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Understanding the Costs and Complications of a Spinal Cord Injury

Written by Tom Crosley
Aug 15, 2017 Catastrophic Personal Injury, Spine Injuries
  1. 1. Types of Spinal Cord Injuries 
  2. 2. The Long-Term Effects of a Spinal Cord Injury 
  3. 3. Medical Costs Associated with Spinal Cord Injuries 
  4. 4. Crosley Law Firm: Attorneys for Spinal Cord Injury Victims 

At Crosley Law, we have seen first-hand the devastating impact that spinal cord injuries can have on injury victims and their families. Since the spinal cord bundles together the body’s nerves and routes them to the brain, severe spinal cord trauma can sever the connection between brain and body, leaving a person with limited or no motor function below the point of the injury. 

Car accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries. Of the approximately 12,500 new spinal cord injuries diagnosed each year, more than 35% of them directly result from a car crash. Other leading causes of spinal cord injuries include falls, physical attacks, and sports injuries. Spinal cord injuries can also result from diseases and other chronic conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, and cancer. 

In the cases that Crosley Law has handled, our clients’ spinal cord injuries have been caused by motor vehicle crashes, falls, and occasionally by botched medical procedures. 

Spinal cord injuries drastically change the lives of victims and their families. The long-term effects and lifetime costs of a spinal cord injury depend on the type and severity of the injury. 

Types of Spinal Cord Injuries 

Spinal cord injuries fall into two categories: incomplete and complete. When an individual suffers an incomplete spinal cord injury, their spinal cord is partially severed, but they may maintain some degree of motor functionality in the affected areas of the body. How much function they retain depends on the extent of the damage. 

When an individual sustains a complete spinal cord injury, however, their spinal cord severs entirely, and they lose all motor functions below the point of the injury. About 60% of all spinal cord injuries are incomplete, while the remaining 40% are complete injuries. 

The following are some common types of spinal cord injuries. 

  • Tetraplegia, also known as quadriplegia, occurs when there is damage to the cervical spinal cord. The result is paralysis of both legs and both arms. 
  • Paraplegia occurs when the thoracic spinal cord suffers damage. The result is paralysis in the lower half of the body.  
  • Triplegia is an incomplete spinal cord injury that results in paralysis of both legs and one arm.  
  • Anterior cord syndrome occurs when the front of the spinal cord suffers damage, leading to impaired motor and sensory functions.  
  • Central cord syndrome occurs when the center of the spinal cord is damaged, resulting in fine motor skill loss and varying degrees of paralysis of the arms. 
  • Brown-Sequard syndrome happens when one side of the spinal cord is damaged. This syndrome usually affects one side of the body more than the other. 

Spinal cord injuries are very complex, and each victim will experience unique symptoms and side effects. Some of these effects will manifest immediately while others will develop over time. 

The Long-Term Effects of a Spinal Cord Injury 

In addition to the immediate and often drastic physical changes and challenges someone with a spinal cord injury endures, there are numerous long-term effects on other parts of the body.

  • Muscles
    Over time, muscles can tighten or lose mass and tone after a spinal cord injury. Muscles can also spasm, involuntarily reflex, and/or atrophy over time.  
  • Control of Bodily Functions
    Regardless of the severity of a spinal cord injury, the stomach and intestines typically continue to function normally as will the kidneys and the urinary tract. However, due to the blocked or crossed signals of the brain to the bladder and bowels, individuals can lose control of the bodily functions associated with these organs.  
  • Skin Sensation
    Loss of sensation in the skin is a common occurrence after a spinal cord injury. This leaves injured individuals vulnerable to bedsores and extreme temperature injuries (like burns and frostbite) because they cannot feel when their skin is uncomfortable, nor can they move to relieve the discomfort. 
  • Circulatory Problems
    Spinal cord injuries can cause issues with blood circulation, including (but not limited to) high and low blood pressure, blood clots, and swelling of the limbs. 
  • Respiratory Problems
    Depending on the severity and location of the spinal cord injury, the respiratory system may be affected. If the muscles in the chest are weakened, an injured individual may not be able to get enough oxygen or cough productively. This may increase the risk of pneumonia or other lung issues.  
  • Frequent Hospitalizations
    Circulatory and respiratory problems often result in frequent hospitalizations. Depending on the severity of problem, the length of these hospital stays can be a few days or a few weeks at a time. 
  • Mental Health Conditions
    People who suffer serious, life-altering injuries also live with a high risk for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. 

Although the many long-term complications of a spinal cord injury can seem like too much to bear, there are resources and treatment options available that can help victims manage their symptoms and cope with their new limitations. Physical, occupational, and talk therapies can give spinal cord injury victims strategies for living the most productive and healthy lives possible. Working with a mental health professional can provide tools to help cope with depression, persistent pain or discomfort, and physical limitations. 

Medical Costs Associated with Spinal Cord Injuries 

Spinal cord injuries require long-term care and continued medical attention. Depending on the individual’s age at the time of injury and the severity of the injury itself, the medical costs associated with the injury can amount to several million dollars. Costs (and associated risks) are significantly greater if the injury causes breathing difficulties for the victim and a ventilator is required. 

It is important to note that in most legal cases handled by Crosley Law Firm, the cost projections associated with a spinal cord injury are higher than what you might see from other sources because our goal is to provide the victim with the best medical care available, not just the minimum acceptable care (and certainly not institutional care).  

Most cost estimates for spinal cord injuries only account for the long-term medical expenses. A more accurate (and much higher) estimate would also factor in lost wages, loss of potential future income, emotional pain and suffering, modifications to living arrangements to accommodate a physical disability, and the many other obstacles and expenditures that never seem to end for spinal cord injury victims. 

Unfortunately, insurance companies refuse to acknowledge these very real costs when they make settlement offers to the victims of devastating spinal cord injuries. That’s why most victims and families need to work with an experienced spinal cord injury lawyer if they want the best chance of securing fair compensation that addresses the true costs of the injuries which have altered their lives forever. 

Crosley Law Firm: Attorneys for Spinal Cord Injury Victims 

If you or someone you love has suffered from a spinal cord injury or other serious injury due to someone else’s negligence, contact Crosley Law Firm today. You may be entitled to compensation that can ease the burden of medical bills, lost wages, and other costs associated with a spinal cord injury, and the team at Crosley Law Firm is here to help. To schedule your free initial consultation, please complete our online contact form or call 210-LAW-3000. 


Spinal cord injury. (2014, October 8). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/spinal-cord-injury/basics/causes/con-20023837 

Spinal cord injury (SCI) facts and figures at a glance [PDF]. (2015). National SCI Statistical Center. Retrieved from https://www.nscisc.uab.edu/Public/Facts%20and%20Figures%202020.pdf

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject. 

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