Because the spinal cord has only a limited ability to recover from the damage it sustains, many of these individuals will experience permanent disabilities as a result of the injury, as well as complications. If you suffered a spinal cord injury in South Carolina because of someone else’s reckless or careless actions, you could obtain the compensation you need to cover the expenses of your injury by contacting a South Carolina spinal cord injury attorney at Hughey Law Firm today.
Did You Suffer a Spinal Cord Injury In South Carolina? We Can Help.
If you have suffered a spinal cord injury in South Carolina that was the result of someone else’s carelessness or recklessness, you could pursue the recovery of damages through a South Carolina spinal cord injury lawsuit. You would file this claim in civil court to determine who bears liability for the accident that caused your injuries, and how the injury has damaged your life financially and emotionally.
Our South Carolina spinal cord injury lawyers can prove liability by establishing that:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. This duty of care depends on the type of accident you experienced and the at-fault party’s role within it. For example, if you were injured in a motor vehicle accident that involved a distracted driver, the duty of care that the driver owed to you would be to operate his or her vehicle safely and legally.
- There was a breach in the duty of care. The breach refers to the action (or inaction) that the at-fault party took that was contrary to the duty of care that was owed. Using the distracted driver scenario, the distraction would be the breach in care, as driving while distracted is not safe and can oftentimes be illegal.
- This breach caused the accident, which resulted in you suffering a spinal cord injury and facing the resultant expenses and financial impacts.
The statute of limitations on South Carolina spinal cord injury lawsuits is three years. This means that you have three years after the date of the injury to file your claim in court. Failing to file your lawsuit within this timeframe can result in an unwillingness of the court to hear your case.
You can recover both economic and non-economic damages through a South Carolina spinal cord injury claim. Economic damages refer to out-of-pocket expenses that you incurred as a result of your injury.
At Hughey Law Firm, some common economic damages claimed by our spinal cord injury clients include:
- Medical expenses, including emergency treatment at the scene or in the emergency department; medical transport to the hospital; diagnostic testing; physician and surgical services; prescription medication; hospitalization; physical therapy, occupational therapy, and rehabilitation. The provision of assistive devices such as a wheelchair and modifications you are required to make to your home to accommodate your injury can also be included.
- Loss of wages, as a result of missing work while you are hospitalized for the injury.
- Loss of future earning capacity, if the injury results in a disability that prevents you from returning to work.
- The cost of hiring someone to perform household or personal care services that you can no longer complete on your own.
Non-economic damages refer to the impacts that the injury has had on your life. Some common damages included in this category are:
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life, if the injury prevents you from partaking in activities that you formerly enjoyed.
- Loss of consortium, which is a damage claimed on behalf of the injured person’s spouse for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship commonly suffered after a spinal cord injury.
What Does a Spinal Cord Injury Involve?
The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that extend from the base of the skull to the waist and is protected by the bony vertebrae of the spine. The spinal cord—along with the brain—makes up the body’s central nervous system. In this capacity, the spinal cord acts as a messenger, relaying signals from the brain to all other parts of the body.
A spinal cord injury damages its structure or function and can result in paralysis beneath the injured portion of the cord. Contrary to popular belief, spinal cord injuries rarely involve a severed cord, but rather a damaged cord.
There are two types of spinal cord injuries:
- Complete spinal cord injuries result in a total loss of function and sensation below the injury site.
- Incomplete spinal cord injuries occur when an individual retains some of the cord’s ability to get messages through to parts of the body below the injury site.
The spinal cord is made up of several segments, each of which controls functions to certain parts of the body.
The segments and the level of paralysis often experienced as a result of damage to that area include:
- The cervical area of the spine, which is located in the neck. The cervical spine has 8 vertebrae, known as C1-C8. This part of the cord controls the brain’s signals to the neck, arms, hands, and internal organs. An injury to the cervical spinal cord often results in quadriplegia—also known as tetraplegia—which is paralysis of all four limbs, the pelvis, torso, and diaphragm.
