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Spinal cord injury claims: what to know and what you may be entitled to

Posted June 12, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

A spinal cord injury is one of the most severe injuries that an individual can suffer. For those injured in the workplace, it's important to know exactly what you're entitled to and how to advocate for your needs. (staras/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Martin & Jones.

Damage to the spinal cord is likely one of the most severe injuries an individual can suffer. Not only can it limit or even totally restrict mobility, it can also cause a loss of sensation, muscle and bodily function.

In essence, these injuries alter almost every aspect of one's life. Even seemingly simple tasks, like navigating the household and maneuvering in and out of cars, become a challenge.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes of spinal cord injuries include motor vehicle accidents, falls and recreational injuries. For those operating in a workplace that exposes them to frequent vehicle usage or fall risk, a spinal cord injury is an unfortunate possibility.

The standard under North Carolina law states the injured party is eligible for workers' compensation medical benefits, which provide relief or may lessen the period of their disability. But for those suffering, it's crucial to know exactly what they may be entitled to and how to advocate for their needs.

For law firms like Raleigh-based Martin & Jones, the primary goal in spinal cord injury claims is to ensure that an injured client is not only knowledgeable regarding their rights, but also receives the treatment and benefits necessary to ensure their needs are met.

"We closely follow our client's medical treatment and pay attention to what their doctor says they need. It is also important for us, as the patient's advocate, to speak for our clients and bring certain issues to the doctor's attention," said Steven Corriveau, an attorney at Martin & Jones.

Since every case is different, there is no benchmark for what each spinal cord injury claim will warrant. Some severe injuries that lead to paraplegia or quadriplegia are enough to qualify for home and vehicular modifications, while other cases are mainly focused on covering more routine medical expenses and lost wages.

For Corriveau, it is about listening to the clients' needs to determine next steps.

"It's a case-by-case determination, and every case is different. Everybody's housing situation is different. Some people rent, some people own. Some people have a house that's easily modifiable, some people don't," Corriveau explained. "We've resolved this situation in cases in a number of different ways. Everything from moving someone to an apartment that is handicap-accessible, to recovering a large enough sum to allow our client to purchase a wheelchair-accessible modular home."

In cases where the client's home can be modified, there are common structural improvements that can make navigating their home easier, like installing hardwood floors or ramps, open floor plans, and more accessible appliances.

To determine what a client may be entitled to, Corriveau and his colleagues consult a number of experts, including the client's physicians and life care planners. Not only does working with an attorney grant clients access to these experts that might be otherwise unavailable, but the experience gained from other cases often provides a useful perspective on what clients can expect during the process as well.  

"The more severe the injury, generally, the more complicated the case will be. In those instances, I don't expect anyone to know what types of benefits they may be entitled to without legal counsel," Corriveau said. "I don't expect an insurance company to volunteer, 'We might be liable for expensive adjustments and modifications.' It's something you really need an attorney to evaluate, analyze and explain, and then pursue because it's normally not an easy process."

When it comes to settlement amounts, the average payout for spinal cord injuries varies based on the severity of the injury and future implications — another reason why it's so crucial to secure legal advocates who can speak to one's best interests.

"At the end of the day, our goal in any case is to make sure our clients are getting everything that their doctor says they need. Sometimes that's disputed, and those needs are litigated," Corriveau explained. "But that's our number-one goal: making sure that our clients are getting everything that their doctor says they need."

This article was written for our sponsor, Martin & Jones.

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