An estimated 250,000-450,000 Americans are living with spinal cord injury . The primary causes are motor vehicle accidents (nearly 50%), falls, violence (especially gunshot wounds) and sports activities. The majority of victims are males under the age of 30 (some studies indicate that the age range has risen in recent years). Spinal cord injuries are either complete or incomplete and their effects depend upon at which point along the spinal cord the injury is sustained.
A complete injury means that there is no sensation and functioning below the site of injury, while an incomplete injury will often leave the victim some sensation and perhaps better functioning of body areas below the injury level. Therefore, the higher (closer to the head) the injury, the more severe the problems. A complete injury to the upper back or neck will cause paraplegia and necessitate the use of breathing aids and other medical devices since both voluntary and involuntary functions are affected. In all cases of SCI there is loss of function to the hips and legs requiring the use of leg braces and/or a wheelchair.
The most common causes of death associated with spinal cord injury are kidney failure, pneumonia and other infections caused by the use of internal medical devices. Life expectancy is lower for SCI victims than the general population, but advances in technology and treatments have improved length and quality of life. The costs for immediate care and long-term care are considerable and will vary based upon the severity of the injury: in the first year after injury costs range from $200,000-800,000; and for subsequent years, $15,000-135,000 per year. In spinal cord injury litigation, the cost of lifetime care must be thorougly presented to the jury in addition to the standard tort case elements of negligence, causation, and non-economic damages.