Did you know that around 12,000 people in Australia have a spinal cord injury?

In addition to this, there are 350-400 new cases recorded each year, the majority of which arise from transport related accidents. A spinal cord injury or SCI can have a devastating effect on those who sustain them, as well as family members and others close to the injured person.

In light of this week being Spinal Health Week we take a closer look at SCI’s and discuss what such an injury involves, the most common causes of such and how they can be prevented, and why such injuries attract larger settlement sums in a claim for negligence.

Spinal injuries occur when pressure is applied to the spinal cord, and/or the blood and oxygen supply to the cord is disrupted. The damage to the spinal cord may be complete or incomplete, depending on the degree of injury to the nerve fibres.

The most common categories of SCI are:
  • Incomplete quadriplegia at 38%
  • Incomplete paraplegia at 27%
  • Complete paraplegia at 20%
  • Complete quadriplegia at 15%
A SCI can affect many other areas of the injured person’s body, not just the loss of limb function and sensation.

Approximately 80% of newly reported SCI cases are accident related, with:
  • 46% attributable to motor vehicle related incidents
  • 28% attributable to falls
  • 9% attributable to being hit or struck on the head by an object
  • 9% attributable to water related accidents
  • 8% attributable to other causes (e.g. sporting accidents).
The remaining 20% of newly reported SCI cases are non-traumatic, consisting of medical conditions such as vascular disorders, degenerative spinal conditions, genetic disorders and cancerous lesions.

Of the reported traumatic SCI’s 84% are sustained by males and 16% are sustained by females. Further, SCI’s are most frequent in 15-24 year olds and 65-74 year olds.

Of the above accident related SCI’s, some may have been caused due to the negligence of another - enabling the injured person to bring a claim for damages against the person or entity responsible for their spinal cord injury.

How and where a SCI occurred will determine which legislation a claim for damages will be brought. For example if the injury occurred as a result of a motor vehicle accident the claim will be governed by the Motor Accident Insurance Act 1994.

If the accident happened while the injured person was at work the claim will be governed by the Workers’ Compensation and Rehabilitation Act 2003. Or, if the injury occurred in a public place or at another’s place of residence the claim will be governed by the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002.

Providing negligence can be established, claims involving an SCI usually attract a large settlement sum. This will be dependent upon how much function the injured person has retained and how much ongoing care they will require. The level of care will be determined by how independent an injured person is with certain activities such as self-care, domestic services, household maintenance, their access to transport, and taking medications etc.

The injured person’s likelihood of entering/re-entering the workforce will also play a role in determining the amount of settlement monies received. An injured person may also be able to receive funding for rehabilitation expenses prior to the matter settling, especially for those spinal injuries sustained at work or in a motor vehicle accident.

Such rehabilitation expenses may include the cost of physiotherapy/medical expenses, the cost of a wheel chair or other equipment expenses such as portable ramps, house and car modifications, shower chair etc.

Prevention of spinal injuries is the key to reducing the number of injuries sustained each year. The following may help reduce the risk of sustaining a spinal cord injury:

Car/transport related accidents:
  • Drive safely and wear a seat belt every time you drive or ride in a vehicle;
  • Ensure children wear a seat belt and are in an age appropriate child safety seat;
  • Don’t drink and drive or ride with a driver who has been drinking;
  • Always wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
Fall related accidents:
  • Always obey safety precautions at work;
  • Use a step stool with a grab bar to reach objects in high places;
  • Add handrails along stairways;
  • Put non-slip mats on tile floors and in the shower or bath tub;
  • For young children use safety gates to block stairs and consider installing window guards.
Water related accidents:
  • Check water depth before diving;
  • Don’t dive into the shallow end of an in ground swimming pool;
  • Don’t dive into water of which you don’t know the depth;
  • Don’t swim in rough surf or on un-patrolled beaches.
Take precautions when playing sports:
  • Always wear recommended safety gear;
  • Avoid leading with your head in sports;
  • Never spear tackle or tackle around the head;
  • Use a spotter for new gymnastics moves.

This Spinal Health Week, the focus is on how we can perform better by backing our inner athletes. This isn't focused on being sporting professionals, rather it highlights that those of us who can be physically active can increase our spinal health in a few easy ways.

You can check out more about this here on the CAA website.

You can read more about serious and catastrophic injury claims (like spinal injuries) here.

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