Spinal Cord Injuries: What You Need to Know

The spinal cord plays a vital role in how the human body functions. It follows that any damage to this bundle of nerve tissues and support cells critical to the body’s central nervous system is a serious cause for alarm. Such an injury is sure to leave profound consequences that are sure to affect a person’s basic bodily functions, particularly causing issue to one’s motor, sensory, and automatic abilities.

According to the National SCI Statistical Center, roughly 276,000 people are currently living with a spinal cord injury or SCI in the United States. The average age for SCI patients since the year 2010 is at 42, and most of these patients are men. For majority of these patients, their spinal cord injury came as a result of having been involved in a devastating accident. Common causes of such an injury include car wrecks, slip and fall accidents, physical assault and other acts of violence, as well as accidents that occur while participating in contact sports.

An injury to the spinal cord is sure to cause some form of disability that may be temporary or permanent. In any case, patients that have been diagnosed with a spinal cord injury are sure to find their basic bodily functions and ability severely compromised. Paralysis is also a great concern. The Law Offices of Mazin & Associates notes on its website that severe damage to the spinal cord can lead to either paraplegia or quadriplegia.

Paraplegia refers to partial paralysis, where a patient loses function and control of the lower extremities. This happens when the lower part of a patient’s spinal cord is damaged. Meanwhile, quadriplegia refers to total paralysis, where a patient loses function and control of their torso and both upper and lower extremities. This is due to the fact that the area of damage is much higher up in the spinal cord, affecting a significant portion of the nerves and tissues vital for movement and control.

The consequences of spinal cord injuries move beyond physical control and abilities, as well. A lot of SCI patients also suffer from emotional and psychological trauma. On top of these issues, they also have to deal with the financial burden caused by their condition.

Workers’ Compensation Benefits: What They are for and How to Apply

For individuals whose main source of livelihood is work, sustaining a job-related injury will definitely have a devastating effect. Besides the physical harm brought about by an injury, there are other (financially) crippling consequences that can only further a victim’s predicament, such as costly and, sometimes, prolonged medical treatment and medication, and loss of income due to days or weeks of failure to return to work.

The passing into law of the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Benefit in 1908, which certain employers had to provide for their workers who get injured on the job or who developed work-related illnesses, was a really big factor in improving the over-all condition of workers. Previous to this law, injured workers were always forced to file a lawsuit against their employers for the simple purpose of getting compensation for whatever suffering the injury subjected them to.

The lawsuits, however, only destroyed the workers’ relationship with their employers; these were also usually decided in favor of employers who always used any or all of the following arguments:

  • Contributory Negligence – an argument that puts the blame (on the accident) on the injured worker himself/herself, based on the fact that it was his/her carelessness or negligence which actually caused the accident
  • The Fellow Worker Rule – A fellow worker caused the accident and so the injury must be blamed on him or her and not on the employer
  • Assumption of Risk – The job entailed danger; thus accepting it also meant accepting all possible dangers it could result to.

With workers’ comp, immediate financial assistance, without the need for litigation, is provided to the injured workers. The financial benefits are intended to cover lost wages, medical treatment, rehabilitation, disability and death.

Each state, which enforces the workers’ comp law, has also issued the requirements that claimants need to comply with; there is also a statutory period set within which claimants will have to file their application.

According to the website of Scudder & Hedrick, PLLC, unfortunately, some claims get denied, some applicants wait long for the decision of approval or non-approval, and so many other issues arise, which get the decision for the application either rejected or delayed.

Limits set on Medical Malpractice cases in Massachusetts

Getting seriously injured because of the negligence of a healthcare professional or facility in Massachusetts may mean that all applicable medical expenses will be covered if a law suit is successful, but compensation for other damages is limited. State law places a cap of $500,000 on non-economic damages in medical malpractice, a common enough provision in many state laws. The cap is not set in stone however as there are exceptions that are built into the statute.

Non-economic damages are often much harder to quantify than economic damages which are supported by hospital bills, medical records, life-care projections, loss of income from lost days of work, and similar expenses. Non-economic damages, on the other hand, are highly subjective because the extent of the damage may vary in a case to case basis. They include pain and suffering that a patient goes through as consequence of serious injury, loss of enjoyment, and psychological problems from resulting disfigurements, scars, and disabilities.

The law allows for exceptions in special circumstances, such as when the injury results in substantial disfigurement or permanent disability that would justify an award of more than $500,000. A skilled Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney will know when an exception applies to a particular case and provide the necessary documentation to put in a just claim.

Compensation that is rarely awarded in Massachusetts is that of punitive damages. It is different from non-economic damages in that it is designed to punish the defendant rather than compensate the plaintiff. However, if a patient dies because of an act of negligence by the healthcare professional or facility, then the attorney may be justified in suing for punitive damages.

It all sounds very simple, but nothing is further from the truth. Medical malpractice cases rarely prosper without the help of competent legal representation, and even then it can take years to get to trial, let alone a resolution. For any real chance of success in getting just compensation, retaining a Massachusetts medical malpractice attorney is essential.

