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Spinal Cord Injury Information Center

Spinal Cord Injuries - An Overview

A spinal cord injury (SCI) is an injury to the spinal cord resulting in varying degrees of loss of function and paralysis, depending on which part of the spine was injured and the severity of the injury. The injury can occur from a traumatic event, such as a motor vehicle accident, or from illness or disease. Over 250,000 people in the United States currently live with a spinal cord injury.

If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal cord injury, there are legal options available to you. An experienced attorney in your area can speak with you about your rights and options for pursuing a case against those responsible for your spinal cord injury.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Every year in the US, there are between 10,000 and 12,000 new spinal cord injuries. Of these, over 80% are suffered by young males 16-30 years old. The most common causes of spinal cord injuries are:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Deliberate acts of violence (stabbings, shootings)
  • Falls
  • Sports-related accidents (diving, skiing, contact sports)

The severity of the spinal cord injury depends on where the injury occurred. The spine is separated into five parts from top to bottom, with each part controlling different bodily functions:

  • Cervical vertebrae (neck) - controls back of the head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, diaphragm
  • Thoracic vertebrae (upper back) - controls chest muscles, some back muscles, parts of the abdomen
  • Lumbar vertebrae (middle back) - controls lower abdomen, lower back, buttocks, some parts of the legs, some parts of the external genital organs
  • Sacral vertebrae (hips) - controls thighs, lower parts of legs, feet, most of the external genital organs
  • Coccygeal vertebrae (tailbone) - controls sensation from the skin on the lower back

Spinal cord injuries can be complete or incomplete. A complete spinal cord injury means that the spinal cord is unable to receive and send messages to the brain past the level of injury on the spine. An incomplete injury means that the spine still is able to receive and send some messages from the brain past the level of injury.

Treatment of Spinal Cord Injuries

At this time, the treatment options for spinal cord injuries are limited. If the injury resulted in a fracture to the vertebrae protecting the cord, surgery may be performed to correct the fracture and relieve the compression on the spine. After surgery, some function may be recovered. There is not a current surgical option that will recover all function lost due to SCI.

Rehabilitation is the main cornerstone of treatment designed to help the injured person retain as much function as possible. Rehab treatments may include working with a number of specialists, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers, nutritionists, neurologists, psychologists and others. Rehab focuses on a range of issues, from preventing muscle atrophy to providing job training.

Pursuing a Lawsuit

Spinal cord injuries are some of the worst types of injuries suffered today. Not only do the victims suffer paralysis, but there are also many other health consequences from a SCI, including bowel and bladder problems, breathing difficulty, blood pressure and heart dysfunction, spasms, loss of reproductive and sexual function and increased risk of blood clots, bed sores and pneumonia. People with SCI generally also have a shorter life expectancy.

If a spinal cord injury resulted because of another person's negligent acts, the injured person may want to consider taking legal action against the responsible party to recover damages. Depending on how the injury occurred, there are different types of lawsuits that may be filed:

  • Personal injury lawsuit: if the injury resulted from an individual's negligence, like a car accident
  • Medical malpractice: if the injury resulted from a surgical mistake or misdiagnosis
  • Products liability: if the injury resulted from a defective product, like a seatbelt
  • Premises liability: if the injury occurred on another person or entity's property

An experienced attorney can determine which type of case is best to pursue according to the circumstances of your particular situation.


The types of compensation available in SCI cases vary depending on state law, but typically include:

  • Loss of wages
  • Loss of future earning capacity
  • Medical expenses
  • Future anticipated medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering


A spinal cord injury impacts every aspect of a person's life. If you or someone you care about has been affected by a spinal cord injury, contact an experienced attorney to learn more about your legal options.

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DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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