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Spinal Cord Injury
Your spinal cord works a lot like a multi-lane information highway. Signals from the brain travel through this two-way communication line that is made of nerve cells and fibres and looks similar to a cable. Then they branch off to secondary roads to reach different parts of your body. Similarly, messages from nerve endings in the body travel back through these side roads, are routed through the spinal cord and are brought back to your brain for decoding and processing. This communication network allows the brain to control muscles, ensure proper organ function, and provide important sensory feedback (such as knowing when you are touching something that could burn you if you don’t pull away).
Your spine provides vital protection for this important information highway while remaining flexible enough to allow a range of motion. But if your spine suffers trauma that causes or permits damage to the spinal cord, it could result in a kind of message traffic jam where some lanes of that highway become blocked or closed off completely. Unfortunately, if damage is permanent, there is no known alternate route between the brain and body.
Traumatic spinal cord injuries can be caused by falls, contact sports, surgical errors, or intentionally inflicted violence. But if you or a loved one sustained a traumatic spinal cord injury in a motor vehicle accident in Ontario, you may be eligible for certain medical benefits and compensation from the province’s Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule (SABS) or no-fault auto insurance.
Severe debilitating spinal cord damage can be life-altering. Ensuring you receive the maximum amount of benefits and compensation you need and deserve will be critical as you recover and build your best life possible. Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ catastrophic spinal cord injury team has the experience, knowledge and skill you’ll want in your legal representative. As your fierce advocate, we can help you build a strong case to convince an insurer to settle your claim fairly, and we’ll be ready to take the matter to court if they won’t.
Understanding the spine and spinal cord.
Design and function.
Most people are born with 33 vertebrae in the spine. Seven cervical vertebrae in the neck (C1 to C7), 12 thoracic vertebrae in the upper back (T1 to T12), five lumbar vertebrae in the lower back (L1 to L5), five sacral vertebrae between the hip bones (S1 to S5), and four vertebrae that form the coccyx. By adulthood, the sacral and coccyx vertebrae have normally fused together.
Vertebrae are joined by ligaments on each side of the spine and separated by cartilage discs that absorb pressure as a person moves. Together these parts form the spine, a protective tube-like casing designed to protect the spinal cord. The spinal cord begins at the base of the brain and continues through to the L2 lumbar vertebrae. There it branches into a series of nerves that extend to the coccyx.
Spinal cord injury symptoms.
Injuries to the spinal cord, which are also called spinal lesions, may affect the functionality of multiple systems in the body, including:
- Muscle movement.
- Sensory issues.
- The respiratory system.
- The circulatory system.
- The urinary tract and bowels.
The extent of the damage from the injury and the parts of the cord affected determine the severity, type of disability, and whether loss of physiological function is permanent.
Common symptoms indicating a possible spinal cord injury include:
- Weakness in limbs.
- Loss of sensation, numbness or tingling in limbs.
- Loss of coordination and/or balance.
- Severe neck or back pain.
- Altered reflexes.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Changes in sexual function.
Assessing injury severity.
Spinal cord injuries are categorized as complete or incomplete, depending on the loss of function. If all sensory and motor control function is lost, the injury is complete. If some function remains, the injury is incomplete. Approximately three out of five spinal cord injuries are considered incomplete.
Some common incomplete spinal injuries include:
- Anterior cord syndrome - the injury is located at the front of the spinal cord and generally causes paralysis below the lesion (the neurological level of injury) and some sensory loss. This syndrome usually has the worst prognosis of incomplete injuries and is most likely to mirror complete injury.
- Central cord syndrome - the injury is to the central spinal cord and tends to lead to loss of motor control, sensory deficits and bladder dysfunction. Usually there is greater loss of function in the arms and especially the hands as opposed to the legs. Prognosis is generally good but full recovery is rare. Recovery of some function in the legs is also significantly more likely than any recovery to arm function.
- Brown-Sequard syndrome - the injury occurs on the left or right side of the cord. On the side of the injury weakness, paralysis or proprioceptive issues are likely. There tends to be sensory deficits on the opposite side. This syndrome has the best prognosis for full recovery.
