While many different types of injuries can result from a car accident, spinal cord injuries are particularly common after a crash due to the sudden nature of the impact. The force of a motor vehicle collision can cause mild to severe damage to the backbone and the bundle of nerves it protects. The physical consequences that result from an injury to the spine are often long lasting and may present new limitations to your everyday life. Even for those who fully recover, there may be a period of pain and suffering that limits your enjoyment of life and employment potential.

If you have suffered a spinal cord injury after a car accident, contact a car accident attorney who can help you recover the maximum amount of compensation possible in your case. CarAccident.Law can connect you to a spinal cord injury lawyer in your area.

What is a Spinal Cord Injury?

According to most civil statutes, or personal injury law, spinal injuries are considered “catastrophic” injuries due to the long-term nature of their effects on a person. A car accident can cause injuries to the vertebrae or the spinal cord they protect, potentially leaving a car crash victim paralyzed, or with a significant road to recovery ahead of them. In many spinal cord car accident cases, a person’s physical abilities will never be exactly the same as they were before the crash.

These kinds of details are significant for a spinal cord injury settlement from a car accident lawsuit because they open the door for victims to pursue future damages, in addition to compensation for past medical bills and fees. An exceptional car accident attorney will take into consideration the expenses associated with any future spinal cord injury recovery stages, as well as any immediate costs from the crash. Working with a skilled spinal cord injury lawyer after an auto collision can help ensure you don’t settle for a lowball offer from an insurance company, and that you are not left with significant out-of-pocket costs from your car accident spinal cord injury healing process.

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Types of Spinal Cord Injuries

Where on the spine an injury is located can drastically impact the severity of its effects. For this reason, spinal cord injuries are classified based on the injury location.

Spinal cord injury classifications include:

  • Sacral spinal cord injury: Damage to the bottom of the spine
  • Lumbar spinal cord injury: Damage to the lower vertebrae
  • Lower thoracic spinal cord injury: Damage to the lower middle vertebrae
  • Upper thoracic spinal cord injury: Damage to the upper middle vertebrae
  • Cervical spinal cord injury: Damage to the upper vertebrae

Complete vs Incomplete Spinal Cord Injuries

A complete spinal cord injury results in permanent damage to the affected area. Because the spine protects a bundle of nerves that run throughout the entire body, auto accident spinal injuries to certain areas can result in paralysis in different body parts. A complete injury higher on the spinal cord can cause paralysis in most of your body and affect all limbs. This is known as tetraplegia or quadriplegia. A motor vehicle accident injury that occurs lower on the spinal cord may lead to paralysis or adverse affects in the legs and lower body, known as paraplegia.

An incomplete spinal cord injury, on the other hand, can have a variety of outcomes. Total recovery after sustaining an incomplete spinal cord injury is possible when a car accident causes little to no damage to nerve cells. With an incomplete spinal cord injury, the individual retains the ability to transmit information to and from the brain along the spinal cord. Incomplete car accident spinal cord injury victims may keep some or all sensory ability and ability to control muscles below the location of the injury.

Spinal Cord Injury Car Accident Statistics

There are about 17,810 new spinal cord injury cases diagnosed each year in the United States. About 294,000 Americans currently live with a spinal cord injury. Since 2015, about 30 percent of patients who have suffered a spinal cord injury require re-hospitalization one or more times during any given year after their initial injury. The average hospital stay length for spinal cord injury-related care is 18 days. Additionally, about 78 percent of new spinal cord injury patients in the United States are male.

According to the National Institute of Health, car accidents are among the most common causes of spinal cord injuries in the United States. Risk factors for severe spinal cord injuries include the involvement of alcohol, certain preexisting diseases, speeding, and not wearing a seatbelt. Spinal cord injury complications are more common for victims who are between the ages of 16 and 30 or older than age 65.

a person drinking while driving

One study from the National Library of Medicine identified the lumbosacral area of the spine as the most commonly damaged region from car accidents. Out of the spinal cord injury types studied, 64.8 percent of patients suffered damage to the lumbosacral region due to a spinal cord injury sustained in a car accident. The majority of the victims who received a spinal cord injury diagnosis were driving the vehicle (86.8 percent), and the rest were in the passenger seat.

Spinal cord injuries are grouped together with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) under personal injury law because of their propensity to cause long-term damage and disability after a car crash. According to 2021 data collected by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, hospitalized drivers in Massachusetts who are injured with a spinal cord injury have longer hospital stays on average (5 to 7 days) and higher hospital bills (~$51,000) than drivers who suffer other kinds of injuries in a crash.

