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Understanding Spine Damage After a Car Accident

February 5, 2024 Legal Team
man holding back of neck with the caption: "Understanding your Spine Injury After An Accident"

Car accidents are traumatic and terrifying, especially if there are serious injuries. For some car accident victims, the trauma continues long after the accident as they learn the full extent of their injuries. A spinal cord injury is one of the most life-altering consequences of a serious car accident. An estimated 54 people per every one million Americans suffer spinal cord injuries each year, or about 18,000 new cases annually.

Car accidents are one of the most common causes of spinal cord injuries. When this type of serious injury occurs in a car accident, it makes it difficult or impossible for the victim to earn a living in their previous capacity. Accomplishing routine daily tasks also becomes a challenge.

What Happens to the Spine During a Car Accident?

Car accidents cause the body to endure a tremendous crash force. At 55 MPH an average 120-pound person becomes a 6,600-pound crash force in a collision. Even at a sedate 30 MPH, a 100-pound person in an accident experiences the same force they’d endure falling off the roof of a three-story building. Seatbelts help minimize the risk of dying from becoming a high-force projectile, but the crash force alone causes the body to suffer damage from the force against the seatbelt. In some cases, this force causes severe trauma to the torso, including the back, where the spinal column protects the vulnerable nerves in the spinal cord. These nerves are responsible for transmitting signals from the brain to the rest of the body.

The crash force of an accident as well as other potential sources of trauma such as a blow from another vehicle in a collision or the trauma of a rollover can cause the protective vertebrae in the spinal column to break or shatter, sometimes crushing or dislocating sensitive tissue or causing laceration or severing of the cord through shards of bone.

When the spinal cord sustains damage from pressure, swelling, bleeding, or severing, the brain’s messages are no longer able to reach the region below the point of the damage, resulting in paralysis.

Understanding Spinal Cord Injury Levels

The spine is divided into four sections, cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral with the cervical spine as the highest point and the sacral as the lowest section of the spine. The higher the section where the injury takes place the more severe the level of paralysis in car accident spinal cord injury victims.

Cervical Spinal Cord Injuries:

The cervical spine is the highest region of the spine located in the upper portion of the neck. Injuries in this area result in the most severe impairment of function or tetraplegia, also called quadriplegia. Victims of cervical spinal cord injuries have little or no movement or feeling below the neck and require lifelong assistive care.

Thoracic Spinal Cord Injuries:

The thoracic spine is the region of the spinal cord located in the middle and upper back. Injuries in this area result in paralysis of the lower body and legs or paraplegia. The level of the vertebrae at which the injury occurs determines the extent of paralysis. Victims typically lose feeling and function in their legs and pelvis and often lose bowel and bladder control.

Lumbar Spinal Cord Injuries:

The lumbar vertebrae are located in the lower back. Damage to the spinal cord in this area results in some loss of function in the legs and hips. Injury victims may also lose partial or total control of bladder and bowel function. Depending on the level of injury in the lumbar spine, the individual may walk with braces but more often requires a wheelchair.

Sacral Spinal Cord Injuries:

The sacral spine is located in the lower back, just above the tailbone. Injury in this area commonly results in a degree of loss of feeling and function in the hips and legs. The injury may impact bladder and bowel function. Most individuals with car accident spinal cord injuries in this area can walk with assistive equipment.

Long-Term Impacts of Spinal Cord Damage on The Health

Not only do victims of spinal cord damage typically rely on assistive equipment and caregivers, but many go on to experience secondary health conditions related to loss of normal bodily function. Examples of secondary health conditions common in victims of spinal cord damage after a car accident include the following:

  • Pressure sores
  • Respiratory illnesses
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Chronic pain
  • Muscle spasms

Studies show that the impacts of secondary health conditions have significant negative emotional effects on individuals with spinal cord damage after a car accident, including resulting in fewer social interactions and activities outside of the home. Rehabilitation and counseling often help spinal cord injury victims improve their mental well-being as well as their physical health.

Disability After Sustaining a Spinal Cord Injury After an Accident

Spinal cord injury victims paraplegia may still live active lives in the workforce with accommodations but often collect disability payments in lieu of working outside the home. Those with tetraplegia suffer severe disability and reliance on assistive equipment for talking and breathing, making employment nearly impossible. Vocational rehabilitation and job training services help some victims of spinal cord injury to gain employment, even if it’s outside of their previous field. Many go on to have active and successful careers. Federal and state laws help prevent discrimination in hiring those with disabilities.

Who Is Liable for Damages After a Car Accident Causes a Spinal Cord Injury?

Unlike the majority of states with fault-based insurance laws, Florida requires a car accident victim to file claims against their own insurance company regardless of who was at fault in the accident; however, the state has exceptions in place for catastrophic permanent injuries, including spinal cord injuries. Victims of life-altering spinal cord injuries may file claims against the at-fault party in a car accident or litigate the matter in a lawsuit to secure compensation for damages such as past and future medical costs, diminished earning capacity, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

A negligent or reckless driver is the at-fault party in the majority of car accidents, but in some cases, the negligent party may be a road maintenance agency that failed to address a hazard or the manufacturer of a defective car part. When someone fails to take reasonable measures to prevent harm and the result is a serious injury to another, the injury victim has a right to seek compensation and justice. Contact the car accident attorneys in Sarasota and Bradenton from Shapiro | Delgado | Hofmann today to get the justice you need to move forward with your life.