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Paraplegia and Quadriplegia: The Lawyers Guide to Representation of the Spinal Cord Injured Client

E. Marcus Davis and Edward C. Davis

E. Marcus Davis has practiced trial law since I976. From 1976 to 1983, he worked in banking followed by criminal defense and personal injury law firms. He founded his law firm, Davis, Zipperman, Kirschenbaum & Lotito, in 1983.

You have been practicing law for a number of years and your reputation as a skilled, tenacious and dedicated trial lawyer has grown steadily through the years. You have a few million-dollar verdicts under your belt and several Multi-million dollar settlements to your credit. One sunny afternoon, while many of your peers are out enjoying the golf course, you get the telephone call you have been hoping for since you started the arduous climb to prominence as a personal injury lawyer. A good friend who has referred a number of difficult but lucrative cases over the years calls with a possible referral: a 9-year-old boy has been paralyzed in a traffic accident. His vehicle was struck by a county ambulance with twenty million dollars in liability insurance. Cognizant of the awesome responsibility handling such a case entails, you agree to accept the case.

A former client calls with a possible new case. Her 62-year-old father has recently had back surgery, a lumbar laminectomy. Initially he did well, but his condition steadily deteriorated over several months. Finally, his surgeon referred him to a rehabilitation hospital. He walked into the hospital, but day-by-day his condition worsened until one night he became incontinent of bowel and bladder and unable to move his extremities. Ten hours later, he was sent to a trauma center where a methicillin-resistant stapholococcal infection abscess was diagnosed in his cervical spine. Even after emergency decompression, permanent quadriplegia resulted. The family does not know who, if anyone is at fault. Neither do you, but with the severity of the damage, you agree to investigate the case.

A law firm that handles primarily motor vehicle tort cases refers a possible medical malpractice case. A worker`s compensation client with a history of back pain and radiculopathy over the years had a percutaneous laser discetomy procedure wherein a laser is inserted into a lumbar disk and the laser burns the interior of the nucleus pulposis causing a disk hernation to retract and remove pressure from nerve roots. Following this outpatient procedure, the client was sent home sedated and with narcotics to ease the pain for the next few days. Unfortunately, the client wakes up the next morning paraplegic and incontinent of bladder and bowel. With an imminent statute of limitations, you rush to find an expert witness knowledgeable about "PLDD" procedures and file the malpractice lawsuit.

Representing those who suffer from paraplegia or quadriplegia presents the most challenging, yet potentially most rewarding damages case a lawyer can undertake. The spinal cord injured client has lifetime care needs that will cost in the millions of dollars. The reward to the lawyer of knowing he or she has fulfilled those needs in a skillful, dedicated and compassionate manner results in the highest degree of career satisfaction. Such a case also represents an opportunity for the lawyer to earn a Multi-million dollar fee, "doing well while doing good" for a human being in dire need. Such a case deserves the very best representation you can deliver.

So where do you begin? Most lawyers and the general public are misinformed or under-informed about the myriad complications and conditions that are associated with spinal cord injuries. This is not altogether surprising given the fact that traumatic spinal cord injury only occurs in three people per l00, 000 population.

Actor Christopher Reeve’s sad plight following a horse jumping accident, which left him a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic, has heightened public awareness and interest in spinal cord injuries. Reeve's injury has also resulted in funding for cutting edge research concerning spinal cord injury in the areas of treatment, technology for adaptive devices, and the like.

Reeve, in his book Still Me, has written that after his spinal cord injury his definition of a hero is completely different, "I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." Fortunately for Reeve, his movie career had made him independently wealthy so that he could afford optimal care. Even with such care, Mr. Reeve has been hospitalized for autonomic dysreflexia, pneumonia, broken bones, blood clots, urinary tract infections, decubitus ulcers, and the like. He has found that the longer he sits in a wheelchair, the more his body breaks down and the harder...

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