- The section of the spine located in the upper back/chest area is known as the thoracic area. There are 12 vertebrae in this part of the spine, known as T1-T12, and this section of the spinal cord controls function in the torso and some parts of the arms. An injury to the thoracic area of the spinal cord can result in limited trunk movement and control of the torso, as well as loss of function of the hips, pelvis, legs, and feet.
- The lumbar and sacral sections of the spine are located in the lower back. This part of the spinal cord controls messages that relate to the function and sensation of the legs, bowel, bladder, and sexual organs. Each of these portions of the spine feature five vertebrae, known as L1-L5 and S1-S5.
Spinal cord injuries are typically diagnosed through the use of imaging scans such as an MRI or CT scan that can show medical personnel exactly which area of the cord suffered the injury. The injured person is then assessed, using the Standards for Neurological Classification of SCI to determine the lowest level of function.
If the cord is determined to be unstable (meaning there is no protection provided by the vertebrae), surgery will often be performed to provide stability. The method used to stabilize the spine often involves the use of rods or plates to hold the bones together.
Often, after surgery, the injured individual will be moved to the ICU, where rehabilitation will begin when appropriate. This rehabilitation will likely continue even after the individual has been discharged from the hospital.
Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
Traffic-related accidents are the most common cause of spinal cord injuries. More than 38 percent of all spinal cord injuries in the U.S. are the result of traffic accidents.
Other causes include:
- Falls, which constitute more than 31 percent of all new spinal cord injuries. This category includes both falls from an elevation as well as single-level falls.
- Violence, which is the third-most prevalent cause of spinal cord injuries, accounting for almost 14 percent of all new cord injuries. The most common violent act that leads to this type of injury is a gunshot wound.
- Sports and recreation-related activities including contact sports such as football or soccer, as well as diving or swimming accidents.
- Medical conditions or surgical errors.
Each year in the U.S., approximately 17,700 people suffer a spinal cord injury. About 78 percent of these new spinal cord injuries involve male patients, and non-Hispanic white individuals have higher rates of spinal cord injuries than other ethnic groups. Spinal cord injuries most often occur in people who are 18-30 years of age. One year after the injury, only about 12 percent of adults are employed. Only about a third of adults with spinal cord injuries are employed 20 years after the injury.
This is just an example of the severity of the after-effects of a spinal cord injury.
Complications of the Injury
In addition to the difficulties that paralysis causes, spinal cord injuries frequently produce complications that result in a further need for medical treatment and can even shorten the injured person’s life expectancy.
Spinal cord injury complications include:
- Respiratory complications: Pneumonia is the leading cause of death for spinal cord injury sufferers who survive the initial onset of the injury. When the injury occurs high enough on the spine to impact the function of the abdominal and chest muscles, the injured person will often have difficulty coughing and breathing.
- Loss of bladder control: Despite the loss of sensation below the injury site, bodily functions continue. One of those continued functions is the storage of urine in the bladder from the kidneys. Those suffering from spinal cord injuries often incur a loss of bladder control that can lead to medical problems such as urinary tract infections and bladder or kidney stones.
- Loss of bowel control: Many spinal cord injury sufferers can’t control their bowels because they cannot feel when it is time to eliminate. This can lead to difficulties with constipation and even bowel obstructions.
- Loss of skin sensation: The inability to feel the skin’s surface results in secondary complications as an individual may not be aware if he or she comes in contact with a surface that is too hot or too cold, and can’t feel the discomfort of pressure sores that result in the body remaining in one position for too long.
- Loss of circulatory control: Spinal cord injuries wreak havoc with the body’s circulatory system, resulting in either high or low blood pressure. Circulatory problems can result in life-threatening complications, including blood clots, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism.
- Muscle tone issues: Those who have suffered a spinal cord injury will often have muscle tone issues, such as spasticity—which occurs when the muscles are rigid and the individual can’t relax them—and flaccidity, which involves soft or limp muscles resulting from a lack of use after the injury.
