Paraplegia is paralysis—loss of sensation and muscle control—in the lower half of the body. It may be total, incomplete, temporary, or permanent, but in each case can have devastating consequences and a major impact on the life of the victim. Most often this kind of paralysis occurs as the result of a physical trauma that damages the spinal cord about halfway down or lower.
In the maritime industry, there are many potential accidents that can lead to back injuries and spinal cord injuries that can cause paraplegia. Rough weather, falls, unsecured cargo, and vehicle accidents in ports are just a few examples of situations in which a maritime worker might suffer this kind of injury. If you are now paralyzed because of a maritime workplace accident, contact a maritime lawyer to find out what compensation you may be entitled to in order to get your life back on track.
What is Paraplegia?
Paraplegia is a type of paralysis, 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 lack of sensation and movement in the feet, legs, and sometimes the abdomen. A paraplegic may have feeling in the abdomen, but not the legs, while others may be paralyzed from the chest all the way down to the feet.
The paralysis may be complete or incomplete, depending on how severely the nerves of the spinal cord are damaged. 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 may 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 as a result of a physical trauma. The most common type of accident that leads to paralysis, including paraplegia is a vehicle accident. Any force to the back, neck, or head has the potential to 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.
Where on the spinal cord the damage occurs determines the type of paralysis and the part of the body affected. In paraplegia, the damage may occur between the T9 and T12 vertebrae. The higher up on the spine the damage occurs, 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 that involves damage to the back or spine must be treated as a medical emergency. Emergency treatment involves stabilizing the patient, preventing shock and drops in blood pressure, and 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 some muscle control, but not all will be able to improve. The rest of rehabilitation typically consists of learning how to live with paralysis and a major disability. This may include occupational therapy and learning to use assistive and mobility devices.
There may also be minor or major complications of paraplegia that need to be treated. Loss of function in the abdomen, for instance, 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, or by a crane, or by cargo that is not properly secured. A worker may also fall from a height, like walkway or a crane, and suffer the damage that causes paraplegia.
On ships out at sea or coming and going from ports, there are similar risks. Unsecured or shifting cargo can easily strike a worker and cause serious damage. In rough weather, a worker may be thrown against a railing or other hard object and suffer spine damage. A collision with a bridge, dock, or other ship, or running aground can have a similar result. On offshore rigs, it is often equipment malfunctioning or not working properly that 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 is what 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 ended up with a broken back, crushed spinal cord, and paraplegia. This is not the only example of a boat colliding with a whale, and it can happen with guided boats, tourist boats, commercial fishing boats, and others, causing crew or passengers to be hurt.
What to Do after an 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 not only prevents you from going back to your job, but may make it impossible for you to work at all. Medical bills, the costs of taking care of your family, rehabilitation, and other costs can be overwhelming at this time. If you suffered such an accident, 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, it is important that you get an accident report completed at work as soon as possible. Get eyewitness accounts to the accident and keep your medical records of treatment. These can be used to ensure you get everything you are entitled to, whether the law that applies to you is the Jones Act or another federal maritime law.