Spinal Injuries Caused by Car Accidents

Spinal cord injuries resulting from auto collisions come in many forms, each with varying degrees of severity. Examples of backbone injuries caused by car crashes include:

  • Whiplash
  • Herniated discs
  • Bulging discs
  • Fractures
  • Compression injuries
  • Contusions

Additionally, different types of car accidents are more likely to cause certain spinal injuries than others. For example, rear-end collisions commonly result in whiplash, whereas a head-on collision might increase a person’s risk of suffering a broken neck. Truck accidents can result in some of the worst spinal cord damage, given the weight of most commercial vehicles.

How Does a Spinal Cord Injury Affect the Body?

In addition to pain and damage done directly to the area of the spine, spinal cord injuries commonly affect the rest of the body when nerve communication is limited. Besides paralysis, a spinal cord injury can also lead to:

  • Headaches
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Tingling or numbness in appendages
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Neck pain

An experienced spinal cord injury lawyer can help ensure that the full scope of someone’s losses after a car accident are accounted for in a comprehensive demand package. Leave no stone unturned when you work with CarAccident.Law.

a woman touching her neck with a pained facial expression

Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Stages

The early stages of spinal cord injury treatment may involve hospital stays, imaging and diagnostic tests, and sometimes surgery. The average hospital stay immediately following a catastrophic spinal cord injury is 11 days. During this time, the main goal is usually stabilization. Afterwards, an individual with a car accident spinal cord injury may be transferred to a rehabilitative facility, where the average stay is 36 days.

The first year after the accident is the most dangerous time for spinal cord injury complications to develop, so you may find yourself needing many follow-up appointments and check-in visits during this window of time.

Some patients may find that they are able to recover full motor function by around 18 months into their spinal cord injury rehabilitation, whereas others may require lifelong care. Furthermore, physical therapy and psychological recovery may be linked for many patients, as they learn to cope with a new normal.

Recovering Damages for a Spinal Injury

In most spinal cord injury cases, it is possible to recover medical bills and property damage through a car accident insurance claim. Whether you pursue these damages through your own insurance or through a potentially at-fault driver’s insurance will depend on the type of policies you both have, where the crash took place, and whether another driver was at fault for your spinal injury. The spinal cord injury lawyers at CarAccident.Law can help determine these crucial details and identify where compensation is available and how to best pursue it based on your circumstances.

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Filing a Car Accident Insurance Claim for a Spinal Injury

Some states require you to file a claim through your own insurance after a collision.

However, insurance companies limit the amount of compensation you can recover for accident injuries. Most policies are simply not structured to cover the cost of lifelong care, or even lengthy recovery periods for injured individuals. Consult with a car accident spinal cord injury lawyer to see how filing a lawsuit can increase your spinal cord injury car accident settlement amount.

For the damages you do pursue through an insurance claim, it is still advisable to consult with an spinal cord injury attorney, because insurance adjustors may try to offer low-ball settlement amounts to protect their own bottom line. If you need help filing your claim or ensuring that you are offered an appropriate amount for your auto collision spinal cord injury, contact a lawyer with CarAccident.Law.

Spinal Cord Injury Auto Insurance Claims

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Filing a Car Accident Lawsuit for a Spinal Cord Injury

The unfortunate fact is that many insurance policies do not cover the full scope of damages associated with many car accident spinal cord injuries. Damages which exceed your insurance policy limits would have to be sought through a civil lawsuit.

A well-versed lawyer can help you pursue the following damages for a spinal cord injury caused by a car accident:

  • Past and future medical bills which are not covered by insurance
  • Rehabilitative costs
  • Pain and suffering
  • Lost wages
  • Diminished earning potential
  • Necessary home or vehicle modifications
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

After a car accident causes an injury to the spine, collecting all the medical bills someone has incurred thus far is a relatively straightforward process. What is less straightforward, though, is estimating the future costs of someone’s medical and rehabilitative care given the severity of their spinal injury.

To do this, spinal cord injury lawyers will work with medical and vocational experts to gather qualified, expert testimony about a patient’s condition. They will build a case based on how long concerns are expected to last, what kinds of continuing care a patient may require, what degree of medical intervention is realistic for the future, and the level of rehabilitative and therapeutic care that a person with a car crash spinal cord injury will likely need to live a fulfilling life.

For example, if a spinal injury has left someone partially paralyzed, the right surgeries combined with intensive physical therapy could help them regain some or all of their motor function. These future expenses may not be considered in a straightforward insurance claim however, without the help of a car accident spinal cord injury attorney and expert testimony.

With a medical professional’s contributions and a spinal cord injury lawyer’s expertise, a civil judge and jury can better understand how much compensation an injured person might need to cover the estimated future costs of their medical and rehabilitative care after a spinal cord injury caused by a car accident.

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Learn more about spinal cord injury lawsuits

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This resource should help you understand the spinal cord injury lawsuit process in more detail. Call CarAccident.Law for additional questions.

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Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer: FAQs

The following represent some frequently asked questions in the aftermath of a spinal cord injury from a car accident:

human spinal cord

What is the most common spinal cord injury in a car accident?

