Female doctor pointing to skeleton’s spine

​How Spinal Cord Injuries Can Become More Complex

Spinal cord injuries can arise from a variety of causes, most of which are a traumatic blow to the spine. Even if an injury did not start out as a spinal cord injury, treatments for some conditions (e.g., back pain) can grow into a spinal cord injury easily.


Worsening Conditions

Beyond the initial trauma, the loss of function in an area of your body can mean that you cannot heal as effectively as you otherwise might, making the condition worsen in the days following the injury. Sometimes other complications or even diseases occur from the initial injury.


Uncertain Outcome

The prospects of recovery after a spinal cord injury can vary significantly. Some paralyses are life-long, while others gradually improve in function after a matter of months or years. 


Unfortunately, many factors can impact the injury outcome. These factors include the nature and severity of the injury, the inherent risks of treatment, the risk that treatment may be performed incompetently, any intervening accidents, and decisions you make as a patient. The consequences are often difficult to project.


When the Injury Arises From Another’s Neglect 

If another person is found liable for harming you, that person will be held liable for the fullest extent of your injuries unless an intervening event arises. For example, if a car accident injures your back more severely than was apparent before (or immediately after) the accident, the liability of the negligent party is treated the same even if no one could have suspected how serious the injury would eventually become. In contrast, if a few weeks following a first accident you were struck by another driver, which then made the injury worse, the second driver could be held liable for making your injury worse.


When surgery is undertaken to help with the spinal cord injury, this is an event that can intervene and “break the chain” of liability. Various questions frequently arise in medical malpractice lawsuits, such as was the surgery done poorly, and if so, did this make the condition worse? Or was this simply a risk inherent in undergoing the surgery?

Surgical cases can be particularly tragic, as by nature, surgery attracts to the most serious cases, and even wise courses of treatment carry inherent risks. Surgical cases also tend to result in complicated legal proceedings, as lawyers and judges need to evaluate the decisions of doctors.

Consider the case of Sharp v Hubert, 2007 ABQB 221 (CanLII). In an attempt to fix an underlying spinal cord issue, Mr. Sharp underwent spinal surgery. In the process, a graft fell off and into the spinal cord itself, resulting in partial paralysis. In this case, Mr. Sharp could not recover against his doctor, who had performed the surgery competently and had appraised him of the risks.

The same principles apply to chiropractors, as demonstrated by Loffler v Cosman, 2010 ABQB 177 (CanLII). In this case, a chiropractor’s treatment of a “misaligned spine” resulted in a much more complex medical issue - a herniated disk and a spinal fusion. Here, the chiropractor was deemed to not to be at fault, however, due to a thorough explanation of the risks, and so the plaintiff received no compensation.

Unfortunately, treatment efforts can sometimes worsen spinal injuries, even if undertaken in good faith. The case of Malinowski v Schneiber, 2010 ABQB 734 is a successful one against a chiropractor in comparable circumstances, where the chiropractor misdiagnosed and twice treated the plaintiff, following which emergency neurosurgery was required.


Treatment and Mitigation Plans

One last crucial factor to consider is taking appropriate care for yourself if you suffer a spinal cord injury. Of course, you will hope to improve as much and as quickly as possible. Continuing to care for any condition that arises is important for both your medical recovery and for any legal proceedings as well. If your condition fails to improve because of steps you may have been obliged to take to care for your condition, the other party may no longer be obligated to pay for the results.

In many cases, the losses relate to income, but can involve medical expenses and personal care costs. In Goertzen v Sandstra, 2005 ABQB 624 (CanLII), the plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident, resulting in lower back pain. After growing tired of assigned physiotherapy exercises, he discontinued them, but was not pressed by his doctors to continue. The court did not penalize him for doing so, as they did not consider it to have been a particularly blameworthy decision, nor that it was likely to have made a decisive impact. However, the court clearly contemplated that similar decisions, particularly had they been urged against by health practitioners, could have attracted financial consequences in the form of reduced damages.

None of the information provide is intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Alongside your doctors, however, it may be worthwhile to consider a legal consultation as part of the team of professionals on your side. If you are recovering from a spinal cord injury you may need help to ease the financial burden while you are focused on recovery. 


Contact Braithwaite Boyle for a Spinal Cord Injury Lawyer in Edmonton, Calgary or Red Deer, Alberta

Particularly with spinal injuries, the impacts of the injury can be far-reaching. An initial prognosis may be unable to provide enough certainty or specificity for you to base your decisions about how much compensation is reasonable.

Our spinal cord injury lawyers provide a free initial consultation for your personal injury case and we can work with you to ensure you have the information you need, both medical and financial, before deciding on how to resolve the legal issue through a settlement. Contact our lawyers today at 1-800-661-4902. We are location in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer, Alberta.

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