- Obesity: Those with limited mobility often fall into a sedentary lifestyle that can not only result in further loss of muscle tone, but can produce complications associated with obesity.
- Complications with sexual function: Both males and females who have incurred a spinal cord injury will often experience sexual issues. For men, this could mean an inability to get or maintain an erection and changes in ejaculation. For women, this can mean changes in lubrication. Both genders are at higher risk of experiencing fertility issues following a spinal cord injury.
Can Spinal Cord Injuries Be Cured?
Currently, there is no cure for spinal cord injuries. Instead, care is mostly supportive. This includes providing medical treatment for complications, and physical and occupational therapy to assist the individual in maintaining muscle tone and learning new ways to accomplish daily tasks.
However, scientists and medical professionals are working on therapies that may eventually provide a cure for the injury itself, or the ability to recover from some of the many impacts of the injury. Many of these experimental treatments involve the use of stem cells. They may prove expensive, especially at first—and you may want to account for that in any settlement offer you entertain.
South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury FAQ
It can happen so fast. One minute you are a healthy, active individual. Then you slip and fall, or perhaps have a car accident, and everything change. You become one of the 17,730 new spinal cord injury cases that happen every year. In the U.S., an estimated 249,000 to 363,000 people live with a spinal cord injury. Spinal cord injuries are devastating. The consequences affect every part of your life and the lives of those close to you.
What are the common causes of spinal cord injuries in South Carolina?
The spinal cord is a column of nerve tissue that runs from the base of the skull down the center of the back. Together with the brain, it functions as the central nervous system, carrying messages between the body and the brain. An injury that disrupts these signals may cause a loss of physical function. There are many possible causes of spinal cord damage, but most spinal cord injuries result from trauma.
Some of the main causes of spinal cord injuries include:
- Motor vehicle accidents. Car, truck, motorcycle, and all types of motor vehicle accidents cause 39.3% of all new spinal cord injuries, making them the most common cause of spinal cord injuries.
- Falls. One out of five falls causes severe injury. In fact, falls cause 31.8% of spinal cord injuries. A combination of risk factors causes most falls but they can happen at home, in public, or at your workplace. They are especially dangerous for individuals over the age of 65.
- Acts of violence. Violent acts resulting in spinal cord injury include gunshot wounds, stabbings, and other physical assaults. Acts of violence cause 13.5% of spinal cord injuries.
- Recreation and sports injuries. Recreational activities, such as high impact sports, cause about 8% of spinal cord injuries. Cervical (neck) injury is the most common type of injury in four sports: hockey, skiing, diving, and American football. Gymnastics, track and field, and cheerleading are also high-risk activities. Recreational activities are fun, but even those involved in casual recreational activities should use caution and wear the recommended safety equipment.
- Alcohol. The brain is part of the central nervous system, which is especially sensitive to alcohol. Drinking leads to changes in behavior. Approximately 25% of spinal cord injuries are associated with alcohol use.
- Diseases. Diseases such as inflammation of the spinal cord, polio, or spina bifida can lead to spinal cord injuries.
What are the types of spinal cord injuries?
It can be confusing, but an injury to the spinal cord and an injury to the spine are two different things. The spine, which is the column of vertebral bones along the back, consists of the cervical, sacral, lumbar, and thoracic regions. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that runs in a central canal within the vertebral column. Therefore, the bony structures of the vertebrae protect it. Spinal cord injuries often result in paralysis, such as tetraplegia (paralysis of both the upper and lower body, also known as quadriplegia) or paraplegia (paralysis of the lower body).
Medical care providers classify spinal cord injuries as either complete or incomplete. In a complete injury, all messages to and from the brain are cut off, and the injured person loses all feeling motor function below the point of the injury. If the injury is incomplete, some messages get through. No two incomplete injuries are the same because different nerves send messages that affect particular types of sensation and function.
