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Did Your Own Actions or Omissions Contribute to a Spinal Cord Injury? You May Still Be Able to Recover from Other Responsible Parties

Spinal cord injuries can be costly.

Between 12,000 and 20,000 new spinal cord injuries are reported every year. Spinal cord injuries can result in temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. The medical costs of someone living with a spinal cord injury can exceed $3 million over their lifetime.

Many factors can cause spinal cord injuries; the leading causes are motor vehicle accidents, falls, violence, and sports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), motor vehicle accidents account for nearly half of all spinal cord injuries. Falls, violence, and sports cause 22 percent, 16 percent, and 12 percent of spinal cord injuries, respectively.

In Georgia, you may be able to recover for damages, even when your own acts or omissions contributed to the injury.

Often, several factors contribute to an individual sustaining a spinal cord injury. For example, the CDC estimates that alcohol plays a significant role in about a quarter of accidents that result in spinal cord injury. In addition, according to the CDC using a seatbelt and driving a car equipped with airbags can reduce the likelihood of spinal cord injury by as much as 80 percent.

Does this mean that an individual who is partially at fault for the sustaining a spinal cord injury is barred from suing other parties who helped cause their injury? In Georgia, the answer to this question is no. Under Georgia law, an individual may seek compensation for injuries and losses they sustained, even when their own acts or omissions were a contributing factor. However, for an individual to be able to recover for these damages, they will have to prove that they less than 49 percent at fault for the injuries or losses they sustained. A judge or jury will allocate fault among each of the parties in the case. Each responsible party will be responsible for the amount of the total damage award that corresponds with their determined percentage of fault.

An injured party cannot recover for damages when they knowingly assumed the risk of sustaining the injury.

However, an individual who sustains a spinal cord injury may be barred from recovering damages for their injuries or loss, if the party being sued successfully raises an assumption of the risk defense. This requires the defendant to prove that the plaintiff sustained a spinal cord injury because they knowingly assumed the risk of an inherently dangerous activity. For example, if an individual sustains a spinal cord injury while skiing or bungee jumping, the owner of the premises may argue that the injured party knowingly engaged in a dangerous activity. Often times, owners of recreational sports facilities will require individuals to sign agreements which acknowledge that the participant knows of the risks involved, is assuming the risks, and is therefore waiving the owner’s liability.