Following a car, truck, or motorcycle accident, a common yet devastating injury that people regularly sustain are spinal cord injuries. These injuries are some of the most traumatic injuries that a person can sustain and can result in loss of feeling, complete paralysis, and even death. While spinal cord injuries are not just reserved for car and automobile accidents, these types of accidents are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries here in Fort Smith as well as all across Arkansas.
A broken arm or leg could keep you out of work for a few weeks. However, if someone suffers a spinal injury, the adverse consequences could be life-altering. Depending on the severity of the injury, a person could be permanently paralyzed or be in constant pain for the rest of their life. The economic and emotional costs are often significant. If you experience a devastating spinal injury, you could require modifications to your home and might never work again. In a case where another party caused you injury, they should be held financially responsible.
Our Fayetteville, AR personal injury lawyers understand how a severe spinal cord injury will affect your life. Our experienced team of lawyers and staff provide aggressive and compassionate legal representation to the residents of Fort Smith and the surrounding areas. If you or a loved one suffered a devastating spinal injury, contact our law offices at (479) 316-0438 to review your legal options.
Facts About the Spinal Cord
The spine which is also known as the backbone is a linked column of thirty-three individual bones which runs the length of the back from the head to the lower back. Running the length of these bones is a series of nerves and fibers which connect at the base of the skull to the brain stem and run the length of the spine terminating in the lower back. These nerves and fibers are delicate, yet they play a crucial role in every activity and body function in our body.
Most nerves in the body are part of the peripheral nervous system and are responsible for sending information that the body is experiencing to and from the brain, as well as playing a role in those bodily functions that are automatic such as breathing, sweating, and digesting food. The peripheral nervous system connects to the spinal cord through small holes in each of the thirty-three vertebrae known as Foramen, the nerves then sends electrical impulses between then body and the spinal cord and transmits the messages between the peripheral nerves and the brain which is the base of the central nervous system.
The brain, spinal cord, and nerves in the eyes all join together in what is known as the central nervous system. The four lobes of the brain, the frontal lobe, the temporal lobe, the parietal lobe, and the occipital lobe are part of the large structure of the brain, which also includes the cerebellum and the brain stem. The brain is, of course, responsible for our capacity to think, but it also directs all the various organs and functions of the body by working in conjunction with the spinal cord and the peripheral nervous system.
Therefore, injury to any one of the thirty-three vertebrae or to the delicate nerves and fibers, which run the length of the spinal cord, can result in devastating consequences. As noted, the spinal cord has nerves connecting to the brain, which is responsible for automatic functions of the body from autonomic nerves. An injury to these nerves can result in the body no longer being able to conduct those activities such as breathing, which can result in death or the need for permanent care. In most spinal cord injuries a person will experience diminished or even complete loss and control of many bodily functions such as control of their bladder and bowel as well as loss of sexual functions.
Types of Lawsuits From Spinal Cord Injuries in Fort Smith, AR
Anytime a person is involved in an injury they often wonder if they are able to file a lawsuit for the damages that they have sustained. In the realm of personal injuries, spinal cord injuries are often some of the most devastating and consistently require the most amount of ongoing care. Spinal cord injuries are either classified as complete or incomplete.
A complete spinal cord injury means that the spine has lost all of its ability to transmit messages to the rest of the body. How extensive this depends on where and what bones were damaged. The general rule when it comes to complete spinal cord injuries is that the spine will not be able to transmit messages from below the place of the injury. The provide some clarification, this means that if a person sustains a complete spinal cord injury in their lower spine, then they may not be able to move their legs or they may lose control over their bowels. However, if the injury is lower on the back than a person who has sustained a complete spinal cord injury may be able to move their arms and breathe on their own.
Incomplete disabilities are different from complete spinal cord injuries in that in an incomplete injury the spine will still be able to transmit some or at least one message below the place of the injury. This may mean that a person who has sustained an injury to their lower spine may retain some sensation or even movement in their lower legs.
No matter if you have sustained a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury, you general can file two types of lawsuits in a spinal cord injury case depending on the result of the injury. You may be able to file a personal injury case based on the injuries you have sustained, or in the event that a person has died because of their spinal cord injury, a wrongful death action may be brought on their behalf.
