The Cost of Spinal Cord Injuries
By Sean Lally, Staff Writer
If you’ve had the misfortune of injuring your spine, then you know the turmoil that accompanies such a horrible event. Beyond the astronomical medical bills, a spinal cord injury can result in loss of income, severe emotional distress, and persistent life-altering physical pain. In this article, we will explore some of the different kinds of damages (both economic and non-economic) that follow from spinal cord injuries, while distinguishing between short-term and long-term costs when relevant.
Before pursuing compensation for your injury in a court of law, it is important to gather as much documentation as possible regarding economic losses. This includes any monetary loss resulting from the injury, such as medical bills, lost income, rehabilitation costs and other hidden expenses including your projected long-term losses in each of these categories.
The exact amount of medical expenses depends on a variety of factors, including the severity of the injury, what kind medical assistance you need, and the number of services you require. The following are a few of the more common types of medical expenses:
- Spinal surgery
- Trauma care
- Rehabilitation (including both physical and mental counseling)
- In-home aids
- Medication and medical equipment (e.g. wheelchair)
According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the total amount depends on your condition. If you have high tetraplegia, medical expenses for the first year amount to $1,064,716. If you have low tetraplegia the first year costs about $769,351. Those with paraplegia pay $518,904 in their first year and those with incomplete motor function end up paying $347,484. These are the short-term costs. Long-term costs range from annual payments of $184,891 (for high tetraplegia) to annual payments of $42,206 (for incomplete motor function). A study published in The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine found that the “total (inpatient and outpatient) annual (FY 2005) direct medical costs for 675 patients with SCI exceeded $14.47 million or $21,450 per patient.”
Other economic losses include the “hidden” cost of traveling to the rehabilitation center or flying family out to help with day to day activities. Keep an eye out for “little expenses” like hospital vending machine purchases, meals on the way to and from the hospital, entertainment costs at the hospital, and parking at facilities where you are treated.
Further costs come directly out of your paycheck. On average, only 11.7 percent of spinal cord injury victims are employed a year after the incident and 35.2 percent of victims are employed 20 years following the injury. Assuming the victim would have earned the median wage (as of 2012) of $25,000 and would have worked consistently between 25 and 65, potential losses in income could end up being a million dollars. And if you earn more, the losses could be significantly higher.
Beyond the concrete financial losses incurred by spinal cord injury, there are also intangible losses that are important to consider. These include severe persistent pain, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment, sterility and other immaterial effects of the injury. Additionally, non-economic damages can extend to family members who may be affected by the injury.
Because it’s difficult to substantiate non-economic losses, it’s imperative to keep any pertinent records that might help show that your life and the lives of family members have been negatively altered by the spinal cord injury. Pertinent records might include a doctor’s statement confirming the presence of constant pain directly resulting from the injury or an official note from a mental health practitioner describing the psychological effects of the incident.
Collecting and sorting through all these records can be an immense burden. Don’t hesitate to contact a personal injury lawyer with experience in spinal cord injury cases, so you don’t have to go through this stressful process alone.