Understanding the Lifetime Costs of Traumatic Spinal Cord Injuries

Jan 1, 2024 | Brain Injuries

Among all of the risks of being involved in a traumatic accident, the risk of suffering a spinal cord injury is among the most serious. While recovery is possible in some cases, spinal cord injuries frequently lead to lifelong disabilities and complications. Even when doctors can treat accident victims’ spinal cord injuries, treatment won’t necessarily provide a complete cure. From the fear of reinjury to chronic back pain and partial paralysis, even accident victims who undergo successful procedures will often face lifelong consequences.

These consequences carry both financial and non-financial costs. Under no circumstances can living with the daily effects of a traumatic spinal cord injury be described as easy. While life may be easier for some accident victims than others, the effects of permanent spinal cord damage are inescapable.

When we represent accident victims and families who are coping with the effects of traumatic spinal cord injuries, we work hard to ensure that they receive the maximum compensation available. The costs of these injuries are usually substantial, and recovering these costs is usually essential for minimizing victims’ and their family members’ financial strain and emotional pain and suffering. If you have a claim for a traumatic spinal cord injury, ensuring that you understand the lifetime costs of your (or your loved one’s) injury will be essential as you move forward.

The Financial Costs of Spinal Cord Injuries for Accident Victims and Their Families

We’ll cover the financial costs first. These costs are usually (and understandably) top of mind. While the financial costs of a traumatic accident can add up quickly in any circumstances, this is especially true when an accident results in life-altering spinal trauma. In most cases, the financial costs of traumatic spinal cord injuries include:

Treatment for Spinal Cord Injuries

Treatment options—and treatment costs—for spinal cord injuries vary widely. Relatively minor injuries such as herniated discs and strains and sprains in the muscles and tendons can often heal with rest. However, more serious injuries such as fractured vertebrae, nerve damage, and injuries resulting in full or partial paralysis can require invasive treatment. As discussed above, while this treatment can usually help to mitigate a spinal cord injury’s consequences, a full recovery won’t always be possible.

With this in mind, some of the primary treatment options for spinal cord injuries include:

  • Surgery – Surgery will be necessary in many cases. Fusions, surgical decompressions, inserting screws into accident victims’ spines, removing damaged discs, and taking pressure off of nerves in the spinal column are all examples of surgical procedures that may be necessary.
  • Medications – Doctors use various types of medications to treat spinal cord injuries and their symptoms. For example, methylprednisolone has been shown to reduce the effects of spinal trauma in some cases. Other steroidal medications and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) may be prescribed as well.
  • Traction – Traction involves aligning the spine and stabilizing the vertebrae so that the spine can heal. Whether traction is an option generally depends on the location and severity of an accident victim’s injury as well as how soon after the injury treatment can begin.
  • Experimental Treatments – As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains, “[s]cientists are pursuing research on how to halt cell death, control inflammation, and promote the repair or regeneration of nerves.” While these forms of treatment are still in the experimental phase, they may be worth considering for some spinal cord injury patients.

Each of these forms of treatment can prove incredibly expensive. Even with good health insurance, the total costs of treatment for spinal cord injuries won’t always be covered. For many accident victims, multiple procedures and follow-up visits will be necessary, and their medical costs will quickly climb well into the six figures.

When pursuing a spinal cord injury claim after a catastrophic accident, it is critical to have a clear understanding not only of your family’s medical costs to date but also your family’s anticipated medical costs in the future. Florida law allows catastrophic accident victims and their families to recover just compensation for their current and future losses—and future losses will account for the largest portion of many victims’ and families’ claims.

Therapy and Rehabilitation for Spinal Cord Injuries

Along with treatment, therapy, and rehabilitation will also be necessary to mitigate the life-long effects of a traumatic spinal cord injury. In many cases, accident victims who suffer spinal cord injuries will need to undergo therapy and rehabilitation for the rest of their lives. For accident victims who have lost their mobility, therapy and rehabilitation may begin with seeking to restore movement, and then gradually progress toward increasing mobility and restoring muscle strength over months or years.

Of course, in some cases, restoring accident victims’ mobility will not be possible. Sometimes, spinal cord injuries are permanent. When a spinal cord injury patient is diagnosed with permanent full or partial paralysis, therapy and rehabilitation generally focus on coping and learning to use adaptive tools to the extent that this is possible.

Just like medical treatment, the costs of therapy and rehabilitation can be substantial—far exceeding what most families can afford. As a result, here too, focusing on understanding your family’s long-term financial needs is essential. From physical and occupational therapy to psychological therapy, assistive devices, and home and vehicle modifications, accident victims and their families must consider all of their long-term costs when deciding how much to seek in a settlement or verdict.

