Motorcycle accidents can cause catastrophic injuries in a collision or single-vehicle accident, including spinal cord injury (SCI). At The Law Offices of Mauro Fiore, Jr., we understand the complicated issues involved in determining the extent of a spinal cord injury and calculating the costs associated with this life-long permanent condition. In Los Angeles and throughout Southern California, attorney Mauro Fiore, Jr. stands up for people who can no longer stand for themselves, and fights to get them the compensation they deserve when injured by another’s negligence.
The spinal cord is the main bundle of nerves traveling down the spine from the brain at the base of the skull. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord and are responsible for all feeling and sensation, as well as controlling movement and motor function. An injury to the spinal cord causes paralysis (loss of movement) of certain body parts as well as loss of feeling to that region. The spinal cord lies toward the outside of the body and is protected only by the vertebrae, a line of bones composing the spinal column. A spinal cord injury (SCI) can be caused by fractures to the vertebrae or by other injury, including compression of the bones or discs that lie between the vertebrae. Motorcyclists are especially vulnerable to SCI due to their exposure to collisions from all angles, and impacts with the road surface from flips and skids.
Anatomy of the Spine
There are 33 bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column. Doctors group these bones into different regions and number them for easy identification. The area from the base of the neck to the upper chest is the cervical region, and there are 7 bones there, numbered C1 through C7. In the main trunk area, there are 12 thoracic vertebrae, designated T1 to T12. Finally, the lower back is called the lumbar region, and consists of five vertebrae (L1-L5). Below the lumbar region are the sacrum and the coccyx (tailbone). The bones in the sacral region and coccyx are fused together, so they are not designated by any numbering system.
At each vertebral level, there is a pair of nerves that branches out from the spinal cord and controls a different part of the body. Damage to the spinal cord at a specific level will affect the functioning of the body related to the pair of nerves at that level. A spinal injury is even more serious than that, however. Nerve signals must travel back and forth to the brain in order to function properly. Damage to the spinal cord disrupts the communication between the brain and all the nerves below the point of injury, so not only are the body functions at the level of injury affected, but all parts of the body below that part of the spine.
The level of independence, self-care, and quality of life one can expect differs greatly depending upon the site of the injury.
An injury to the spine below the cervical region will cause paraplegia, loss of sensation and function in the legs and lower trunk. Depending upon the precise level of the injury and the extent of the damage, paraplegia can range from partial paralysis of one leg to full paralysis of both legs, the trunk, abdomen and lower chest. Paraplegics do have the use of their arms, mobility in their head and neck, and proper functioning of most vital organs. However, bowel, bladder, and sexual function are generally lost.
A related condition to paraplegia is caudal equina syndrome, which arises from damage to the nerves in the sacral and lower lumbar regions. Where the damage is not too severe, nerves in this area have been documented to heal, along with restoration of lost function in bowel and bladder control.
Any injury to the cervical spine causes quadriplegia or tetraplegia, paralysis of both arms and legs up to the entire body from the neck down. If the injury occurs from C1 to C3, the muscles in the chest and diaphragm will be paralyzed, which means that the person will not be able to breathe independently, and a ventilator or respirator will be required. At the bottom of the cervical region, a person with a C7 or C8 injury may have limited movement in the hands and fingers, which can enable the person to perform a wide range of functions with the use of the right type of adaptive devices and assistive technology.
While nerve damage is permanent, studies and experience have shown that a great deal of function can still be restored through a combination of drug therapy, physical and occupational therapy, and assistive technology. The initial rehabilitation process may last several months at a specialty hospital and require intensive effort on the part of the patient.
Aside from emergency treatment, acute care, and rehabilitation, the lifetime costs associated with spinal cord injury are significant. Our office can work with economists, physiatrists, and life care planners to quantify the needs and associated costs the patient should expect. We know that the challenges of living with SCI are difficult, and we fight to see that our clients obtain a financial recovery that accurately reflects their lifelong needs and associated costs.