Spinal Injury Compensation Claims

Causes of Spinal Injury

Spinal cord injuries are unfortunately not a rare occurrence in Australia - as at December 2020 over 20,000 people were living with a spinal cord injury. Some of the common causes of spinal injury are:

  • Road accidents, for example, a motorbike or car accident
  • Other motor vehicle accidents, for example, when using quadbikes or bicycles in recreational activities
  • Falls from a height, at work or at home
  • Recreational or sporting accidents
  • Workplace accidents
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Common Spinal Injury Claim Types

Spinal Injury at Work

An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report into spinal injuries for 2017-2018 describes that the second most common activity being undertaken when a person suffered a spinal cord injury was working for income or another type of work.

Spinal injuries at work can occur in a number of ways, including a traumatic incident or damage over time, for example, from repetitive strain injuries in the back.

Learn more about how you might be entitled to make a workers compensation claim.

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Spinal Injury Due to a Motor Vehicle Accident

The AIHW report details that the most common cause of traumatic spinal injuries was a land transport crash, such as a road accident.

Whiplash spinal injuries are a common type of spinal cord injury suffered in a vehicle accident.

Find out more about making a car accident compensation claim.

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Spinal Injury Caused by Slip and Fall

Falls - even from a low height - are the second most common cause of spinal injuries. They are a common cause of spinal cord injury in the workplace - accounting for about 25% of workplace spinal injury cases.

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Spinal Injury from a Sporting Accident

In 2017-18, nearly a quarter of the spinal injuries reported to the Australian Spinal Cord Injury Register occurred while the injured person was engaging in a sporting or leisure activity. Spinal or back injury examples in this category include ones incurred whilst playing rugby, skiing, surfing or cycling.

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Spinal Injury Due to Acts of Violence

While all cases of traumatic spinal injury are highly impactful for the sufferers, in some unfortunate cases, the harm is compounded because the spinal injury results from an assault or other act of violence.

Spinal injury claims arising out of violent assaults require expert handling, as there may be several avenues to claim compensation.

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Spinal Injury Related to Water or Equestrian Activities

Accidents during activities taking place on or in the water, like surfing, water-skiing or diving, and those involving horse-riding, make up a significant proportion of spinal injury claims.

Spinal injuries from water or equestrian activities frequently result in catastrophic injury - half of the water-related incidents in the AIHW report resulted in incomplete tetraplegia. A study on spinal injuries in equestrian accidents in 2003 found that 40% resulted in paraplegia or quadriplegia.

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Levels of Spinal Injury

The part of the spinal cord where damage occurs has a significant impact on the effect of the injury on the rest of the body. For this reason, the neurological 'level' of the spinal cord injury is used as a method of classifying or describing the injury. The spine is commonly described with reference to segments - going from top to bottom these are the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral segments of the spine. The neurological level of spinal cord injury refers to the loss of function at one of these segments.

Generally, the higher the level of spinal injury, the more extensive the impairments will be.

High-Cervical Nerves (C1-C4)

An injury at the cervical level of the spine results in tetraplegia, that is, effects on the arms, torso and legs. If the injury causes a total loss of sensory and motor function it would be classified as a complete spinal cord injury. This would be described with reference to the level at which it occurred, for example, a C4 complete spinal injury. If some function is retained, it would be described as incomplete.

Injuries to the C1-C4 cervical nerves are the most serious spinal cord injuries, and can result in:

  • Paralysis in the trunk and all four limbs
  • Possible loss of function in lungs (inability to breath independently), and inability to speak normally
  • Effects on the independent control of bowel, bladder and sexual organs
  • Reliance on constant personal care and special aids for movement such as a powered wheelchair

Low-Cervical Nerves (C5-C8)

The lower nerves in the cervical spine control the arms and hands to varying degrees. Therefore, with the ability to breathe and speak normally, but with impaired function in the upper limbs and little to no function in the lower limbs.

For example, a person with a C5 spinal cord injury is likely to be able to raise their arms but will suffer paralysis in the wrists and hands. Other C5 spinal cord injury signs and symptoms will be similar to those of a person with an injury to the high cervical nerves.