Supportive Care (Including Inpatient and In-Home Care) and Day-to-Day Costs

Supportive care will often be essential for managing the risks and effects of traumatic spinal cord injuries. This includes both supportive care as an inpatient (i.e., ventilation) and supportive care at home. Families may need to hire part-time or full-time caregivers, and these caregivers may need to have various qualifications depending on an accident victim’s specific limitations and needs.

In addition to the costs of paying an in-home caregiver, accident victims, and families coping with traumatic spinal cord injuries will typically incur a variety of other day-to-day costs as well. While the costs of prescription medications, medical supplies, and transportation may seem relatively minor in comparison to the other costs involved, these can also add up over time. When you have a personal injury claim, you are entitled to just compensation for all of the costs of your (or your loved one’s) condition, and you must assert your legal rights to the fullest extent possible.

Work-Related Costs and Considerations

Spinal cord injuries can limit accident victims’ ability to work, and in many cases, they can prevent victims from working at all. Financial losses due to inability to work are also losses that accident victims and families are entitled to recover under Florida law.

Here, too, victims’ and families’ future losses can far exceed the losses they incur through the date of their settlement or verdict. Thus, along with adding up their lost income and benefits, victims and their families must also work with their lawyers to calculate their anticipated lost future earnings. This calculation takes into consideration several factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Occupation and income before the accident.
  • Raises and promotions that would have been received in the future.
  • Whether limited or part-time work is possible.

Given that this is the case, understanding the work-related costs of a traumatic spinal cord injury requires both medical and financial analyses. When filing a personal injury claim, victims and families need evidence of both (i) how long (and to what extent) the injury will impact the victim’s ability to work; and, (ii) how much the victim would have earned in the future were it not for his or her injury. At Silva & Silva, we work closely with medical and financial experts who make these determinations and provide the evidence we need to seek just compensation on behalf of our clients.

The Non-Financial Costs of Spinal Cord Injuries for Accident Victims and Their Families

When it comes to understanding the life-long effects of a traumatic spinal cord injury, the financial costs are just part of the story. Accident victims and their family members will typically experience significant non-financial costs as well. These costs are also recoverable under Florida law—and, here too, documenting victims’ and families’ losses is essential for seeking full compensation in settlement negotiations or at trial. Some examples of documentation that can be used to demonstrate the non-financial costs of traumatic spinal cord injuries include:

  • Medical records showing victims’ diagnoses, prognoses, and ongoing treatment needs
  • Reports from doctors and therapists explaining victims’ physical pain and emotional suffering
  • Evidence of the ongoing need for therapy and rehabilitation, and how regularly attending these appointments impacts victims’ and their loved ones’ daily lives
  • Evidence of victims and their loved ones’ loss of companionship, consortium, society, and support
  • Evidence of victims’ loss of enjoyment of life
  • A “pain journal,” where victims document their pain levels and the other effects of their spinal cord injuries daily
  • Photographs, videos, written statements, and other forms of documentary evidence that demonstrates how a spinal cord injury impacts the victim’s and his or her loved ones’ day-to-day lives

In legal terms, the non-financial costs of traumatic spinal cord injuries are typically broken down into several categories. For example, in catastrophic accident cases, we will typically seek to recover just compensation for the following losses (among others) for our clients:

Pain and Suffering

The term “pain and suffering” broadly encompasses the physical and psychological effects of living with the effects of a severe traumatic injury daily. Following their accidents, many spinal cord injury victims will experience pain and suffering for the rest of their lives.

Scarring and Disfigurement

If a spinal cord injury results in scarring or disfigurement, these are losses that can be recovered as well. This is in addition to the costs of treatment, therapy, and rehabilitation for the scarring or disfiguring injury.

Loss of Companionship, Consortium, Society, and Support

Loss of companionship, consortium, society, and support describes the various ways that an accident victim’s injuries inhibit his or her ability to spend meaningful time with friends and family. Family members may have claims for these non-financial losses as well.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life

Loss of enjoyment of life describes all of the various other ways that an accident victim’s injuries negatively impact his or her life. This includes things like being unable to enjoy previous hobbies and engage in other activities that the victim enjoyed before the accident.

Speak with a Florida Injury Lawyer at Silva & Silva for Free

If you or a loved one has suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury in an accident in Florida, we strongly encourage you to contact us for more information. To discuss your family’s legal rights with an experienced Florida injury lawyer in confidence, please call 305-445-0011 or request a free consultation online today.