Serious injury cases involving paralysis, including quadriplegia, paraplegia or hemiplegia, present unique challenges to the personal injury attorney. Paralysis results from injury to the brain or spinal cord caused by direct trauma, stroke, impingement of the spinal cord, or obstruction of blood flow to the spinal cord. If the brain or spinal cord is compromised, there is a narrow window in which cord compression can be relieved; if it is not, the injury will become permanent. Traumatic injury to the brain or spinal cord commonly occurs as a result of a serious car or truck crash, a fall, workplace accident, diving accident, or other recreation-related injury.
Medical-related quadriplegia or paraplegia can occur as the result of surgical error (e.g., spinal cord injury during spinal surgery), infection (e.g., a spinal epidural abscess) or pockets of blood called a hematoma. Hemiplegia is caused by a stroke or trauma.
Handling of Paralysis Cases
While the various causes of paralysis are beyond the scope of this blogpost, I will explain the handling of personal injury or medical negligence claims featuring paralysis. In general, these cases are vigorously defended by insurance companies and their defense attorneys due to the potential for a large damages award at trial. Medical negligence cases are particularly difficult given that the parameters of the window of opportunity for successful treatment, the facts upon which we rely to show that healthcare providers were on notice that the patient was experiencing neurologic compromise, and the effectiveness of treatment are all subject to controversy. Accordingly, an injury victim needs to have an experienced and credible lawyer to counter a strong defense.
The potential for a large damage award can only be met by understanding the effect that paralysis has on an injury victim. Depending on the type of case (e.g., medical malpractice), statutory caps on non-economic damages may apply under Ohio law. Non-economic damages include, pain, suffering, emotional distress, loss of usual activities and loss of enjoyment of life. Because these damages may be capped, it is critical to fully assess and present the economic losses caused by the injury.
In this setting, economic losses may include loss of income, loss of benefits, the value of lost services the injured individual had previously provided to family members, future medical expenses and future costs of non-medical care (e.g., the cost of a nursing home or group home, or attendant care). In order to fully estimate these costs, an experienced injury lawyer will work with medical experts to establish the severity and permanency of the injury, including neurologists, physiatrists, neurosurgeons, radiologists, physical therapists and neuropsychologists. Many treating doctors do not like to be involved in litigation. In fact, some large hospital systems prevent their doctors from assisting patients in litigation. So, your attorney may need to know other doctors who are not afraid to advocate on your behalf in a courtroom.
When the case is settled or a verdict is paid, there are many complicated post-resolution considerations that must be addressed. Again, there is no substitute for experience. These issues include satisfaction of subrogation liens, implementation of a trust used to maximize access to Medicare funds, resolution of probate issues, locating resources for life care needs, and financial considerations. Thus, you not only need an experienced attorney, but a caring one who will assist you through the lengthy and complicated process of resolving a claim involving serious injury resulting in paralysis.
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