A spinal cord injury is among the most devastating traumatic injuries an individual can suffer. They most often happen in car and motorcycle accidents, falls, sports and recreation accidents, and violent attacks.
The Department of Neurosurgery at the University of Florida School of Medicine describes a spinal cord injury (SCI) as damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function below the level of the lesion (wound), including paralysis, sensory loss, and bowel, bladder and sexual dysfunction.
Other effects of an SCI
- inability to regulate blood pressure effectively
- reduced control of body temperature
- inability to sweat below the level of injury
- and chronic pain
Treatment of SCIs often includes complex surgery to stabilize the spine and prevent further injury to the spinal cord. Surgery will be followed by a lengthy convalescence and, eventually, rehabilitation with the help of physical medicine specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers. Paralysis caused by SCI cannot be cured, though many paralyzed patients can live productive and fulfilling lives with assistive equipment, a strong social support system, and a proper outlook.
Regardless of the outcome, a spinal cord injury completely disrupts the patient’s life as well as their family member’s lives, and it is extremely costly. In addition to immediate and ongoing medical costs, many SCI patients are unable to return to work. In the worst cases, a family member must also leave work to become a caretaker, and/or skilled nursing assistance must be hired. Some tetraplegia victims may have to enter nursing homes to ensure proper care.
When we assist spinal cord injury victims with personal injury claims, we are often asked how much a spinal cord injury lawsuit is worth. While we always caution that it is not possible to guarantee the outcome of a lawsuit and that we must investigate the case to determine what compensation we would demand, there is very good data available about the cost of a spinal cord injury.
The Costs of a Spinal Cord Injury
If a patient survives the first 24 hours after suffering a spinal cord injury, the likelihood of survival for 10 years is approximately 75-80%, the UF School of Medicine says.
If the patient’s injury was caused by someone else’s negligence, such as a pedestrian hit by a distracted driver, the SCI victim might seek compensation from the at-fault driver. Under Florida law, a person who has suffered permanent and significant loss of an important bodily function in an accident someone else caused would be able to file a lawsuit seeking “economic damages,” or compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Loss of future earning capacity
Economic damages can be enumerated, either from bills or projections based on credible data. We would calculate a client’s economic damages from their medical bills since the accident and, in cases of permanent disability, based on consultation with professional life care planners about future medical costs.
A life care plan provides an organized, concise plan for current and future needs with associated costs for individuals who have experienced catastrophic injury or have chronic health care needs. In other words, it is a way to plan for the lifetime needs of an individual with a disability.
Costs Included for a Life Care Plan
- Diagnostic testing
- Medical and adaptive equipment
- Aids for independent functioning
- Prescription and nonprescription medications
- Home care/facility care
- Routine medical care
- Architectural modifications (e.g., ramps to home entrances, widened doorways)
- Potential complications
- Surgical intervention
- Vocational services
An SCI patient’s needs will depend upon the severity of their injury and disability, which depends upon where on the spinal cord they were injured. Because SCIs cause injury from the point of injury downward, cervical (neck) injuries are worse than thoracic (chest-level), abdominal, or lumbar (lower back) injuries.
Cervical SCIs may cause tetraplegia, loss of function in all four limbs and the chest and abdomen. Lower SCIs cause paraplegia, loss of function in the legs and in portions of the chest and abdomen, depending on the site of injury.
Among the many statistics maintained by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are estimates of the yearly and lifetime costs of SCIs. According to their 2021 SCI Facts and Figures at a Glance (the full 2020 report is here), the costs include:
High Tetraplegia (C1–C4 vertebrae, the most severe injury)
- $1.16 million in the first year
- $202,036 for each subsequent year
- $5,162,152 for a lifetime if injured at age 25
- $2,837,031 for a lifetime if injured at age 50
- $567,011 in the first year
- $75,112 for each subsequent year
- $2,524,270 for a lifetime if injured at age 25
- $1,656,602 for a lifetime if injured at age 50
Motor function at any level
- $379,698 in the first year
- $46,119 for each subsequent year
- $1,724,594 for a lifetime if injured at age 25
- $1,217,266 for a lifetime if injured at age 50
The NSCISC says the average yearly expenses (health care costs and living expenses) and the estimated lifetime costs that are directly attributable to SCI vary greatly based on education, neurological impairment, and the patient’s pre-injury employment history.
Further, the NSCISC says losses in wages, fringe benefits, and productivity average $78,633 per year.
Noneconomic damages or compensation for an SCI patient’s lawsuit
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of familial relationship
Typically, these intangible costs are determined by multiplying the amount awarded as economic damages by a factor of 1 1/2 to 5, depending on the circumstances of your life after the accident as presented to insurers or to a jury by your attorneys.
Contact Palm Coast Chiumento Law Firm for Help
A spinal cord injury can be a catastrophic physical, emotional and financial injury, and the demands in a personal injury claim for an SCI caused by a second party’s negligence or recklessness should reflect the injury victim’s full costs and losses. On the Palm Coast of Florida, Chiumento Law, PLLC will prepare a claim that presents a full accounting of your total economic and noneconomic losses to make sure you recover the maximum compensation available. Contact us online or at (386) 445-8900 for a free review of your case today.