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26 June 2023

Spinal cord injuries

This page will be updated with new information every Monday throughout this month, check back next week for the next installment.

Spinal cord injuries are a form of temporary or permanent damage to the spinal cord, which causes an individual to lose varying degrees of function and mobility.

What are spinal cord injuries?

Spinal cord injuries are a form of temporary or permanent damage to the spinal cord, which causes an individual to lose varying degrees of function and mobility. Spinal cord injuries are typically a result of either serious trauma or disease, both of which can cause damage to the spinal vertebrae, disks, or ligaments.

On a global level, the World Health Organization has reported that between 250,000-500,000 people are affected by spinal cord injuries every year. Such injuries can have serious effects on an individual’s quality of life – meaning proper rehabilitation and support is vital.

Common types of spinal cord injury

Spinal cord injuries can be complete or incomplete. The former signifies a complete loss of movement and sensation below the injury level, whereas an incomplete injury means that some form of movement and sensation remains. The level of seriousness of the injury is usually related to how high it is on the spinal cord: the higher up on the cord, the greater the loss of function and mobility.  

The result of spinal cord injuries can include:

  •  Total paralysis affecting all limbs (Quadriplegia)
  •  Paralysis of the lower body (Paraplegia)
Common causes of spinal cord injury

According to the Spinal Injuries Association, new estimates reveal that every year around 2,500 people in the UK are affected by a spinal cord injury. Such injury can be caused by a multitude of traumatic and non-traumatic causes. Common causes include:

  • Catastrophic falls
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sporting injuries
  • Medical or surgical acts/omissions
  • Accidents at work
  • Birth injuries
A closer look at spinal cord injuries due to medical malpractice

Substandard medical care is an important negligent cause of spinal cord injury. Improper medical care can cause spinal cord injuries in the following circumstances:

  • Surgical errors/substandard surgical care
  • Delays in diagnosis/misdiagnosis of spinal conditions, such as abscesses or tumours
  • Incorrect chiropractic technique
  • Incorrect handling of a patient with a potential/suspected spinal injury
  • Inappropriate administration of medication in the spinal cord

These are only a few ways in which improper medical practice can cause spinal cord injuries. It is important to keep in mind that it is usually case specific and dependent on medical proof of negligence.

The road to rehabilitation

Adjusting to life after a spinal cord injury can be challenging. The rehabilitation process can include inpatient care (in hospital), but also outpatient (out of hospital) lifestyle adjustments. A crucial part of rehabilitation is learning to be able to accomplish daily tasks again, with a modified approach based on the individual’s level of mobility. This typically requires rehabilitation treatments, adaptation to the home, assistive devices catered to personal needs, as well as ongoing access to healthcare. These costs can add up and be extensive, which is why securing compensation for victims of negligent spinal cord injuries is fundamental to help support their journey to comfort and independence. In cases of proven negligence, recovery of the individual’s loss of earnings is also possible, so as to bring the individual as close as possible to the position they would have been in had the negligence not occurred.

When might you have a spinal cord injury claim?

A spinal cord injury claim can be made in a number of circumstances where it can be shown that another party has caused this injury and is at fault. For example, in the context of medical malpractice, it will be crucial to show that the physician’s care was below a reasonable standard. This would also apply to an accident at work claim where it is the duty of an employer to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their employees. It follows that if an employer has breached this duty, and their negligence was a cause of the injury, they may be liable.

It is important to keep in mind that there is generally a three-year limitation period to bring a spinal cord injury claim, beginning on the date of the injury or the date of knowledge of the injury due to negligence. If you think you may have a spinal cord injury claim, get in touch with our Medical Negligence and Personal Injury team to seek expert advice.

Visit our Medical Mondays hub for more information on the different injuries, accidents, and claims that are commonly encountered by our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team.

To find out more about our Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team and the services we provide, visit our webpage here. If you’d like to speak to a member of the team, please submit an enquiry form.

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