What are the common signs and symptoms of spinal cord injuries?
After a spinal cord injury, a person may experience varying degrees of symptoms associated with the injury’s severity and location. At first, the patient may experience spinal shock, which causes loss or decrease in sensation, reflexes, and muscle movement. As the initial swelling subsides, other symptoms may appear. Generally, the higher up the injury is on the spinal cord, the more severe the symptoms. Some signs and symptoms are not immediately obvious, which may lead to a delay in treatment. Unfortunately, treatment delays can result in complications or a deteriorating condition.
A wide variety of signs and symptoms are associated with spinal cord injuries.
Common symptoms include:
- Problems with walking;
- Loss of movement anywhere in the body, including the legs and/or arms;
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities;
- A change in the ability to feel heat and cold in the extremities;
- Inability to move the legs or arms;
- A stiff neck or a neck or back in an unnatural position;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Problems with bladder or bowel control;
- Headaches; and
What treatment is available for spinal cord injuries?
Spinal cord injuries require immediate treatment to help prevent additional harm. Although doctors, scientists, and researchers are continually devoting themselves to promising advancements, there is no cure at this time.
Immediately after a spinal cord injury, the victim is placed on a backboard with a neck brace to stabilize the spine. Emergency room doctors then perform tests to assess the stability of the spine. If the spinal cord is unstable, they may perform immediate surgery. After surgery, patients typically stay in the intensive care unit (ICU), where they undergo rehabilitation therapy at an appropriate level.
Once the individual leaves the ICU, they are moved to a rehabilitation facility where recovery and rehabilitation continue. This may include improvement in the patient’s physical condition or learning how to use adaptive equipment.
The next step is transitioning home and continuing rehabilitation. Rehabilitation programs may be outpatient, at home, or an independent therapy program. Most people require therapy for the rest of their lives to maintain function and possibly continue to improve. The goal of rehabilitation is to help the injured person regain as much function, independence, and quality of life as possible. It is a lot of work and may seem overwhelming, but dedicated professionals and loved ones can help.
Therapists work to help a patient improve:
- Mobility, such as walking or using a wheelchair.
- Respiratory support, such as breathing techniques or ventilator use.
- Self-care. Basic daily tasks, such as dressing or hygiene, can be challenging.
- Communication skills. Therapists provide techniques to help a patient regain speaking and writing skills.
- Emotional health. The emotional effects of the injury may be just as difficult to deal with as the physical effects.
- Family support and education. When a loved one suffers a spinal cord injury, everybody’s life changes. Counselors and therapists can offer education and family support to help everyone adapt.
What are the long-term effects of a spinal cord injury?
Adapting to life with a spinal cord injury can be tough. You must learn all you can about your condition and face the fact that you may need intensive medical care forever. The future you previously envisioned is probably gone, and the future you now face is unclear. Even for the doctors, it is difficult to predict how much you may improve and how long it will take. Statistics show that about a third of spinal cord injury patients return to the hospital after the initial injury. The average length of stay is 19 days. The consequences of your injury alter many aspects of your life.
People associate spinal cord injuries with paralysis, but other long-term complications may arise.
Long term effects may include:
- Pain in the lower back;
- Bladder and bowel dysfunction;
- Problems with sexual function;
- Bladder infections;
- Skin infections;
- Blood clots;
- Blocked arteries;
- Respiratory problems;
- Muscle spasms;
- Blocked pain sensors; and
What is the financial cost of spinal cord injuries?
Medical expenses for spinal cord injuries can be financially devastating. Of course, the exact costs you can expect to pay are primarily dependent on the severity of your injuries and the medical services you need. According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, the initial hospital stay after a spinal cord injury averages 15 days, with rehabilitation lasting an average of 44 days. Lifetime expenses for someone with quadriplegia may require up to $1.35 million while paraplegia often requires up to $428,000 in expenses. These numbers do not take into account lost income, pain and suffering, and the effects of the injury on family members.