Proving Wrongful Death

Wrongful death is defined as the death of a person caused by the intentional or negligent action of another person. A good example would be a person who is killed in a drunk driving accident. While the driver did not intend to cause death, he or she may nevertheless be found civilly liable under a wrongful death suit as well as criminally liable under a manslaughter charge.

The burden of proof for a civil suit is generally lighter than for a criminal charge; that is, the plaintiff in a civil case only has to prove that death was most likely caused by the negligent or intentional act of another, while the prosecutor in a criminal case has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant caused the death of the victim. A defendant in a criminal case may be acquitted of a murder charge but may still be held liable in civil court.

That is not to say that proving wrongful death is easy; it is just not as hard. On the web site of Pohl & Berk LLP, it is emphasized that it is important to establish causation as soon as possible in each case. Wrongful death can come about under different agencies including but not limited to:

  • vehicular or pedestrian accidents
  • occupational falls
  • unintentional drowning
  • a fight
  • medical error

When suing for wrongful death, the plaintiff must have the documents and testimonies that will show the “but for” of the case, as in “but for” the action (or inaction) of the defendant, death would not have resulted.

Depending on the circumstances of the case, causation may be immediately apparent or appallingly ambiguous. In either case, and anywhere in between, it would require the legal expertise of an experienced personal injury lawyer to prepare and present the case for successful negotiation of a settlement or in a civil trial.

Different Types of Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a non-progressive motor disorder, and is considered the most common condition of its kind to afflict children. It is characterized by difficulty in controlling movements and maintaining posture, the degree of disability depending on the severity of the condition. It is believed that the disorder is due to abnormal development or damage to the brain, although no one really knows for certain. Some believe that many cases are due to inadequate prenatal care; others believe it is due to birth injuries sustained during a difficult labor or medical malpractice.

There are several ways to classify cerebral palsy. This includes according to severity and area affected. As mentioned earlier, the afflicted individual’s ability to function depends on the severity of the condition. People with mild cerebral palsy may simply seem a little awkward but needs no special care, equipment, or assistance to function. Other types of cerebral palsy according to severity are:

  • Moderate – will require some special equipment such as braces to get around, and may be on lifelong medication to control movement, but is generally functional
  • Severe – very limited mobility, may require a wheelchair, and assistance in accomplishing daily activities
  • No CP – this can be confusing, but refers to cases where the condition was acquired after the brain had developed, so it is classified based on causation, such as physical trauma or postnatal infection.

Cerebral palsy may also be classified according to how the body is affected and what area. Paresis means weakened, and plegia/plegic means paralyzed, so monoparesis/monoplegia means weakness/paralysis to only one limb, while hemiplegia/hemiparesis means the arm and leg of one side is affected. Other types include:

  • Diplegia/diparesis – both legs
  • Paraplegia/paraparesis –  lower half of the body, including legs
  • Triplegia/triparesis – three limbs are affected, such as both arms and a leg
  • Double hemiplegia/double hemiparesis – all arms and legs, but one side more than the other
  • Tetraplegia/tetraparesis – all arms and legs, but three more than the fourth
  • Quadriplegia/quadriparesis – all four limbs are equally affected
  • Pentaplegia/pentaparesis – all four limbs plus neck and head paralysis

A birth injury attorney would inform you that some children would have been born without any form of palsy had they not been mishandled during delivery. While it is not always the case, there are times when cerebral palsy is the direct result of negligence by a hospital employee and that cannot be allowed.

Preventing Workplace Injuries with Pre-Employment Testing

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor reports that almost 3 million non-fatal injuries (94.8%) or illnesses (5.2%) occurred in 2012, equivalent to more than 3 out of 100 full-time workers across industries in the private sector. A majority of these injuries were in the service industries. While this actually indicates a general decline from previous years, this still represents a cost of billions in days of lost work, increased premiums, work transfers, and restrictions.

Employers have a right to ensure that the individuals they are hiring are physically and psychologically able to do the work. This makes practical sense because an employee that is always sick or gets injured costs the employer money in terms of lost productivity, employee turnover, increased workers’ comp premiums, and possible litigation. This is especially true for service industry employers, where the majority of workplace injuries take place.

Aside from protecting the employer’s profit margin, preventing workplace injuries makes sense for the employee, because even though a workplace injury entitles them to claim for workers’ compensation insurance, it is never as much as they would have gotten from working a normal day. Plus, it is not good to get injured or get sick on any day, especially if it results in disability.

Fit-to-work assessments are conducted using scientific methods for measuring an individual’s capacity to do certain tasks. According to the website of WorkSTEPS, Inc., functional pre-employment testing reduces the incidence of workplace injuries by as much as 50%.  For example, a person with a back problem will aggravate the problem as well as risk permanent health damage if hired for a job that involves heavy or frequent lifting. Pre-employment testing helps in promoting a safe work environment from the employee side as well as a way to increase productivity.