A spinal cord injury is a devastating type of injury that often leads to paralysis, permanent disability, and a number of complications. Physical trauma causes spinal injuries and there is no known way for medical doctors to reverse damage caused to the spinal cord. Victims must rely on rehabilitation and therapy to learn to live with a disability.
In the maritime industry, there are many opportunities for accidents to happen that could cause a spinal cord injury. From falling to being struck with cargo or equipment, many preventable accidents have the potential to leave maritime workers disabled and paralyzed. 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 to get the compensation you need for lost wages and medical and therapy bills.
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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. 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 spinal cord is protected by the vertebrae in the spine, 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, and the latter may be partial or complete. Approximately 12,000 spinal cord injuries occur in the U.S. every year and there are currently about 250,000 people living with this type of injury. Spinal cord injuries can cause a variety of symptoms and permanent disability. The higher up the spine that the injury occurs, the greater the disability is likely to be.
A spinal cord injury may be complete or incomplete. A complete injury results in complete 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. An incomplete spinal cord injury causes some degree of dysfunction, but not complete loss of sensation and movement. One side of the body may be more affected than the other.
Causes of Spinal Cord Injuries
A spinal cord injury may occur as the result of any type of physical trauma or force to the body. Bending or compressing of the spine or neck has the potential to lead to this injury. Some of the most common causes of this kind of damage are car accidents, falls, birth injuries in infants, trampoline accidents, sports injuries, and 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 accumulation of fluid.
Symptoms of Acute Spinal Cord Injury
An acute spinal cord injury that results from a violent or traumatic physical force may cause a variety of symptoms depending on the situation and individual. The most common and immediate symptoms 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 injury 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 certain 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 as three types:
- Quadriplegia. Quadriplegia occurs when there is loss of sensation and muscle movement in both arms and both legs. In some cases, a person with quadriplegia may even need a ventilator to breathe.
- Paraplegia. When just the legs are paralyzed the condition is called paraplegia.
- Triplegia. Triplegia is most often caused by an incomplete spinal cord injury and causes 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. These include incontinence, loss of sensation in the skin, low blood pressure, edema, high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, low muscle tone, muscle spasms, pain, sexual dysfunction, and depression.
Treatment and Rehabilitation
There is currently no way to reverse or correct damage to the spinal cord. Treatment involves emergency care that is aimed at minimizing 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 making sure 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 a person learn how to do day-to-day activities with assisstive devices or with an aide.
Maritime Spinal Cord Injuries
In the maritime industry there is a high potential for workers to suffer from spinal cord injuries. Physical accidents are all too common. Falls are a possible cause of a spinal injury. Shifting cargo that has not been properly secured can also cause a spinal injury. Equipment that is not being used correctly or that has not been maintained may cause and accident that affects the spine. In the cramped and sometimes tense quarters of a ship, tempers may rise and a fight or physical assault can also be the cause of spinal damage.
Too often these incidents that lead to debilitating spinal cord injuries are accidents that could have been prevented with good safety training, communication between workers, equipment maintenance, safety guard rails, a clean and slip-proof deck, and 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 may have suffered a spinal cord injury that has left you with a permanent disability. Your life will never be the same again and it is likely that your accident could and should have been prevented. To get the compensation that you will need because of medical and ongoing rehabilitation bills and because you may not be able to work anymore, you can rely on federal maritime laws.
These laws are in place to ensure you and others like you have the chance to be financially secure and stable. If you die as the result of a spinal injury, your family should also 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.