in California define negligence as the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or others. To win a personal injury case in court, you will have to prove that the defendant was negligent.
There are several elements to proving negligence.
First, your lawyer must prove that the defendant had a duty to use reasonable care. In many scenarios producing spinal cord injuries, the duty to use reasonable care is inherent, or built-in.
It’s common knowledge that drivers have a duty to use reasonable care on the roads and that business owners have a duty to keep their properties safe. Therefore, if a car accident that someone else caused or a slip-and-fall on a hazardous walkway caused your spinal cord injury, the first element of proving negligence is typically already handled.
Breach of Duty of Care
Your attorney must also prove that the defendant breached his or her duty through negligence.
The California Civil Jury Instructions represent the official instructions judges give to juries when they are asked to determine the facts in civil cases.
For negligence, the official instructions say, “A person can be negligent by acting or failing to act. A person is negligent if he or she does something that a reasonably careful person would not do in the same situation or fails to do something that a reasonably careful person would do in the same situation.”
If you sustained your spinal cord injury in a car accident and you can prove that the other driver was speeding, was drunk, or disobeyed traffic laws, you have a good chance of convincing the court that the defendant was negligent.
Similarly, if your spinal cord injury was the result of slipping and falling because of an unsafe condition on another’s property, and you can prove that the property owner failed to fix the unsafe condition when they should have, you can claim that the property owner was negligent.
California personal injury law allows the defendant to attempt to prove that the injured party was comparatively negligent, which means that the injury was partially your fault.
A common cause of spinal cord injuries is diving into shallow water in a lake or pool where the diver hits his or her spine on the lake or pool bottom. In a case like this, the plaintiff might claim that the depth of the water was improperly marked. The failure to warn could amount to negligence.
The defendant, however, may claim that anytime you dive into unknown waters, you are taking a risk. He or she may claim that they don’t deserve all the blame. Later in the case, the court might use the injured’s own comparative negligence to limit the amount of compensation the injured person is entitled to receive in damages.
Substantial Factor in Spine Injuries
To argue a successful lawsuit, your attorney must also prove that the defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing your spinal cord injury. In California, “a substantial factor in causing harm is a factor that a reasonable person would consider to have contributed to the harm. It must be more than a remote or trivial factor. It does not have to be the only cause of the harm.”
If you sustained your spinal cord injury in a car accident, you must convince the judge or jury that the car accident was a substantial factor in your spinal cord injury.
Working with a Spinal Cord Injury in San Francisco
If you’ve sustained a spinal cord injury that could have been prevented, we may be able to help you collect damages to help pay your medical bills, cover your lost wages and help compensate you for your pain and suffering.