Who may be liable for a spinal cord injury?
Liability for spinal cord injuries rests on the legal concept of negligence. Negligence means “failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” A successful lawsuit based on negligence must establish four elements of negligence. These are duty, breach of duty, that the breach of duty caused the injury, and damages.
It is essential to keep careful records of all medical care and bills related to your injuries so that you can prove the other party’s negligence caused your harm. The standard of proof in South Carolina spinal cord injury cases is “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which simply means presenting evidence that is more accurate, truthful, and convincing than that presented by the opposing party.
Depending on the circumstances that lead to your injury, possible liable parties may include:
- A motorist. A negligent or reckless driver is liable for an accident victim’s injuries.
- Construction companies or roadway designers. If a roadway defect caused your accident, these parties might be liable for your injuries.
- A property owner. If you fell on another person’s property, you might wish to file a South Carolina spinal cord injury claim with their property insurance company.
- A healthcare provider. If your healthcare provider does not diagnose and treat your spinal injury correctly, it may negatively affect your condition. In this case, you may have a medical malpractice case against your health care provider.
- A manufacturer, distributor, or installer of a faulty or dangerous product. If a defective product caused your spinal cord injury, then a product liability claim is an option you should consider.
- A contractor, architect, engineer, owner of the worksite or employee from another company, or another third party whose negligence caused a workplace accident.
What compensation might be available for spinal cord injuries?
As a victim of a spinal cord injury, you may be suffering from the financial burdens of expensive medical bills and lost wages. You urgently need help to pay for your regular bills as well as your medical care. This is not a minor injury. You will need care that goes far beyond basic medical treatment.
Compensation will not change the physical outcome of your injury, but it can make it possible to go forward with your life.
Possible compensatory damages include:
- Medical expenses: Emergency medical treatment is just the beginning. Medical expenses range from hospital care, surgery, and medications to rehabilitation and adaptive devices. In a South Carolina spinal cord injury case, the judge or jury may also include compensation for future medical costs to cover the ongoing treatment.
- Lost income: To pay for basic living expenses, the injured person will need compensation for lost wages. In the case of a spinal cord injury, the injured person may never return to their previous job or even do the same kind of work as in the past.
- In-home assistance and renovations: After a spinal cord injury, small, everyday tasks you once took for granted can become difficult or impossible. Each situation is different, but most people need help with transportation, child care, cooking, cleaning, pet care, and more. They may need assistive equipment, such as a wheelchair ramp or a chair lift. They may need special home remodeling just to continue to live at home.
- Pain, suffering, and emotional distress: The physical pain is bad enough, but the injured person should also receive compensation for the emotional trauma, distress, and anxiety that often accompany such an injury.
- Loss of consortium: This type of compensation is for the loss of the victim’s personal relationships.
- Punitive damages: Courts award punitive damages in certain circumstances, such as when the defendant’s behavior was especially egregious.
What kind of evidence is necessary to seek compensation?
Strong evidence makes for a strong case. Collect as much evidence about your injury as possible, such as medical records, photos, and journal entries documenting your recovery. This includes information about what caused your injury, who may be at fault for your injury, the severity of your injury, and resulting damages.
Have you suffered a spinal cord injury?
The law has strict time limits, called the statute of limitations, for filing a lawsuit, so it is best to consult an attorney as soon as possible. An experienced, compassionate South Carolina injury lawyer can assess your case, protect your rights, and fight for the compensation you deserve. For more information or to arrange a free initial consultation, call the Hughey Law Firm.
Let Our South Carolina Spinal Cord Injury Attorneys Help You
At Hughey Law Firm, our South Carolina persona injury law firm understands the extreme impacts that a spinal cord injury can have on your lives and the lives of your loved one. Let us help you understand your legal options. For a free case evaluation, contact our spinal cord injury lawyers online or by calling (843) 881-8644.
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