Paraplegia is paralysis—loss of sensation and muscle control—in the lower half of the body. In the maritime industry, many potential accidents can lead to back injuries and spinal cord injuries that can cause paraplegia. If you are paralyzed because of a maritime workplace accident, contact a maritime lawyer to determine what compensation you may be entitled to get your life back on track.
What Is Paraplegia?
Paralysis is categorized by which parts of the body are affected. In paraplegia, the damage to the spinal cord that caused the paralysis is lower, which results in a lack of sensation and movement in the feet, legs, and sometimes the abdomen.
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A person with paraplegia may have feeling in the abdomen but not the legs, while others may be paralyzed from the chest down to the feet.
The paralysis may be complete or incomplete, depending on how severely the spinal cord’s nerves are damage:
- If they have been completely severed, the paralysis is complete, with no ability to move the legs or sense any feeling.
- If the nerves were bruised or stretched, the paralysis might be incomplete, with some sensation or ability to control the muscles. Paraplegia may be temporary, but in many cases, it is permanent.
The Cause of Paraplegia
Paralysis can be caused by different factors, like genetics or illness, but most often, it is caused by damage to the spinal cord due to physical trauma.
Any force to the back, neck, or head can damage the spinal cord, which is made up of nerves that relay messages to the brain, out to the rest of the body, and back. The most common type of accident that leads to paralysis, including paraplegia, is a vehicle accident.
Where on the spinal cord the damage occurs determines the type of paralysis and the part of the body affected. In paraplegia, damage may occur between the T9 and T12 vertebrae.
The higher up on the spine the damage occurs, the more will be affected. This is why some people with paraplegia have some sensation in the abdomen, and others do not.
Treatment for Paraplegia
Any accident involving back or spine damage must be treated as a medical emergency. Emergency treatment involves:
- Stabilizing the patient
- Preventing shock and a drop in blood pressure
- Ensuring the person is breathing
Once stable, imaging tests may be done to determine if surgery is needed to correct any damage to the spine. The spinal cord damage, unfortunately, cannot be repaired.
Much of the treatment for paraplegia takes place long after the accident in the form of long-term rehabilitation. Physical therapy may help some patients regain muscle control, but not all can improve.
The rest of rehabilitation typically involves learning to live with paralysis and a significant disability. This may include occupational therapy and learning to use assistive and mobility devices.
There may also be minor or significant complications of paraplegia that need to be treated. For instance, loss of function in the abdomen can cause incontinence and loss of control of the bowels or bladder. There may be respiratory problems, such as difficulty breathing, or even mental health issues, like depression, that need to be treated.
Paraplegia in the Maritime Industry
There are many ways in which a worker in the maritime industry may suffer an accident and injury that leads to paralysis in the lower part of the body:
- A longshoreman, for instance, working in a port, may be struck by a moving vehicle, a crane, or cargo that is not adequately secured.
- A worker may also fall from a height, like a walkway or a crane, and suffer the damage that causes paraplegia.
- There are similar risks on ships out at sea or coming and going from ports. Unsecured or shifting cargo can easily strike a worker and cause severe damage.
- A worker may be thrown against a railing or other hard object in rough weather and suffer spine damage.
- A collision with a bridge, dock, or other ship or running aground can have a similar result.
- Equipment malfunctioning or not working correctly on offshore rigs often causes a worker to be struck by a component.
It isn’t just in commercial shipping or port work that a spinal cord injury or back injury can lead to paralysis and paraplegia. Any kind of boating accident could cause this kind of damage with lasting paralysis.
This happened to a tourist going on a guided fishing tour off the coast of British Columbia. The boat collided with a whale, and one passenger was sent into the air and came crashing down on the boat’s console.
He had a broken back, a crushed spinal cord, and paraplegia. This is not the only example of a boat colliding with a whale, it can happen with guided boats, tourist boats, commercial fishing boats, and others, causing crew or passengers to be hurt.
What to Do After a Spinal Cord Accident
If you work in the maritime industry, you may be susceptible to accidents that cause spinal cord damage and paraplegia. This is a devastating type of injury that prevents you from returning to your job and may make it impossible for you to work at all.
Medical bills, the costs of taking care of your family, rehabilitation, and other expenses can be overwhelming at this time. If you suffered a spinal injury, talk to a maritime lawyer who can help you make sure you get your full rights under the law.
After being treated for an injury, you must complete an accident report at work as soon as possible. Get eyewitness accounts of the accident and keep your medical records of treatment.