Injuries to the spinal cord are one of the most devastating diagnosis a person and family can have from a car accident. Although some injuries to the spinal cord cause only temporary disability, other types can be permanent and life changing.
Over 10,000 people in the US suffer a spinal cord injury, also known as a SCI, each year. Spinal cord injury is defined as any damage to the spinal cord that results in loss of function or mobility.
Such injuries can be caused by trauma or disease and can result in temporary or permanent loss of sensation, loss of movement (paralysis), loss of bowel or bladder control and other injuries. Auto accidents are a primary cause of spinal cord injuries, but other traumatic events such as slip and falls and medical malpractice cause many spinal cord injuries each year.
What are the Types of Spinal Cord Injury?
There are two types of spinal cord injury, complete and incomplete. A complete injury is one in which the victim has no sensation or voluntary motor movement on either side of the body below the level of the injury. If the victim has some feeling or partial movement, it is called an incomplete injury.
An incomplete cervical injury can leave the patient with some hand use, while a complete injury at C4 can require the patient to be on a ventilator. Thoracic injuries can leave the arms functional but interfere with walking, bowel and bladder control, and sexual function. Other functions that can be affected are blood pressure, body temperature, and pain levels.
Severity of Spinal Cord Injuries
Injuries are usually defined with reference to the area of the spine affected. Nerves in the spine are defined by the area of the vertebrae. An injury to the spine in the neck area will affect the cervical vertebrae. An injury to the nerves at the fifth cervical vertebra is called a C-5 injury, for instance. Below the neck are the thoracic vertebrae, so injuries there are defined as T-1, T-2 and so forth. There are also lumbar and sacral vertebrae.
In general, injuries to the cervical nerve closest to the brain cause the most damage. These levels include C1 to C4. When fracture to the vertebrae at this level occurs, quadriplegia or the inability to use the legs or arms can occur. In addition, the patient can have trouble breathing or controlling bladder and bowel movements. The person’s ability to speak can be impaired as well.
Injuries to the lower levels of the cervical spine – C5-C8 – can be less severe. However, the disabilities and impairments can be life alternating and dangerous. They include:
- Some level of paralysis, in particular to the hands, wrists and trunk, or weakened use of the upper limbs and lower limbs.
- Difficulty breathing or reduced use of the diaphragm.
- Limited or loss of control of bladder and bowel movements.
Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation
Over the past 20 years, great strides have been made to assist the quality of life for those affected by spinal cord injury. Research, new medications and cutting-edge technologies have allowed individuals to lead more fuller lives after suffering a spinal cord injury. Rehabilitation centers in Michigan and throughout the country have incredible doctors and therapists who work on a personal level with the injured patient and their family. Rehabilitation can include:
- Occupational therapy, including independent living skills training
- Physical therapy to increase strength and mobility, relieve pain, and restore function,
- Nerve re-education, muscle strengthening, task training
- Improving physical function in the upper extremities, such as shoulders and arms
- Speech therapy
- Locomotor training
- Vocational training
Michigan No-Fault Law and Spinal Cord Injuries
Michigan car accidents that result in spinal cord injury triggers the benefits of the Michigan no-fault law. When a person is severely injured in an accident involving a car or truck, that person can obtain Michigan no-fault benefits, also known as PIP (personal injury protection) benefits.
These benefits include the payment of medical expenses, such as surgeries, rehabilitation, physical therapy, durable medical equipment and other medical treatment related to the accident.
PIP benefits come from your own car insurance carrier. PIP benefits are now limited and depend on the type of insurance coverage you or a resident relative purchased for the vehicle(s) in your household.
If you do not own a motor vehicle, you can still obtain no-fault benefits for treatment for a spinal cord injury. In this situation, an Application for Benefits must be completed through the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility. This organization will then assign an insurance company to pay the claim through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP).
Under the new Michigan no-fault law, the MACP is only obligated to pay up to $250,000 in no-fault medical benefits. For individuals who have suffered a spinal cord injury, this medical limit is not sufficient for care and treatment required for such an awful injury.
Spinal Cord Injury and the Payment of Attendant Care under Michigan Car Accident Law
Spinal cord injury victims obviously require special care and treatment. Because of the nature and severity of the injuries, they can require complete assistance with activities of daily living, such as eating, bathing, toileting, dressing and getting in and out of bed.
This type of care is known as attendant care or nursing care. Under the Michigan no-fault law, the car insurance carrier responsible for paying the benefits to the injured person must pay for attendant care so long as the PIP coverage is not used up.
Prior to the change in the Michigan no-fault law in 2020, all no-fault policies were unlimited PIP policies. This meant there was no limitation on the medical coverage an auto insurance carrier had to pay to an injured claimant, even if the person was paralyzed or suffered a spinal cord injury. Unfortunately, under the new law people chance select limited PIP coverage. Many policies are now limited to $250,000 in PIP coverage or even no PIP coverage at all.
In addition, under the changes to the Michigan no-fault law, the car insurance carrier can argue it is limited in the attendant care it must pay to the individuals caring for spinal cord injury victims. Before, a family member or friend providing nursing care could claim reimbursement at an hourly rate for the number of hours worked that day. If the person worked 18 hours, then they were paid for the 18 hours they worked.
Now the car insurance company can argue it is only responsible for paying up to 56 hours per week of attendant care to family members or friends who were previously caring for the individual. This is true even if the family member or friend is putting in much more time.
The spinal cord injury lawyers at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm are fighting this new payment system and how car insurance carriers like State Farm and Allstate are approaching the payment of attendant care. We believe individuals who had policies and were receiving attendant care from a car accident that pre-dated the June 2019 change in the law should still receive the same benefits they purchased. This includes the payment of more than 56 hours per week of attendant care to family members and friends.
Spinal Cord Injury and Michigan Car Accidents:
A knowledgeable and experienced Michigan car accident law firm that has handled catastrophic injury cases, such as quadriplegia, paraplegia, tetraplegia, triplegia, and similar spinal cord injuries can assist the family when no-fault PIP benefits are capped.
In this situation, or in any situation when PIP coverage is limited, the injured person can turn to the at-fault driver and/or the owner of the at-fault vehicle for compensation. This is claim is known as a third-party claim or negligence claim. Compensation in these cases can include the payment of both outstanding medical expenses for the treatment of the spinal cord treatment as well as pain and suffering.
Under the new law, the minimum amount of bodily injury insurance has increased to $50,000 per person or $100,000 per occurrence. However, in many situation the minimum insurance is $250,000 per person or $500,000 per occurrence. This means there is now more insurance to cover these horrific injury cases for the victims and loved ones who are injured to another driver’s negligence.
Michigan Spinal Cord Injury Attorneys
Spinal cord injuries are a horrific event for everyone involved. Often, they have a lasting impact that forever affects the lives of the accident victim, friends and family. There are specific legal benefits that spinal cord injury victims are entitled to however, especially if the incident involves a motor vehicle.
Discussing your situation with a spinal cord injury attorney is important so you can get better understand your rights and your options.
For over 40 years, The Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C. has helped Michigan spinal cord injury victims win their case and collect the compensation and justice they deserve.
Please call Lee Free and our spinal cord injury lawyers at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) or fill out the Free Case Evaluation Form so we can answer any questions you may have about spinal cord injury.
You pay nothing until we settle your Michigan personal injury case. Let us help you today.