New York Paraplegia Attorney


Paraplegia is a medical condition where the individual is unable to move or feel any sensation in the lower extremities. In short, it is a form of paralysis, which is the universal term to describe loss of movement or sensation following nerve damage. Paraplegia is what would be called a “catastrophic injury.” There is no cure for it although researchers are looking into a number of experimental treatments. Paraplegics are permanently disabled. It’s a condition with which they deal and cope for the rest of their lives.

Paraplegia is predominantly caused by trauma to the spinal cord, which most frequently occurs as the result of car accidents or slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents. The experienced New York paraplegia attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm know and understand what it takes to help injured victims and their families deal with the physical, emotional and financial challenges presented with such a catastrophic, devastating, lifelong injury. Contact us to obtain more information about pursuing your legal rights.

How Does Paraplegia Affect a Person?

Paraplegia happens as the result of a spinal cord injury, which causes impairment in the motor or sensory function of the lower half of the body. This condition occurs because the cellular structure of the spinal cord within the spinal canal is damaged. In paraplegics the area of the spinal cord that is affected is the thoracic, lumbar or sacral regions of the spinal cord. So, when the spinal cord suffers trauma at the thoracic level or below, paraplegia results.

In paraplegics, the arms and hands of a victim are not affected. The victim’s spinal nerves in the cervical section of the spinal cord even remain fully functional. However, the function of spinal nerves below the cervical sections of the spinal cord are impaired. Some of the secondary medical complications of paraplegia include pressure sores, blood clots, low blood pressure, pneumonia, dysfunction of bowel or bladder and impaired sexual function.

Since paraplegia is most often the result of a traumatic injury to spinal cord tissue, other nerve-related complications tend to occur. Cases of chronic neuropathic nerve pain in the areas surrounding the point of injury are common. This type of pain occurs when neurons inside the damaged spinal cord send false pain messages to the brain.

Paraplegia is also described as being “complete” or “incomplete.” Complete paralysis means there is absolutely no motor or sensory function. Such paraplegia is permanent. With incomplete paralysis, the extent of reduced mobility depends on the severity of the damage to the spinal cord and nerves. Some victims with incomplete paraplegia may have feeling in their lower extremities, but no movement.

There is a difference between quadriplegia and paraplegia. Quadriplegia is a type of paralysis that affects a person’s arms and legs. Quadriplegia, also known as tetraplegia, is the result of a severe spinal cord injury to the cervical spinal cord. Patients with quadriplegia don’t have control of their limbs or torso. If the injury occurs high enough in the neck, they may even lose control of their breathing, requiring them to be on a ventilator for the rest of their lives.

Common Causes of Paraplegia

According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, one in 50 Americans lives with some form of paralysis. That’s approximately 5.6 million people – the populations of Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. combined. The Foundation also found that about 1.9 percent of the U.S. population lives with some type of paralysis. The leading cause of paralysis was stroke (29 percent) followed by spinal cord injury (23 percent).

Paralysis appears to be disproportionately distributed among minority communities such as African Americans and Native Americans. People living with paralysis have households with lower incomes. About 25 percent of households with a person who is paralyzed make under $10,000 per year compared with only 7 percent of households in the general population.

According to the Foundation’s study, the most common causes of paraplegia are as follows:

Auto Accidents: There is no question that auto accidents can result in severe damage to the spinal cord. Car, motorcycle, pedestrian, truck and bicycle accidents constitute the leading cause of spinal cord injuries and account for more than 35 percent of new spinal cord injuries each year. Alcohol was found to be a factor in about one out of every four spinal cord injuries.

Workplace Accidents: Workers, especially those who work in the construction industry or factories, face a heightened risk of suffering a severe spinal cord injury that may result in paraplegia. Some common types of workplace accidents that may result in paraplegia include, but are not limited to, falls, struck-by accidents, motor vehicle accidents, etc.

Falls: Slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accidents also often result in back injuries. Spinal cord injury after age 65 is most often caused by a fall. Overall, falls lead to more than one-quarter of spinal cord injuries.

Acts of Violence: The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC) estimates that 15 percent of spinal cord injuries result from acts of violence including shooting and stabbing.

Sporting Accidents: Athletic activities, such as impact sports and diving in shallow water, cause about 9 percent of spinal cord injuries.

Living with Paraplegia

The financial burden of living with paraplegia can depend on the severity of the injury and the age of the patient. In 2010, about 21 percent of those who were paralyzed in the U.S. suffered incomplete paraplegia and 20 percent suffered complete paraplegia. The average annual expenses (healthcare costs and living expenses) and estimated lifetime costs that are directly attributable to the spinal cord injury vary significantly based on the neurological impairment that has been sustained and the individual’s pre-injury employment.

