Quadriplegia in Personal Injury Cases

Quadriplegia refers to a spinal cord injury that results in paralysis of all four limbs – both legs and both arms. Sometimes also called tetraplegia, this is usually the result of injury to the cervical spine (neck).

These injuries frequently occur from car, motorcycle, sports, and construction site accidents, but they can also happen as a result of medical negligence. When the paralysis is the result of someone’s negligence, a lawsuit may be filed for damages against that party.

Paralysis is more complex than most people realize. Depending on which vertebrae in the spine was injured and the amount of nerve damage from the injury, the paralyzed person may not be able to breathe without the assistance of ventilator. Generally, the higher the spinal injury in the neck, the worse the damage.

These individuals may have some facial control and be able to speak to some degree, but they will be permanently wheelchair-bound. This, in and of itself, poses a problem, as the weight of sitting causes pressure sores to develop on the buttocks. If the skin breaks down where these sores develop, bacteria can enter and cause sepsis – bacteria in the blood. Permanent catheters and feeding tubes can also introduce bacteria when they are changed, causing sepsis, a condition that can be fatal.

The amount of personal care that a quadriplegic requires throughout his or her life is astronomically expensive. Equipment is required so that the individual can function with as much quality of life as possible, but this individual will not be able to care for himself or herself without help.

Because quadriplegia means little function and no sensation below the neck, the body’s internal functions may also be affected. Quadriplegia can lead to problems with the respiratory system, cardiovascular system (including the formation of blood costs), kidney and bladder, digestive system, and organ failures. These people are also at risk of developing osteoporosis.

The kinds of expenses that a plaintiff (injured party in a lawsuit) with quadriplegia may incur include:

• Expenses of surgery (sometimes multiple surgeries) and other medical care for the remainder of the plaintiff’s life, including physical therapy, psychiatry, neurology, orthopedics, urology, gastroenterology, dermatology, rehabilitation, and more.

• Home care/home nurse costs.

• Medication costs.

• Changes to the residence to accommodate wheelchair access and other disability requirements.

• Equipment, such as wheelchair, ramps, guardrails, grab bars, roll-in shower, power doors, standing frame, voice-activated communication system, special beds and mattresses that reduce pressure, home exercise equipment, transport devices, and more.

Quadriplegia Lawsuit Examples

One case example involves a baggage handler at an airport who was struck by a baggage tractor hood when the jet engine’s backwash caused the hood to lift. His cervical spine was fractured, leaving him quadriplegic. It took years for the case to go to trial, but when it did, the jury found that the manufacturer of the baggage tractor and the airline were both at fault. The airline was found to be 70% responsible, while the jury determined that the manufacturer was 30% responsible.

The jury found that the manufacturer should have warned users of the tractor that the hood could swing up. The defendants (the manufacturer and the airline) tried to appeal the award amounts, but those amounts were affirmed by the appeals court.

A medical malpractice case involved a man who had surgery on his spinal cord to remove a tumor. When he developed post-surgical pain, his surgeon could not see him right away for a check-up. As a result, the blood clot that was causing his pain initiated nerve damage that left him a quadriplegic. He sued the surgeon and won.

In another case, a man working on a construction site became a quadriplegic when a vehicle rolled over on top of him, crushing portions of his body. He was in the hospital for months and had to undergo multiple surgeries. His lawsuit was with the construction company for insufficient oversight of the work.

When a woman tripped and fell down stairs that had no rails, she fractured her spine because she was unable to grab onto anything to stop her fall. She was quadriplegic as a result, and she sued the owners of the building.

Another case involved product liability. When a car was involved in a collision and rolled over, the roof of the car collapsed, injuring the spine of the one of the passengers, which resulted in quadriplegia. The case went to trial, and the plaintiff was awarded more than $20 million.

While the lawsuits are still pending after the Metro-North train derailment in New York State in 2013, at least one passenger was left a quadriplegic. Certainly, negligence was involved in that accident, and the personal injury claims will be many and for large sums.

Another pending case involves the New York Police Department, which is accused of using excessive force when officers arrested a teenager for not paying subway fare. This will be a difficult case for the family to prosecute because the teen, who was a quadriplegic after the accident, subsequently died from his injuries. Police claim that he ran and was hit by a train, which caused his injuries, while the boy, before his death, told his family that he was not hit by a train. He claimed that his injuries were caused by the excessive force used by the officers. The boy survived for two months on a ventilator.

As you can see, these cases can become enormously complex, and proving fault is often far from cut and dry. Even when a defendant concedes responsibility and does not dispute the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, that defendant will often appeal a verdict to try to lower the amount of the award.

Best case scenarios are when a case is able to be settled out of court, as going to trial is always an expensive proposition. When the parties can agree to an amount without proceeding to court, legal costs are reduced, and the time spent to reach a settlement is shorter. In order to come to a settlement agreement out of court, however, the plaintiff often has to accept a smaller amount of money for damages. Going to court is always a risk, however, since there is no way to know whether it will be the plaintiff or the defendant who will prevail with a judge or jury.

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