What is a spinal cord injury?

A spinal cord injury occurs when trauma such as a motor vehicle accident damages the spinal cord, resulting in loss of sensation, loss of muscle function, or both. An injury to the spinal cord damages the communication pathway between the brain and specific parts of the body. The parts of the body affected are determined by the extent of the damage and its location in the spinal cord (i.e. the level of injury within the spinal cord).  In the most serious cases, a spinal cord injury (“SCI”) has the potential to cause complex, life-changing conditions like quadriplegia and paraplegia.

Complete vs. incomplete SCI

A SCI can occur at any level in the spinal cord and be classified as “complete” or “incomplete”. A complete SCI, which can occur whether or not the spinal cord is severed, results in the total loss of sensation and functions below the injured area. An incomplete SCI refers to a spinal cord injury in which some motor or sensory function is preserved below the level of injury in the spinal cord because some nervous signals remain able to travel past the injured area.

Symptoms and complications of SCI

 No two spinal cord injuries are alike. The symptoms that result, including what parts of the body suffer loss of mobility and sensory issues, are determined by the severity and location of the SCI. Numbness or loss of sensation to touch are common symptoms. Limbs and organs may not function properly. Respiratory function and blood circulation may be altered. Muscles may contract uncontrollably (spasticity) or become weak (atrophied), or the accident victim may be completely paralyzed by the SCI. Generally speaking, the higher the injury within the spine, the more body parts that are affected, though some symptoms, such as bowel and bladder dysfunction, can occur at any level. For example, “neurogenic bladder” (which is essentially a compromised ability to empty the bladder) is a common symptom of spinal cord injury.

The difference between paraplegia and quadriplegia

Paraplegia refers to the loss of motor function or sensation (or of both together) that affects the legs and the lower trunk. Paraplegia is caused by damage to the spine at the level of the thoracic vertebrae or lower in the lumbar or sacral regions (i.e. an injury at the mid-back level or lower). Quadriplegia – which is also known as “tetraplegia” – refers to the loss of motor function or sensation (or of both together) that occurs in the legs, arms and trunk. Quadriplegia is caused by a lesion of the spinal cord at the level of the cervical vertebrae (i.e., an injury at the neck level) and can result in full or partial paralysis of the limbs and inability to breathe without mechanical ventilation.

When legal advice from a personal injury lawyer is advisable

Generally speaking, if a spinal cord injury has been caused by the wrongdoing of another person (for example, as a result of a careless driver, or due to a motor vehicle accident on an improperly maintained highway), it is advisable to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss your options, including whether you have a claim for compensation for your spinal cord injury. The effects of a spinal cord injury can be severe and can have serious impacts on many aspects of a person’s life. An injured person may be entitled to claim compensation including rehabilitation and treatment costs, damages for past and future loss of income, and damages for pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Get legal advice from a top Vancouver injury lawyer

 If you suffered a SCI as a result of a motor vehicle accident, contact Simpson, Thomas & Associates at (604) 689-8888 to request a free consultation. We have considerable experience handling ICBC claims involving spinal cord injuries, including claims involving quadriplegia and paraplegia. Our highly experienced Vancouver spinal cord injury lawyers will assist you in getting the help you need to maximize recovery and develop your claim against ICBC to get the compensation you deserve.


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