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation estimates that most paraplegics are looking at first-year costs adding up to about $518,904 and $68,739 for each subsequent year. Lifetime costs for victims who have to live with paraplegia may add up to millions of dollars.

The treatment and rehabilitation period for paraplegics can be lengthy, expensive and exhausting. Regardless of whether it is a complete or incomplete spinal cord injury, the rehabilitation process is long and requires motivation and patience on the part of the patient and his or her family members. Early rehabilitation is critical when it comes to preventing joint contractures and loss of muscle strength, conservation of bone density and to ensure the normal functioning of the respiratory and digestive systems.

It usually takes an entire team of experts and professionals to rehabilitate a paraplegic – a psychiatrist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, dietician, psychologist, speech therapist, social worker and other consultant specialists, as needed. All these services are expensive and may add up very quickly posing a significant financial burden to patients and their families.

Examples of Liable Parties

Here are just a few examples of parties that may be held liable in paraplegia cases:

  • A negligent motorist who caused a car accident that resulted in the plaintiff being rendered paraplegic.
  • A third party involved in a workplace accident case such as a general contractor, sub-contractor or property owner and/or property manager.
  • The manufacturer of a defective vehicle or auto part that fails to protect vehicle occupants in a car crash.
  • The property owner and/or property manager where a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident occurs and causes the victim to be rendered paraplegic.
  • The operator of a nursing home whose negligence causes a resident to fall and become injured.

What is Your Case Worth?

The value or worth of a paraplegia case depends predominantly on the severity of the injury. Since paraplegics face lifelong disability, an experienced lawyer will aim to recover maximum compensation. In most cases, the defendant that pays is an insurance company of the person or entity who caused the accident. The element of “negligence” also plays an important part in the amount of compensation plaintiffs receive. For example, if a distracted driver who was texting while driving caused your car accident and rendered you paraplegic, that motorist can be held financially liable for your injury because his or her negligence caused your injury and current condition.

There are several factors that determine the amount of compensation a victim can receive in such cases.

Medical and Rehabilitation Costs

This may constitute a significant amount of the compensation that is awarded. This may include emergency treatment costs, hospitalization, surgeries, cost of medication, medical equipment, etc. In addition, paraplegics may require special types of wheelchairs, exercise equipment for physiotherapy and modifications around the home to help them move around. Many paraplegics also require psychological counseling to counter issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. All of these costs add up very quickly.

Loss of Earning Capacity

Plaintiffs (the injured persons) can seek compensation for the amount of income and benefits they have lost as a result of being unable to work after their injuries. Sadly, many paraplegics are often unable to work or earn a livelihood permanently. In such cases, a vocational expert and an economist can help estimate how much lifetime earnings the plaintiff stands to lose due to his or her injury. Survivors who retain some degree of upper body control may be able to work, but may not be able to do so full-time. Also, they may only be earning a fraction of what they used to earn prior to the injury.

Depending on the job and earnings of the plaintiff, compensation for loss of earnings may be substantial in paraplegia cases. If the plaintiff was not working prior to the injury, but was a stay-at-home parent or caregiver, compensation may be claimed for the cost to hire someone to perform the services the plaintiff originally did at no cost to the family. Also, the injured person may be prevented from working at a job in the future.

Life Care Costs

People who have suffered spinal cord injuries need varying degrees of care, often, throughout their lives. Patients may need round-the-clock care, full-time attendant, part-time nurse or a housekeeper to assist with medical and other services. A life care planner will be able to assess the patient’s needs and help determine the amount of money the individual requires to maintain his or her dignity and quality of life. Plaintiffs may be able to seek compensation for in-home care services, nursing home costs and other types of services they may need for the rest of their lives.

Past and Future Pain and Suffering

Plaintiffs can also seek compensation for physical pain and suffering they undergo during treatment, rehabilitation and afterward. Patients may be enduring significant mental stress and psychological issues ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to depression. In addition, compensation may be sought for loss of life’s enjoyment. This may be done by demonstrating how the plaintiff’s quality of life has been reduced as a result of the injury.

Punitive Damages

In some egregious cases where there was negligence or wrongdoing, the court or jury may award punitive damages to the victim in order to punish the defendant. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish the defendant for outrageous misconduct and to deter the defendant and others from similar wrongdoing in the future.

Contacting an Experienced Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been rendered paraplegic (whether complete or incomplete) as the result of a traumatic incident such as an auto accident or a slip-and-fall accident, etc. you need the expertise of injury lawyers who have successfully handled similar cases. The experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard for you.

Please contact us TOLL FREE 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-WORK-4-YOU (1-800-967-5496). WE CAN EVEN COME TO YOU. There is no attorneys’ fee unless we recover money for you. We can also help with personal injury cases in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, or Florida. If you have been seriously injured in any of the 50 U.S. states, please call us and we will try to help you with your case.

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