- Cauda Equina syndrome (CES)/Conus Medullaris Syndrome(CMS) - CES is a spinal compression injury that affects nerve roots in the lumbar area resulting in muscle weakness and sensory deficits but may not affect movement. CMS has similar symptoms and affects the sacral cord and lumbar nerve roots.
- Posterior Cord syndrome - the injury occurs to the back of the spinal cord and results in poor coordination. Prognosis for recovery depends on the severity of the neurological deficit.
Complete spinal cord injuries result in paralysis and full loss of sensory messaging. A complete injury affecting the lower half of the body is called paraplegia. A complete injury affecting the entire body below the neck is called tetraplegia or quadriplegia.
Spinal cord injuries from motor vehicle accidents.
Whether a driver, passenger, cyclist or pedestrian, anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident can be at risk of a spinal cord injury. Collisions with other vehicles, other road users, or stationary objects are most likely to cause traumatic injury to the spinal cord. In the moments after such an accident it is important not to move a person with a potential spinal cord injury until medical responders arrive to assess the situation. Improper positioning of a person with such an injury could accidentally worsen the prognosis for recovery or cause permanent paralysis and complete injury.
Once an accident victim is in hospital, doctors will generally question the person (if they are able to respond) while conducting a physical exam. Further diagnostic imaging from X-rays, CT scans and MRIs can help to clarify where the damage to the spinal cord occurred and its extent.
The hours, days, weeks and even months following the accident can be an emotional rollercoaster as the prognosis for recovery and restored function becomes clear and as the injured person experiences life with a disability. The cost of rehabilitation, home renovations for accessibility, lost income and medical expenses and attendant care can be astronomical, and put even more strain on a person who is already facing a difficult time in their life.
Ontario’s Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule provides funds for accident victims to cover some of their expenses and losses. Spinal cord injuries usually do not fall under SABS’ Minor Injury Guideline. Rather the question becomes whether or not they will qualify as a catastrophic impairment. People with non-catastrophic injuries can access up to $65,000 for medical expenses, attendant care, income replacement, housekeeping services and assistive devices for up to five years. When a person is deemed to have a catastrophic injury, they are eligible for up to $1 million in benefits and compensation over a lifetime. Higher benefit limits are available to those who have purchased this optional increased coverage under their automobile insurance policies.
Help for catastrophic benefits denials.
The vast difference in funds available to accident victims who fall into these two categories ensures that insurers may try to deny top tier benefits to a person whose injury is not undeniably catastrophic. When you are already at a low point in your life and focussing all your energy on rehabilitation and recovery, just thinking about having to battle over insurance can be demoralizing and distressing. You should know that you are not alone in this fight. Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers’ catastrophic spinal cord injury team is here to help you with your claim in whatever way we can.
By choosing a skilled, experienced and knowledgeable spinal cord injury lawyer as your advocate, you can be confident that your legal representative understands how to build a strong case that will either encourage the insurer to offer a fair settlement or be very persuasive to a judge or jury in the unlikely event it goes to trial. The Gluckstein spinal cord injury team draws on our extensive network of medical specialists to provide expert opinions regarding the extent of your injury and your likely prognosis. Having handled hundreds of severe personal injury cases like yours, we have a proven record for results. We also only receive payment if we are successful in negotiating a settlement or winning a court award.
Consistently ranked by our legal profession peers as one of Canada’s top personal injury law firms, Gluckstein’s reputation for excellence is well known across Canada. Moreover, our reputation among current and past clients for providing compassionate full-circle care can help to reassure you that we always see you as more than a case.
We treat our clients as we would treat our own family both during and after any legal proceedings. We always put your best interests first in everything we do and work diligently to give you the comprehensive care and service you deserve. While we may first meet you during one of the worst periods of your life, we are determined to see you get what you need to live your best life.
Trust Gluckstein Lawyers to be your tireless and fierce advocate for justice. Our personal injury lawyers in Toronto, Ottawa, Niagara, and Barrie serve clients across Ontario and are here to work with you. Contact us for an initial no obligation, free consultation to learn more about what we can do for you.
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