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Aside from traumatic brain injuries, damage to your spinal column is perhaps one of the most serious, debilitating and life-threatening injuries a person can experience. There are about 17,730 new spinal cord injury (SCI) cases every year, and up to 363,000 people may be living with SCI in the United States right now. Between 2013 and 2016, 824 individuals sustained work-related spinal injuries. A large majority (86.2 percent) were males and had a mean age of 46.6 years.
What’s more, most people with spinal cord injury live with chronic pain as a result and as many as a third of SCI victims deal with depression, both of which greatly impact their quality of life.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that if you get hurt at work in Georgia, you likely qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. While money won’t be able to make up for the long and difficult road of physical and emotional recovery that lies ahead, compensation can help ease some of your stress and worry by making sure you and your family are taken care of financially. However, in order to receive compensation, Georgia workers must meet certain requirements and deadlines, as well as complete the right forms. This process can be daunting and frustrating, especially if you’re dealing with a spinal cord injury and trying to focus on your recovery at the same time.
At the law firm of Westmoreland, Patterson, Moseley & Hinson, our Macon workers’ compensation attorneys have represented hundreds of injured workers throughout the state for over 50 years. We can help you take the right steps and negotiate on your behalf. We have the experience, knowledge and commitment to see your claim through to the end and secure the best possible outcome.
We’ve done it for past clients with similar injuries and we can do it for you.
Workers’ compensation benefits for spinal cord injuries
One of the things that makes spinal cord injuries so severe and complex is the sheer cost of medical treatment, care and rehabilitation. For individuals who have suffered a serious SCI at work and are paralyzed, it’s common for expenses to range from $500,000 to over $1 million in the first year alone.
These direct costs are highest in the first year following a spinal cord injury, but it’s the indirect costs that ultimately outshadow direct expenses. When you calculate a lifetime of medical bills, rehabilitation and therapy — not to mention an inability to work — you’re talking multiple millions of dollars in losses.
Workers’ compensation benefits you may be entitled to include:
- Medical expenses
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Disability (permanent or temporary)
- Vocational retraining
- Death benefits
Unfortunately, unlike in personal injury lawsuits, workers’ compensation claims don’t reimburse injured workers for intangible losses like pain and suffering or emotional distress. In the case of a spinal cord injury, this means that you won’t automatically be compensated for living with chronic pain or experiencing depression due to your work-related injury.
In certain circumstances, you might be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent third-party such as a contractor or an individual for pain and suffering (in addition to your workers’ compensation benefits), but you will not be able to sue your employer unless you can prove gross negligence or your employer doesn’t have workers’ compensation insurance even though they’re required to.
What is a spinal cord?
The spinal cord (or spinal column) is commonly referred to as the body’s “information superhighway” due to it’s important role in connecting the central nervous system. When your brain sends signals to your arm, leg or other body parts, it must travel through the spinal cord to get there. Your entire spinal column, which extends from the base of your brain down to your lower back, is protected by a network of bones known as vertebrae. Each of these vertebrae bones are cushioned by disks made of cartilage.
There are 4 sections of the spinal column, each located in a different area of your back. Starting from the top (the base of your brain), these sections are:
The cervical spinal cord consists of the first 7 vertebrae (C1 -C7) at the top of your spine (the neck). Cervical spinal cord injuries are often caused by whiplash and can lead to paralysis, difficulty breathing or speaking and little to no bladder or bowel control.
The thoracic spinal cord can be found in the upper/middle of your back and your chest. This region makes up the next 12 vertebrae below your neck (T1-T12). The thoracic nerves control the abdominal and lower back muscles, as well as the legs.
Below your thoracic vertebrae is the lumbar region, which consists of 5 vertebrae at the middle and lower part of your back (L1-L5). The vertebrae in this section of the spine are larger than cervical and thoracic vertebrae since this is where the spine carries the most weight. Lumbar spine injuries often result in partial or total loss of function in a person’s hips and legs.
The sacral region of the spine is located in your pelvis and consists of 5 fused vertebrae (S1-S5). Low back sacral spinal cord injuries can impact a person’s hips, thighs, buttock and groin.
Having a basic knowledge of the important role the spinal cord plays and the different sections that make up your spinal column can be important to understanding how a spinal cord injury can impact so many different parts of your body.
