Spinal Cord Injury & Liability

According to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year 11,000 people suffer from a spinal cord injury. A spinal injury may occur after a blow to the spine damages the vertebrae. While spinal injury may result from a disease, oftentimes the injury occurs from a car accident, a fall, or from a recreational sport. Depending on the severity of the spinal cord injury, the victim may suffer from a lifelong disability. Consequently, the injured person may sue the person at fault for the injury.

The Function

The spinal cord is an essential part of helping the body function. It is located between the base of the brain and the waist. The brain and the spinal cord control the functions of the body through the central nervous system. The nerve fibers attached are responsible for carrying messages back and forth from the brain to the body. The vertebrae, the bones in the spinal column, surround the spinal cord.

Types of Injuries

A spinal cord injury can result in the loss of the ability to move or feel. These injuries are either complete or incomplete. A complete injury refers to a spinal injury in which a person loses nerve function and the ability to control movement below the injury. This typically includes the inability to control one’s legs, bowel, and bladder, while still maintaining control over the arms and legs. An incomplete spinal cord injury may not sever all ability to move or feel. Each case is different, but a person may experience feeling below the spinal injury and retain some capacity to move.


Car accidents, falls, violent attacks, sport injuries, and diseases often cause spinal injuries. Excluding injury caused by disease, spinal cord injuries occur when trauma to the spine causes a fracture, or dislocates or crushes the vertebrae. In general, spinal cord injuries are permanent, but some mild cases result in a certain amount of recovery.

Suing for Personal Injury

When a spinal cord injury is the result of someone else’s actions, an injured person may bring a personal injury claim. Personal injury refers to the bodily or emotional harm caused by another person. Personal injury claims include the following theories: negligence, strict liability, and intentional torts. Most spinal cord injuries are the result of someone’s carelessness. Tort law calls this negligence. Negligence refers to a person’s failure to act as a reasonable and prudent person would in similar circumstances.

Determining Fault

Most spinal cord injuries that involve negligence are the result of a car accident. The CDC attributes car accidents as the leading cause of spinal cord injuries in people under the age of 65. Many claims, however, do not go to trial. Instead, negotiation usually takes place with the liable party’s automobile insurance company. In this situation, although it is unnecessary to produce the kind of evidence a trial court would require, it is necessary to determine who was at fault in the accident.

In a car accident, fault can be established by reviewing the police accident report, establishing that the other person violated a traffic law, or by showing that the type of accident, such as a rear-end collision or a left-turn accident, establishes fault automatically. If established that one person was careless or more careless than the other person was, than the negligent person is responsible for paying a portion of the injured party’s damages.

Statute of Limitations

It is necessary to seek recovery for a spinal cord injury before the statute of limitations prevents a claim. The statute of limitations refers to the amount of time a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. Every state has different statutes that govern the time limit for a particular type of claim. In general, the time limit ranges from one to six years for personal injury claims. The statute of limitations on a personal injury claim begins to run from the moment that the injury occurred. The failure to file a claim within the specified time will bar any future legal action.


A person suffering from a spinal cord injury may recover general and special damages.

General Damages – Used to compensate the plaintiff for the injury.

• Pain and suffering: The harm is typically difficult to quantify, but the physical and emotional pain is considered in the calculation. The nature of the injury, future pain, and the severity of the injury provides a basis for the award. The special damage award sometimes helps determine the monetary figure.

Special Damages – Used to compensate for the quantifiable damages.

• Medical expenses: Theses expenses include past, present, and future doctor visits, emergency room visits, hospital stays, rehabilitation, and nursing services.

• Lost earnings: Past, present, and future loss of earnings are included. Past earnings are calculated by determining the lost wages from the time of the accident to the time of settlement. The injured person may recover for the loss of earning capacity if unable to work in the future. The calculation considers the person’s age, life expectancy, occupation, skills, and past earnings.