According to the DoT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were nearly 6.76 million car accidents in 2019, the latest year for which complete data is available. These resulted in 2.74 million injuries and over 36,000 deaths.
In a car accident, any part of the body can be injured to one degree or another, but the spinal cord is especially vulnerable. Together with the brain, the spinal cord composes the central nervous system; it is a bundle of nerves and cells covered by layers of tissue called meninges, which are in turn wrapped by a protective column of bones called vertebrae. Neurosurgeons divide the vertebral column into three regions: the cervical (comprising the neck), thoracic (chest), and lumbar (lower back). The spinal cord has over 40 of these vertebrae.
The sudden impact of a car accident will inevitably jolt this prominent part of the body, causing ligaments to tear, the discs between vertebrae to slip and press on neighboring nerves, or the vertebrae to fracture, among other possibilities. Not just the jolt can cause harm; though rare, the debris kicked up in a crash could penetrate the spine. The consequences can be catastrophic and long-lived. Victims may suffer:
- Paraplegia (paralysis from the waist down)
- Tetraplegia (paralysis from the neck down)
- Severe mental and emotional distress
The Frequency of Spinal Cord Injuries
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center says that there are some 17,810 new cases of non-fatal spinal cord injury (SCI) every year in the U.S. The center determined the leading cause to be, not surprisingly, car accidents. In all, they accounted for close to 39% of cases.
Only falls came remotely close to this, accounting for a little over 32% of cases. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons adds that car accidents are, in fact, the leading cause of SCI among young people whereas falls are the leading cause for individuals over the age of 65.
The Severity of Spinal Cord Injuries
In any event, NSCISC data shows that just under 6,950 SCIs each year are due to car accidents. While this may not seem like much when we remember that 2.74 million people were injured in car crashes in 2019, it’s sobering because of how severe the injuries can be.
The NSCISC found that just over 47% of SCIs led to incomplete tetraplegia, where victims were left with only minimal control over their four limbs. Close to 20% experienced complete paraplegia, and close to 20% suffered incomplete paraplegia. Only 0.6% fully recovered at the time they were discharged from the hospital.
Even when a crash is not severe, victims may suffer for the long term with nerve pain, soreness, stiffness, and limited mobility. Anywhere between a quarter of a million and 450,000 people in the U.S. live right now with the effects of a spinal cord injury. Many must be re-hospitalized. Sadly, their life expectancy falls far short of the norm as well.
Types of Car Accidents That Lead to Spinal Cord Injuries
Needless to say, the average fender bender will not cause anyone to injure the spinal cord. The types of accidents that most often lead to SCI involve:
- High speeds
- Large trucks or SUVs
- Occupants not wearing a seatbelt
Other factors, such as drivers who are texting or intoxicated, raise the risk for a serious, even fatal, accident and can thus, by the same token, raise the risk for a SCI.
Is Whiplash Considered a Spinal Cord Injury?
Readers may wonder whether whiplash, where a jolt from behind (as in a rear-end accident) causes the neck to snap back and forth, injuring the soft tissues, is considered a spinal cord injury. The NSCISC data above clearly does not take whiplash into account because every year, roughly two to three million people in this country get it.
On the whole, whiplash is treated as a separate injury, but studies have shown a connection between whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) and incomplete spinal cord injuries. WADs refer to the collection of symptoms that a victim might experience after incurring a whiplash injury, such as:
- Chronic headache
- Numbness or tingling in the neck
- Shooting pains in the neck or back
- Impaired concentration
- Chronic fatigue and mood swings
However it’s classified, though, whiplash can form the basis for a personal injury claim, especially when the symptoms are severe and long-lasting.
Filing a Claim After a Spinal Cord Injury
If you’re wondering if you can file a claim after suffering a car accident spinal cord injury, it’s important to get answers to your questions as soon as possible, before the statute of limitations runs out.
With the help of a lawyer from Solomon Law Group, you could navigate the laws and build up a strong case against the negligent driver who caused the accident or whose degree of fault exceeds 50%. You could also find out how much you might recover for pain and suffering, property damage, and lost wages.
To schedule an appointment and get started, simply get in touch with our Columbia office today.