A spinal cord injury is a devastating type of injury that often leads to paralysis, permanent disability, and several complications. In the maritime industry, there are many opportunities for accidents to happen that could cause a spinal cord injury. If you suffer a spinal cord injury in your maritime work, let a maritime lawyer help you figure out what you can do to get justice and the compensation you need.
About the Spinal Cord
Running down the length of the spine, the spinal cord is a bundle of nerves and support tissue. The spinal cord starts at the brainstem at the base of the skull and runs down to the lumbar region in the lower back.
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Together with the brain, the spinal cord is the central nervous system, responsible for sending and receiving signals from the body to the brain and back. The spine protects the spinal cord and is made up of 33 vertebrae.
Injury to the Spinal Cord
The vertebrae in the spine protect the spinal cord, but physical trauma can cause enough damage to cause injury to both the vertebrae and the spinal cord.
An injury may be a bruise or a tear. The latter may be partial or complete. Approximately 12,000 spinal cord injuries occur in the U.S. every year. About 250,000 people currently live with a spinal cord injury.
Spinal cord injuries can cause a variety of symptoms and permanent disability. The higher up the spine that the damage occurs, the greater the disability is likely to be.
A spinal cord injury may be complete or incomplete:
- A complete spinal injury results in total loss of function in the body below the injury. This means no sensation and no ability to move. A complete injury affects both sides of the body. One side of the body may be more affected than the other.
- An incomplete spinal cord injury causes some degree of dysfunction but not total loss of sensation and movement.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
A spinal cord injury may occur due to any type of physical trauma or force to the body. Trauma bends or compresses the spine or neck.
The most common types of trauma that lead to spinal injuries are:
- Car accidents
- Infant birth injuries
- Trampoline accidents
- Sports injuries
- Physical violence or assault
The trauma may cause acute spinal cord injury but also may cause more damage over time because of inflammation, internal bleeding, or fluid accumulation.
Symptoms of Acute Spinal Cord Injury
An acute spinal cord injury resulting from a violent or traumatic physical force may cause various symptoms depending on the situation and individual.
The most common and immediate symptom is called spinal shock. This is the loss of feeling and movement below the area of the injury. Spinal shock typically lasts hours to weeks, and it is only as the shock wears off that other symptoms appear.
These later symptoms depend on the location of the injury in the spine. The higher the damage, the more severe the symptoms are likely to be. A higher spinal cord injury may cause respiratory distress and difficulty breathing.
A lower injury may cause dysfunction in specific organs like the bladder, which can cause symptoms like incontinence. Other common symptoms of a spinal cord injury include loss of sensation, loss of movement, pain and stinging, and muscle spasms.
Spinal Cord Injury Complications and Disability
Spinal cord injuries have the potential to cause serious complications and permanent disability. The severity of these is greater the higher up the spine the damage occurs.
Paralysis is a common disability that results from spinal cord injuries and is classified into three types:
- Quadriplegia. Quadriplegia occurs when sensation and muscle movement are lost in both arms and legs. Sometimes, a person with quadriplegia may even need a ventilator to breathe.
- Paraplegia. When just the legs are paralyzed, the condition is called paraplegia.
- Triplegia. An incomplete spinal cord injury most often causes Triplegia and paralysis or some loss of sensation and movement in both legs and just one arm.
In addition to disability caused by paralysis, a spinal cord injury may cause other complications:
- Loss of sensation in the skin
- Low blood pressure
- High blood pressure
- Difficulty breathing
- Low muscle tone
- Muscle spasms
- Sexual dysfunction
Treatment and Rehabilitation for Spinal Cord Injury
There is currently no way to reverse or correct damage to the spinal cord. Treatment involves emergency care aimed at minimizing the damage or not making it worse and later rehabilitation to help the patient regain some degree of movement, sensation, and independence.
Emergency treatment for a spinal cord injury involves stabilizing the spine, preventing shock, and ensuring the victim can breathe.
Surgery may be needed to repair bone damage. Once the patient is stable, rehabilitation helps strengthen muscles and restore movement if possible. Rehabilitation also involves helping someone learn how to do day-to-day activities with assistive devices or an aide.
Maritime Spinal Cord Injuries
The maritime industry has a high potential for workers to suffer from spinal cord injuries. Physical accidents are all too common.
- Maritime falls are a possible cause of spinal injury.
- Shifting cargo that has not been properly secured can also cause a spinal injury.
- Equipment not being used correctly or not maintained may cause an accident that affects the spine.
- Tempers may rise in the cramped and sometimes tense quarters of a ship, and a fight or physical assault can also cause spinal damage.
Too often, these incidents that lead to debilitating spinal cord injuries are accidents that could have been prevented with:
- Adequate safety training
- Good communication between workers
- Regular equipment maintenance
- Safety guard rails
- A clean and slip-proof deck
- Training and care in loading and securing cargo
Legal Rights for Victims of Maritime Spinal Cord Injuries
If you were the victim of an accident offshore, on a ship, or in a port or shipyard, you might have suffered a spinal cord injury that has left you with a permanent disability. Your life will never be the same again, and your accident could likely and should have been prevented.
You can rely on federal maritime laws to get the compensation you will need because of medical and ongoing rehabilitation bills. These laws can also help compensate you for lost wages if you cannot work.
These laws are in place to ensure you and others like you have the chance to be financially secure and stable. If you die from a spinal injury, your family should be protected and have access to death benefits.
You can rely on an experienced advocate to help make sure you and your family get these guaranteed rights.