Personal injury cases based on spinal cord injuries generally require that the person who sustained the injury file the case on their own behalf, however, because of the likelihood that a person could sustain permanent paralysis then a family member may be able to file the case on their behalf. Personal injury compensation packages generally are designed to compensate a person for the pain and suffering they have had to endure, as well as provide them with a means to cover the past and future medical expenses.
Unfortunately, many of those who sustain spinal cord injuries do not survive the accident or may die as a result of their injuries. In these sad cases, a family member may file a suit for wrongful death. Compensation in a case such as this will generally cover lost wages, hospitalization, and funeral expenses. A financial award for pain and suffering experienced by the family may also be included.
Proving Negligence in a Fort Smith Spinal Cord Injury Lawsuit
Most personal injury lawsuits filed by someone who suffered a catastrophic spinal cord injury are typically based on the legal theory of negligence. Legally, a person is guilty of negligent behavior if their conduct breached their duty of care and caused an injury. For instance, if your spinal cord was damaged in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, our Fort Smith personal injury lawyers would have to prove that the drunk driver’s actions were negligent.
Whether you suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident or by falling down a dark staircase littered with debris, you need to prove that another person, company, or entity was negligent to be compensated through a personal injury lawsuit. To prove negligence, a plaintiff must establish four elements.
Duty of Care
The defendant must have owed you a legal duty of care. A legal duty of care is the obligation someone has not to cause harm based on their relationship with the injured party. For example, your back surgeon has a duty of care not to cause unreasonable harm during surgery. This does not mean that the outcome of your surgery must be positive. However, it does mean that your surgeon provided the acceptable level of medical care, for example, washing their hands before the procedure or ensuring they operated on the correct part of your back.
Breach of Duty
To succeed in a personal injury lawsuit because you suffered a spinal cord injury, you must prove that the defendant breached their legal duty of care. To prove a breach, you need to demonstrate that the conduct in question did not conform with what a reasonable and prudent person would have done under the same or similar circumstances.
It is a common medical practice for a surgeon to wash their hands before an operation. If your spinal surgeon neglected to wash their hands before your procedure, they breached their duty of care. Every competent surgeon will ensure their hands are sterilized before performing a procedure – this is not simply a difference in medical opinion.
Showing a breach of duty is not enough to prevail in a personal injury lawsuit. You must prove to the court that the conduct caused your injury. If you suffered a spinal cord injury in a car accident, you would have to demonstrate that another driver’s conduct caused the accident and your injury. To illustrate this concept, imagine you were stopped at a red light and a drunk driver rear-ended your car, causing your neck to snap back and forth, injuring your spine. Linking your injury to the collision and the behavior of the drunk driver is not difficult
However, a drunk driver could collide with your car and you could walk away without any major injuries. When paramedics arrive on the scene, they insist on taking you to the nearest hospital to assess your medical condition. While stepping into the ambulance, you lose your footing and injury your back when you hit the ground. Under these circumstances, the drunk driver’s breach of duty did not cause your spinal injury.
The final element you must prove is damages. Damages are a way for the court to represent the harm you suffered economically. A jury will place a monetary amount on your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. However, before this occurs, you must be able to substantiate your damages with evidence. For instance, receipts or statements could be used to prove your medical costs. To hold someone legally liable for your injuries, you must be able to prove your damages.
Available Damages in a Spinal Cord Injury Personal Injury Lawsuit in Fort Smith, AR
The final element in proving negligence after suffering a spinal cord injury is proving damages. If you suffered a spinal injury due to another’s negligence, you are entitled to compensation for various damages.
First, you could recover your economic losses. Economic losses include medical expenses, the cost of physical therapy, and lost wages if you are unable to earn a living or if your earning capacity has been diminished. Furthermore, you could recover the cost of any modifications that are necessary to move forward, including systems in your home to increase mobility or a specialized vehicle.
You are also entitled to recover for your emotional and mental suffering. These intangible damages include all the non-economic harm you endured. For example, if you were permanently paralyzed, you could be compensated for the emotional distress associated with the loss of mobility. Every person experiences a traumatic injury differently, so our Fort Smith personal injury lawyers will evaluate your individual case and tailor your expected damages to your specific harm.
Contact Our Fort Smith Spinal Cord Injury Lawyers for Help You’re your Injury Case
If you or a loved one have suffered a serious spinal injury, contact our Fort Smith, AR spinal injury lawyers. Our office will fight to recover compensation for your injuries and other damages. For your free consultation, call (479) 316-0438 or contact us online today.