The most common spinal cord injury in a car accident is whiplash affecting the cervical spine. Whiplash also damages the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the neck.

After whiplash, common spinal cord injuries include:

  • Herniated discs
  • Spinal fractures
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Sprains and strains

In the most severe of cases, a person might suffer a complete spinal cord injury resulting in loss of movement and paralysis.

How do you know if you have a spinal cord injury after a car accident?

Signs and symptoms of a spinal cord injury after a car accident may include:

  • Neck stiffness and pain
  • Pain that becomes worse with movement
  • Inability to move appendages or to access full range of motion
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pain, swelling, and tenderness

When should you see a doctor for a spinal cord injury?

See a doctor for a spinal cord injury as soon as possible after an accident, even for suspected damage.

At the scene of a car accident, paramedics may use a rigid collar and backboard in order to prevent further damage if they suspect you might be suffering from a severe spinal cord injury. You may also be given sedatives to prevent movement, or receive help breathing via intubation.

Even if the accident is not severe enough to warrant these kinds of immediate stabilization techniques for a spinal cord injury, you should still see a doctor as soon as possible in the aftermath of a crash. Whiplash and spinal cord injury nerve pain may set in during the days after a crash. To prevent further injury or complications, make sure you are seen by a medical professional ASAP.

Can you regain function after a spinal cord injury?

After an incomplete spinal cord injury, you may be able to regain certain functions.

Your doctor is the best source of advice for what may be possible during your car accident spinal cord injury rehabilitation period and beyond. Signs of spinal cord injury recovery might include tingling, pain, or spasticity below the site of the injury. In some cases, spinal shock may lead to a temporary loss of sensation and muscle control that can begin to resolve itself over time as the spine heals. After about 4 to 12 weeks, it is estimated that most cases of spinal shock begin to resolve, and the body can regain function. However, every auto accident spinal cord injury is different. Stay in communication with your doctor and therapists during your car accident spinal cord injury rehab.

What is the best treatment for a spinal cord injury?

Diagnostic imaging is usually the golden standard for understanding how to treat a spinal cord injury after a car accident.

A patient will likely undergo an MRI, CT scan, and/or X-Rays so their doctor can decide how to proceed with their treatment. In some cases, surgery combined with spinal cord injury medication is recommended. In most instances, spinal cord injury physical therapy is a crucial part of recovery after a motor vehicle collision. There are still developments being made in understanding how to best treat spinal cord injuries. Non-invasive skin-surface electrical stimulation combined with physical therapy has shown progress in helping some people with spinal cord injuries regain the use of their hands and arms. In other cases, traditional realignment techniques using a rigid brace are recommended.

Best Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Centers

According to US News surveys from 2020-2022, the following represent the top 10 best rated spinal cord rehab centers in the United States:

  • Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Chicago, IL (score=100)
  • TIRR Memorial Hermann, Houston, TX (score=89.7)
  • Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Charlestown, MA (score=84.1)
  • Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, West Orange, NJ (score=80.8)
  • University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, WA (score=75.7)
  • Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN (score=71.1)
  • Rusk Institute, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY (score=70.8)
  • Shepherd Center, Atlanta, GA (score=69.9)
  • Moss Rehab, Elkins Park, PA (score=68.7)
  • UPMC Mercy, Pittsburgh, PA (score=67.2)

In addition to physical rehabilitation, individuals who suffer spinal damage in car accident can also benefit from vocational rehabilitation and psychological treatment. Vocational rehabilitation can help provide counseling, retraining, and job placement opportunities after a disabling spinal injury. Assistance with finding re-employment can help many people with spinal cord injuries find new purpose and financial stability after a car accident. Additionally, psychological therapy can help accident victims come to terms with changes in their abilities, which often leads to more positive outcomes overall.

Spinal Cord Injury Support Groups

CarAccident.Law can help connect you to more than just spinal cord injury lawyers. Our team can help point you in the direction of some of the best spinal cord injury rehabilitation centers and support groups. Joining a spinal cord injury support group after a car accident can help you find community and connect to people facing similar challenges. It can help motivate car accident victims, provide support to your family, and give you a forum to express both your worries and your wins. Local groups allow in-person opportunities, while online spinal cord injury support groups offer an extended network.

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Reach out to a Spinal Cord Injury Attorney

CarAccident.Law is a one-stop-shop for care and counseling after a crash. Whether your goal is as immediate as finding a spinal cord injury lawyer near you, or as sensitive as looking for online support and counseling, our experts are available to help.

If you need help obtaining appropriate compensation, consider speaking with a spinal cord injury attorney in our network before you file a claim for damages. The car accident spinal cord injury lawyers affiliated with CarAccident.Law can help build and strengthen your claim, strategically present your case, protect you from low-ball settlement offers, and ensure that you receive adequate compensation for your losses. Contact us today for an initial consultation.