Thoracic Nerves (T1-T5)

The thoracic vertebrae and associated nerves are located in the middle of the back.

A T1-T5 spinal cord injury will likely result in complete or incomplete paraplegia, affecting the trunk and legs, but leaving arm and hand function normal.

Thoracic Nerves (T6-T12)

Injury to the lower thoracic nerves the abdominal and back muscles in the trunk. The extent to which the muscles are affected will depend on the level at which the injury occurs - a T12 spinal cord injury will, for example, result in impairment to a smaller and lower area than an injury at the level of the higher thoracic nerves.

This type of spinal cord injury usually results in paraplegia but does not affect upper body movement.

Lumbar Nerves (L1-L5)

The lumbar nerves control movement in the hips and legs. These areas are affected if a spinal cord injury occurs in this segment of the spine, but again upper body function is generally unaffected.

Sacral Nerves (S1-S5)

The sacral nerves control sensation and function in the hip and groin areas, including the pelvic organs - the bladder, bowel and sex organs.

Therefore, while people with injury to the sacral nerves can often walk, there will be impacts on the voluntary control of the bowel and bladder, as is the case with spinal cord injury at all the higher levels (cervical, thoracic and lumbar).

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Types of Spinal Injury

Medically, spinal cord injuries are categorised as either complete or incomplete spinal injuries. This classification is based on the level of impairment caused by the injury.

Complete Spinal Cord Injury

A spinal cord injury is described as 'complete' if the person who suffers the injury loses all feeling (sensory function) and movement (motor function) below the level of the spine that is damaged. These effects are felt on both sides of the body.

Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury

By contrast, a spinal cord injury is categorised as 'incomplete' if the injured person retains some function below the level of the injury, for example, they can move the limbs on one side of their body but not the other.

Spinal injuries can result in a number of symptoms. One of the most significant is paralysis, meaning the loss of the ability to move part of the body. There are two common levels of paralysis resulting from significant spinal injury - tetraplegia and paraplegia.


Paralysis or loss of function from the chest down is called paraplegia. While it is less impactful than tetraplegia, paraplegia shares some of the same highly significant effects on an injured person's life.
This type of spinal cord injury usually results in paraplegia but does not affect upper body movement.

Tetraplegia (Commonly referred to as "Quadriplegia")

Tetraplegia or quadriplegia is characterised by a loss of function from the neck down, including all four limbs. It is one of the most severe forms of paralysis and can result in loss of control of breathing and speech, and impacts on bladder, bowel, and sexual function.

What Evidence is Required to Make a Spinal Injury Compensation Claim?

Like all personal injury claims, spinal injury compensation claims require particular evidence. If you need to seek compensation for a spinal injury, it's best to seek legal advice from experienced personal injury lawyers on the evidence required. As a general guide, successful spinal injury compensation claims are usually supported by evidence proving:

  • How the spinal cord injury occurred
  • The medical treatment provided
  • Long term impacts of the injury, future treatment and rehabilitation needs and prognosis (likely extent of recovery and timeframe)
  • Medical costs, including fees for doctors and specialists, hospitalisation costs, medicines, and likely future costs of rehabilitation
  • Financial impacts such as lost income and earning capacity
  • The amount of pain and suffering endured

Most spinal injury compensation claims will be based on a claim of negligence. Negligence claims can be complex and personal injury lawyers have the skills and experience to gather evidence in support of a negligence claim.

If you have suffered a spinal cord injury as a result of an act of violence, you may also (or instead) be able to claim compensation on a different legal basis, called 'battery', and to seek victims of crime compensation. If you were injured at work, a workers' compensation claim may be available.

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Is There a Time Limit For Making a Spinal Injury Compensation Claim?

Yes, there are strict time limits to make any spinal injuries compensation claim.

For spinal injury claims arising from employment, a claim should be made to WorkCover or a self-insurer within 6 months from when the injury occurred or when your spinal injuries are first linked to your workplace duties by a doctor.

