Home Modifications After a Spinal Cord Injury


Approximately 12,000 new spinal cord injuries occur in the United States each year. Common causes for recently diagnosed spinal cord damage include car and motorcycle accidents, falls, athletic injuries, violence and disease. While disease progression is often an unpreventable cause of spinal cord injury, the sudden, blunt trauma that occurs due to an accident, violence, or contact sports is often avoidable.

If you or a family member have suffered a spinal cord injury that was the result of someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation for the medical care, physical therapy, equipment and home healthcare you will need to live independently, as well as for the home modifications necessary to make your living environment safer and more comfortable.

Call the personal injury team at Berry Law. They will review your case and collect the reports, documents, and physical evidence needed to file a personal injury claim while you focus on your recovery. Let them go to battle to protect your financial interests following a spinal cord injury.

What Are the Most Common Causes of Spinal Cord Injury in the United States?

Almost half of all new spinal cord injuries annually are the result of a car or motorcycle accident. Motor vehicle crashes account for 42 percent of reported spinal injury cases, making them the most common reason that Americans become paraplegic or quadriplegic. In many cases, driving under the influence, failing to obey traffic signals, or speeding contribute to an accident that changes the trajectory of another person’s life.

Falls are the second most frequent cause of spinal cord damage nationally, with 27 percent of newly diagnosed back injuries attributed to slip and fall accidents. They also account for the vast majority of initial spinal cord injuries in people over the age of 65. Wet floors or tripping hazards can cause someone to trip, slip, or fall.

Other causes of spinal cord injury include intentional acts of violence, such as stabbing or shooting crimes that cause trauma to the spine and sever the spinal cord, resulting in permanent paralysis. For young people, high impact sports like football, rugby, gymnastics, or snowboarding can also lead to spinal cord damage.

How Much Do Spinal Cord Injuries Cost Americans Over a Lifetime?

Spinal cord injuries often have debilitating and devastating effects on victims, causing permanent damage and, in some cases, death. Along with the injured individual, his or her family members are also left to deal with abrupt and extensive changes to their daily lives. Spinal cord injuries are not only life-changing. They’re also expensive.

After dealing with the immediate health needs of an injured individual, families may be left to deal with staggering medical debt. A report released by the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center in Birmingham, Alabama shows that the average initial hospital stay for a person with a spinal cord injury is 15 days. Most families are not in a financial position to cover these expenses without considerable help.

Even with health insurance, out-of-pocket expenses for a spine injury can quickly deplete a family’s savings or lead to medical bankruptcy. In addition to emergency care and hospital stays, the costs of living with a disability may include mobility equipment and other medical supplies, necessary modifications to vehicles, personal care, and more.

The average annual cost of health care and living expenses in the first year alone following a spinal cord injury is estimated to be between $283,000 and $776,000, with each following year over a lifetime costing between $29,000 and $139,000, depending on an individual’s  required needs.

What Modifications Will Need to Be Made So That a Person With a Spinal Cord Injury Can Comfortably Live at Home?

Eighty-eight percent of people with back damage return to live at home following their discharge from the hospital or rehabilitation center. Home modifications can help an individual to recover and regain a sense of normalcy and independence.

Every person with a spinal cord injury will have needs that are unique to them. However, health and safety guidelines dictate that most homes will require at least the minimum modifications to allow an injured person to safely navigate his or her personal space:

  • Eliminate steps and thresholds to entrances and exits and add a ramp or zero-threshold doorway
  • Widen doorways to a minimum of 36 inches or consider installing pocket doors
  • Install safety railings on either side of stairs and grab bars in bathrooms
  • Make modifications that accommodate transfer from wheelchair to toilet
  • Add a zero depth shower with grab bars, a built-in shower chair, and an adjustable shower head
  • Increase number of electrical outlets for medical equipment, a minimum of 18 inches from the floor
  • Install level flooring throughout

How Do I Get Started On Making My Home Accessible to Someone With a Spinal Cord Injury?

ADA modifications should be handled by a builder or remodeler with a background in accessibility construction. Home modification construction projects are not the time to go with the lowest bidder because a contractor with experience will have the knowledge necessary to ensure compliance with the ADA Standards for Accessible Design.

Universal design concepts like open floor plans and widened entryways that allow room to maneuver a wheelchair are used to ensure accessibility for both able-bodied people and individuals with disabilities. According to universal design principles, all common areas should be wheelchair accessible to accommodate the injured person’s presence at meals and other house-wide interactions. Creating feelings of inclusion and independence are vitally important to the mental and emotional recovery of a person who has recently suffered a life-changing spinal cord injury.

In addition to the bare minimum in ADA accessibility, some other modifications the Christopher Reeve Foundation suggests to make life better for individuals in a wheelchair include:

  • Lower placement of switches and thermostats or the installation of a smart thermostat
  • Addition of multi-level round edge countertops for kitchens and bathroom access
  • Pull-down clothes rods and multi-level shelving in closets
  • Removal of bi-fold or accordion closet doors, which can be difficult to open and close
  • Lower peepholes in exterior doors
  • Inclusion of a bathtub lift
  • Open spaces beneath sinks and stovetops for knees
  • Pull out pantry and adjustable shelving in the kitchen
  • Installation of a chair lift for second-level access, which requires stairway width of four feet
  • Lever-style doorknobs and handles
  • Cover exterior entrances to protect from inclement weather conditions
  • Add shelf space near entrances to assist with setting packages down to close the door
  • Bright indoor and outdoor entry lighting
  • Lowered and lighted doorbell
  • Easy-open or keyless door locks
  • Easy-touch, rocker-style light switches

Although not construction modifications, it’s also suggested that households that need to accommodate someone with a disability rearrange furniture and remove clutter to provide the space required to operate a wheelchair. Removing and replacing worn or torn carpeting or uneven flooring prevents a person’s chair from becoming stuck or tipping over, and providing seating that is a minimum of 18 inches off of the floor also allows for easy transfer from chair.

While these home modifications may seem like a large expense up front, the peace of mind and ease of use they provide to someone adjusting to a new and radically different way of living are priceless. Check with an attorney or tax accountant to see if any of the modifications made to your home following a spinal cord injury are tax deductible. Many states allow tax deductions for this purpose.

Can I Receive Compensation for a Spinal Cord Injury for Myself or a Family Member?

If a spinal cord injury was caused by the negligent behavior or actions of another person, filing a personal injury lawsuit can help the victim receive the financial compensation necessary to cover medical costs and the day-to-day expenses of living with a disability.

A plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit must be able to prove that the injuries he or she sustained were a direct result of the defendant’s negligence. For example, if another driver ran a red light that caused a side impact collision, a common case of spinal cord injuries, that driver may be held financially liable for injuries to the driver or passengers. In the case of a fall, a property owner who failed to properly maintain staircase railings or bannisters may be held liable for injuries caused to a customer or guest.

Personal injury suits are civil matters, so if a violent act on the part of another was the cause of your spinal cord injury, the criminal proceedings are entirely separate from claims filed to recover financial damages. A criminal court may come to a different conclusion regarding a defendant’s responsibility to the plaintiff than that of a civil court. Hire an attorney with a successful record of personal injury litigation who can guide you through the process in civil court.

While a personal injury lawsuit can’t restore your physical health, it can ensure that victims and their families are financially protected from another person or party’s negligence, malpractice, or intentional act and provide the injured party with the resources he or she needs to live with their disability. Contact us today to get started on your case.

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