Common types of spinal cord injuries
Nearly 40 percent of individuals who suffer spinal cord injuries are considered paraplegic, and nearly 60 percent are quadriplegic (also called tetraplegic). The main difference between paraplegia and quadriplegia is that paraplegia involves the loss of movement and sensation in the legs and parts of the trunk, whereas quadriplegia is an injury to the cervical spinal cord (neck) which results in the paralysis of all four limbs from the neck down.
Spinal cord injuries resulting in paralysis are generally put in 1 of the following 4 categories:
- Incomplete tetraplegia. This type of SCI is when a person retains some feeling below the site of the injury and is the most common type of spinal cord injury. Examples include anterior cord syndrome, central cord syndrome, posterior cord syndrome, cauda equina lesion and Brown-Sequard syndrome.
- Incomplete paraplegia. As the second most common form of spinal cord injury, incomplete paraplegia occurs when an injury to your thoracic, lumbar or sacral nerves causes damage to your spinal cord but some neural circuits between the body and brain are unharmed. People who suffer this type of injury generally have some level of sensation or control over the paralyzed body parts.
- Complete tetraplegia. When the spinal cord is totally severed, this is known as complete quadriplegia and results in partial or full loss of all 4 limbs and torso.
- Complete paraplegia. Absolute and complete damage of a region of your spinal cord is known as complete paraplegia, resulting in total loss of sensory and motor functioning.
Signs & symptoms of a spinal cord injury
While some spinal cord injuries immediately cause total or partial paralysis, many others don’t result in serious side effects right away. In fact, the symptoms can vary widely and take a while to develop, depending on which part of your spine was affected.
If you experience any of the following symptoms after an accident or fall, you should immediately see a doctor for a medical evaluation:
- Loss of movement
- Loss or altered sensation, including the ability to feel heat, cold and touch
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Exaggerated reflex activities or spasms
- Changes in sexual function, sexual sensitivity and fertility
- Pain or an intense stinging sensation caused by damage to the nerve fibers in your spinal cord
- Difficulty breathing, coughing or clearing secretions from your lungs
- Extreme back pain or pressure in your neck, head or back
- Weakness, incoordination or paralysis in any part of your body
- Numbness, tingling or loss of sensation in your hands, fingers, feet or toes
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Difficulty with balance and walking
- Impaired breathing after injury
- An oddly positioned or twisted neck or back
Common causes of job-related spinal cord injury in Georgia
The top causes of work-related spinal cord injuries are:
- Auto accidents. Motor vehicle crashes are the most recent leading cause of spinal cord injuries. Work-related collisions can happen on or off-road, involving heavy-duty equipment, regular motor vehicles and pedestrians.
- Falls. Slips, trips and falls are the second most common cause of SCI in the U.S. Reported workplace spinal cord injuries most commonly occurred due to a fall from a building, structure, ladder or between levels. Many of these falls happen in the construction industry.
- Workplace violence. Gunshot wounds, assault and other violent acts are another relatively common cause of spinal injuries, both in the workplace and elsewhere.
- Falling objects. Whether you work on a construction site, in a warehouse or in the office, it can be dangerous if heavy, loose objects fall off shelving or from higher levels. If it hits in a certain area, you can immediately be paralyzed.
The one thing that all of these causes of SCI have in common is that they are preventable. But regardless of how or why your injury happened, if it occurred during the course and scope of your work, then you should be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia.
Additional resources and links
Workers’ compensation resources
Spinal cord injury resources
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The resources needed to win
Unlike some work injury attorneys who settle all of their cases, we are not afraid to appeal a denied claim if needed. Our firm has the resources needed to thoroughly prepare, try and win complicated cases.
We are dedicated to doing everything legally and ethically possible to obtain the best results for our injured clients. Hard work and dedication have allowed us to recover millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements for our clients in workers’ compensation and personal injury claims.
Get answers from experienced Macon workplace accident lawyers
Whether you need help filing a workers’ compensation claim and getting the full benefits you deserve, or you wish to sue a third party for your spinal cord injury, we strongly recommend contacting our Macon attorneys as soon as possible to learn about your legal rights and options.
If you have questions, give us a call or contact us online for your free consultation with a knowledgeable and experienced lawyer. From offices in Macon, Albany and Warner Robins, we help injured workers throughout Georgia. Don’t settle for less, get more.