What are spinal cord injuries?
Spinal cord injuries are typically life changing injuries with potentially profound, long term effects on the victim’s life and financial wellbeing, and that of their family. These types of injuries, as the name suggests, affect the spinal cord.
The spinal cord is a long, fragile, tube like structure beginning at the bottom of the brain stem which continues down almost to the bottom of the spine. It carries message between the brain and the body – and this is why an injury to the spinal cord can be so physically and mentally devastating.
How do spinal cord injuries happen?
The vast majority of spinal cord injuries occur as a result of trauma; for instance, in car or cycling accidents, accidents in the work place, from violent assaults, sporting accidents, accidental falls or household accidents. However, they can also be caused by various medical conditions ranging from tumours, to developmental disorders, neurodegenerative diseases and other conditions. There have also been cases of spinal injuries resulting directly from surgical or medical errors, meaning potential medical (clinical) negligence claims could be made.
Every day in Britain, according to the Spinal Injuries Association, three people are permanently paralysed by damage to their spinal cord; and the largest group of people to sustain an SCI are men between 45 and 49 years of age.
How serious are spinal cord injuries?
Spinal cord injuries can vary dramatically in terms of seriousness. On one end of the scale there may be minor neurological or physiological symptoms such as gall bladder or renal stones, sexual malfunctions and bladder problems. At the other end of the scale, a spinal cord injury can result in permanent disability, such as paralysis.
Typically, the location in the spine where the injury occurred determines the extent of the disability and/or effects. Injuries are usually classified according to their location as follows: (1) cervical; (2) thoracic; and (3) lumbar and sacral.
Unfortunately, spinal cord injuries cannot be repaired. This means many victims will not be able to enjoy the life they led before the injury was sustained, and some may never work again.
Where can I get information and help for spinal cord injuries?
Due to the severity of many spinal cord injuries, support is vital. There are several government, local authority and private bodies that exist to provide support, care and other resources to victims of spinal cord injuries and their families.
The Spinal Injuries Association is a leading charity and information clearing house for spinal cord injury victims. On their site and other non-profit sites, one can find a lot of information and resources pertinent to the needs of spinal cord injury victims.
Claiming benefits and compensation
A victim of a spinal cord injury who is disabled can apply for benefits from the Government under the Disability Living Allowance. Other benefits may also be available, such as Constant Attendance Allowance (CAA), Exceptionally Severe Disablement Allowance and Reduced Earnings Allowance (REA).
If your spinal injury was caused by someone else’s negligence, such as a reckless driver or unsafe working conditions, you may be able to claim personal injury compensation. We highly recommend you take expert advice from specialist personal injury solicitors as soon as possible after the injury occurred.
If you intend to claim compensation for your injuries, your solicitors will need detailed information and evidence in order to build a robust personal injury claim. Details required will include:
- Where the injury took place, together with any photographic evidence, police accident reports, details of any witnesses, formal records in the employer’s accident log books, and so on
- How your injury affects both you and your family
- Medical evidence and notes to date
- Whether your injuries have caused, or led to mental or emotional problems
- What on-going care, treatment or therapies you need both now and in future
- Whether and to what extend your injury affects your ability to work
- Any loss of earnings you (and possibly your partner, for instance) need to claim back
- Whether any modifications to your home, or any special equipment is needed
- Your transport needs
Your solicitor will also need to obtain expert medical reports. It is possible the other side, for instance, the NHS trust or insurance company, may also require their own medical report – though a joint medical expert is typically appointed.
If liability is admitted, a settlement is possible avoiding the need to go to court. This means your solicitor and the other side would reach a settlement that is considered reasonable in the circumstances. However, given the serious nature of spinal cord injuries the court is sometimes asked to decide what is fair. If liability is not admitted, the case may go to a court hearing for a judge to decide the issue, and how much compensation should be paid out if you win.
Your solicitor will advise you on the merits of your claim, and how best to pursue your claim. Many solicitors take cases on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, so that if you lose you will not have to pay your legal costs.
What’s the future for the treatment spinal cord injuries?
Scientific developments mean several new discoveries may provide hope of recovery for spinal cord victims. For instance, stem cell treatments have already begun accumulating a growing record of cases with neurological restoration.
Technological developments can also make the lives of spinal cord injury victims easier. From allowing the brain to control devices, to robot like attachments that can provide mobility and strength, technological advances are progressing at a steady pace providing hope for individuals with limited mobility and strength.