Generally speaking, in all negligence claims, you are required to commence a claim within the court within 3 years of the injury occurring. Before lodging a court claim there may be certain steps you must take under the law to notify the person you are claiming against that you intend to make a claim.

While your main focus immediately after an injury will rightly be on your medical condition and treatment, it can help to seek legal advice as soon as you're able to. We offer a free consultation for any potential personal injury case, where we can advise you about time limits and discuss the claims process. If you decide to proceed, we will ensure your claim doesn't miss any deadlines.

How Long do Spinal Injury Settlements Usually Take?

Statistics show that the average time to finalise a Common Law or Court claim is just under one year for workers seeking compensation. The timeframe may be longer for other claims, as identifying the people or organisations to make a claim against can be more complicated for non-work related legal claims.

The length of time it takes to resolve your claim will depend on whether or not you can reach a settlement with the specific person or entity responsible for your injury, or their insurance company. If you can, it will mean you get your compensation payment more quickly than going through a trial in court. Whether or not a settlement can be reached depends on the strength of the evidence in the case and having a skillful negotiator on your side. Good compensation lawyers will seek to resolve your claim as early as possible.

If your spinal or back injury occurred at work you should make a statutory claim with WorkCover or a self-insurer as soon as possible. The time for a decision can be less than 20 days after lodging the claim if WorkCover is given all the right information. This allows you to start getting payments for some of your lost wages and for medical expenses to help in your recovery.

Seeing a personal injury lawyer early about a potential spinal injury claim can help to get you the compensation you need to support your recovery in a timely manner.

How much does it cost to Lodge a Spinal Injury Compensation Claim?

For court claims for spinal injuries compensation, the legal fees depend on the amount of work required. Some factors affecting the legal costs in a spinal injury case include:

  • The amount of evidence and what we need to do to collect it
  • How complex the case is
  • The cost of getting expert advice and reports, such as evidence from specialists about your medical treatment

What are the Average Payouts for a Spinal Injury?

Spinal injuries can vary significantly in seriousness. Encouragingly, some result in a temporary loss of sensation or function and resolve with treatment. However, other spinal cord injuries have profound and long-lasting impacts.

In spinal injury compensation claims, the amount of compensation awarded will depend on a number of factors, including:

  • The seriousness and physical impact of the injury, in particular, the extent of any paralysis
  • The likely extent and timeframe for recovery, and any impact on life expectancy
  • Costs you've incurred for acute medical treatment, including hospital expenses, doctor and specialist fees, and pharmaceutical expenses (medication)
  • Future medical and rehabilitation costs - this includes ongoing treatment for physical and mental health, but also modification costs for your home or car, support worker care costs, gym equipment, medical supplies, and other health care products
  • Lost income, and your ability to work and earning capacity going forward
  • The impact of the injury on your relationships and other aspects of your personal life, like your ability to engage in recreational and sporting pursuits
  • An additional amount for pain and suffering
  • The legal costs you have incurred

Given all these factors, it's difficult to give an average that would really help you understand how much compensation you might receive in a spinal injury compensation claim.

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Can I Represent Myself When Making a Spinal Injury Compensation Claim?

It is possible to represent yourself to make a spinal injury compensation claim. However, many people find they appreciate the help of specialist personal injury lawyers to navigate the legal process. Expert spinal injury lawyers can advise how much compensation you're entitled to and what evidence you need, and answer any questions you have along the way.

Personal injury law can be complex and making a personal injury claim in Court can be particularly daunting. Our personal injury lawyers will listen to your story and provide compassionate and straightforward advice and representation to help you through your spinal injury compensation claim.

Lodge A "No Win No Fee" Claim

If you suffer injuries whilst at work, and you are looking for further information in terms of making a claim. Here at Smith's Lawyers, we offer a free consultation for injured people looking to seek compensation. As mentioned before, we also have a "No Win. No Fee. No Catch." policy, which means you will never be out of pocket.

Get in touch with us today to give yourself the best opportunity to understand your rights.

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