Navigating Spinal Cord Injuries

Written by Aidan Vining and Jamie Davison, Student-At-Law

Legal Perspectives and Compensation

Spinal Cord Injuries (SCIs) often have profound and life-altering consequences, impacting individuals physically, emotionally, and financially. At McLeish Orlando, we have decades of experience helping clients navigate these consequences.

What are the types of spinal cord injuries?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes SCIs as “damage to the bundle of nerves and nerve fibers that sends and receives signals from the brain” extending from the “lower part of the brain down through the lower back”. This injury can be caused by trauma directly to the spinal cord itself or indirectly through trauma to the tissue or vertebrae surrounding the spinal cord. The severity of an SCI depends on both the extent and location of the injury.

Extent of the SCI

An SCI can be complete or incomplete. A complete SCI causes permanent damage to the spinal cord causing paraplegia or quadriplegia[1]. An incomplete SCI occurs when the damage to the spinal cord is partial and will affect the amount of feeling and movement to a varying degree.

Location of the SCI

  • Cervical spinal cord injuries:[2] These are often the most severe level of SCI; they include the seven vertebrae (C-1 to C-7) in the neck. Because these vertebrae are closer to the brain and affect a larger portion of the body, these injuries typically result in quadriplegia, causing limited or absent feeling or movement below the shoulders and neck.
  • Thoracic spinal cord injuries:[3] The thoracic spine includes twelve vertebrae located in the thoracic spine, which affects muscles in the upper chest, mid-back, and the abdominal muscles. An injury to the thoracic spine can lead to pain that radiates into the arms, legs, and around the rib cage.
  • Lumbar spinal cord injuries:[4] The lumbar spine is the lowest part of the spine and carries the most weight of all the sections. An injury to the five lumbar vertebrae will generally result in some loss of function of the lower body but not the upper.

Do spinal cord injuries qualify for disability benefits?

Under the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), if you meet the requisite criteria, you can qualify for a monthly financial assistance program intended to help disabled Ontarians with the costs of their basic needs including food, clothes, and housing. To qualify for ODSP, you must:

  • Be at least 18 years of age.
  • Be an Ontario resident.
  • Have assets no greater than the limits set out in the program.
  • Be in financial need.
  • Meet the program’s definition of a person with a disability or be a member of a prescribed class.

Being a person with a disability for the purposes of the ODSP means:

  • You have a substantial mental or physical impairment that is continuous or recurrent, and is expected to last one year or more.
  • The direct and cumulative effect of your impairment results in a substantial restriction in your ability to work, care for yourself, or take part in community life.
  • Your impairment, its likely duration and restrictions have been verified by an approved health care professional.

There is also the potential for coverage under Long-Term Disability insurance. LTD is a form of income replacement that can protect your income if you have the misfortune of becoming disabled due to injury. You can purchase disability insurance yourself, or your employers may provide it as a benefit. LTD insurance covers a wide array of medical conditions, most of which are related to physical injuries such as SCIs. Different insurance policies may define ‘disability’ differently, and it is necessary to review each policy to see which conditions may qualify. For more information on how to apply for LTD benefits in Ontario, read our previous article “How to Apply for Long-Term Disability Plan Benefits”.

Compensation for spinal cord injuries

Future Cost of Care

Spinal cord injury lawyers must have experience in obtaining compensation for the health care costs associated with the long-term needs that accompany spinal cord injuries. These long-term care needs require a team of medical specialists and certified life care planners to protect the injured person’s future needs and ensure that they receive a damages award that compensates them for these extraordinary costs.

Depending on the level of injury and corresponding functional limitations, those suffering from spinal cord injury may have extensive medical and rehabilitation needs such as:

  • Complete assistance with activities of daily living, such as eating, dressing, bathing, and getting in or out of bed.
  • Mobility aids and devices.
  • Bowel and bladder supplies.
  • Home and vehicle modifications.
  • Services of rehab professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and psychologists.

In each case, a key legal consideration is obtaining compensation for the injured person that will allow them to access modern treatments and rehabilitation so that they can lead productive and independent lives.

General Damages

General damages, also known as non-pecuniary damages, compensate you for the pain and suffering you will experience now and in the future as a result your injuries and loss of enjoyment of life. These damages serve to compensate for your losses that are not quantifiable monetarily, such as physical pain, emotional distress, physical impairment or disability, or a reduction in quality of life.

In Canada, the courts determined that as a matter of public policy there should be a limit to what people can claim for general damages. In 1978, a cap of $100,000.00 was set. This cap is adjusted for inflation and in 2023 the cap is approximately $420,000.00.

Loss of Income and Earning Capacity

If you have suffered a spinal cord injury, you may also be entitled to claim damages for your past and future loss of income and reduced earning capacity.

For more information, please see our previous articles discussing legal considerations surrounding spinal cord injuries:

Conclusion: Seeking Specialized Legal Representation

Due to the complexity of spinal cord injuries, it is crucial that you obtain specialized legal representation. Since the founding of our practice in 1999, our personal injury lawyers have had extensive experience working with clients who have sustained severe spinal cord injuries. If you or someone you love has sustained a spinal cord injury as a result of the negligence of another person, please contact our office for a free consultation to discuss your next steps.





Aidan Vining


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