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Spinal Cord Injury

SKW offers experienced spinal cord injury attorney services. Throughout Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue and beyond, our lawyers have seen countless spinal cord injuries as the result of trauma from car/truck/motorcycle/bicycle crashes, falls, diving accidents, medical malpractice, construction accidents and various other causes. With one tragic event, a client’s life changes forever in these cases. Skilled spinal cord injury lawyer’s services are critical to obtain justice/full compensation for a lifetime of care and missed/lost wages.

Spinal cord injuries cause myelopathy or damage to white matter or myelinated fiber tracts that carry signals to and from the brain. They also damage gray matter in the central part of the spine, causing segmental losses of interneurons and motorneurons.

The exact effects of spinal cord injuries varies according to the type and level of injury, and can be organized into two types:

  1. Complete Injuries. A person would be classified as having a complete spinal cord injury when there is no motor or sensory function preserved in the sacral segments, S4-S5. Any function below the neurological level is lost.
  2. Incomplete injuries. A person with an incomplete injury retains some sensation or movement below the level of the injury. If a person is able to contract the anal sphincter voluntarily or is able to feel a peri-anal pinprick or touch, both of which test the lowest spinal segment, the injury is said to be incomplete.

In addition to the loss of sensation and motor function below the point of injury, spinal cord injuries are replete with a host of other complications, including:

  • Bowel and bladder function. Because bowel and bladder function is controlled by the sacral region of the spine, it is common to experience dysfunction of the bowel and bladder, including susceptibility to infections of the bladder and incontinence.
  • Sexual function. Sexual function is also associated with the sacral region, and is often affected.
  • Breathing control. A loss of breathing capabilities requiring ventilators or phrenic nerve pacing are attributable to injuries of the C-1 and C-2.
  • Regulatory function. The inability to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, sweating, and therefore body temperature.
  • Spasticity caused by increased reflexes and stiffness of the limbs
  • Neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage or dysfunction of the nervous system
  • Autonomic dysreflexia, which is a reaction of the autonomic nervous system to overstimulation
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Gallbladder and renal stones
  • Osteoperosis and bone degeneration
  • Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome

Traumatic spinal cord injury is classified into five types by the American Spinal Injury Association and the International Spinal Cord Injury Classification System:

  • A indicates a “complete” spinal cord injury where no motor or sensory function is preserved in the lower, sacral segments S4-5.
  • B indicates an incomplete spinal cord injury where sensory, but not motor function, is preserved below the neurological legel and includes the sacral segments S4-5. This is typically a transient phase.
  • C indicates an incomplete spinal cord injury where motor function is preserved below the neurological level and more than half of key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade of less than 3.
  • D indicates an incomplete spinal cord injury where motor function is preserved below the neurological level and at least half of the key muscles below the neurological level have a muscle grade of 3 or more.

Location of the Injury

Cervical Injuries: Cervical, also known as neck injuries, often result in full or partial tetraplegia (quadriplegia). Depending on the location of the injury, a person suffering from a cervical injury may retain some level of function, or may be completely paralyzed.

Thoracic Injuries: Injuries at the chest or below often result in paraplegia, in which case the hands, arms, head, and breathing are usually not affected.

Lumbar and Sacral Injuries: Injuries to this lower region of the spine result in decreased control of the legs and hips, sexual functioning, urinary system, and anus.

The attorneys at SKW have wide ranging experience with spinal cord injuries, and understand the complex medical and legal issues that frequently accompany these cases. Our knowledge and reputation in litigating spinal cord injury claims will help you through the long and difficult process of medical and legal recovery.

Helpful Links

Representative Cases

Ride the Ducks victim seeks justice
Ride the Ducks victim seeks justice. (Ellen M. Bonner/Seattle Times)

Ride the Ducks victim fights to get justice. (Ellen M. Bonner/Seattle Times)

On September 24, 2015, a Ride the Duck modified amphibious military vehicle crossed the centerline of the SR 99 Aurora Bridge and into a tour bus. The passenger compartment of the bus was penetrated.  5 people in the bus died and approximately 64 people were injured. Phuong Dihn, an 18 year old international student from Vietnam, was seriously injured.

The Duck was re-manufactured by Ride the Ducks International, who sold the vehicle to Ride the Ducks Seattle in 2005.  In 2013, RTD International realized the axel housing was dangerously defective. It issued a service bulletin to it purchasers, warning of the defect and advising of the need for repair. RTD Seattle did not perform the repair. The preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is that the left axle of the Duck failed.

NTSB graphic of Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle.

NTSB graphic of Ride the Ducks amphibious vehicle.

Phuong is one of the four of the injured students who remain in a nursing home. Her parents came to care for her but had to leave their other young children behind. She is unable to attend school. When she is discharged, she will need to find a new host parent who will be able to provide accessible housing due to her injuries.

Please help Phuong, as she struggles to recover at this secure site. Donations may also be made by mailing checks to our firm (please include “C/O: Dinh, P: Seattle Aurora Bus Crash 10.2015”)

You may also help Phuong and the other students injured in the crash by donating to the special fund set up by the Salvation Army. 

Tour bus that Ride the Ducks crashed into. Image Credit: NTSB. Tour bus that Ride the Ducks crashed into. Image Credit: NTSB.



Anderson v. Arnot

A widely adored retired Montessori teacher was involved in what seemed like a “minor” fender bender. After over 24 months of intermittent treatment, MRIs revealed why her pain and disability was worsening. Needing payment for ongoing medical care, she finally opted to pursue the defendant driver, who had crashed into her car. In the end, SKW attorneys obtained a  six-figure settlement for the injured client.

Gendler v. State of Washington

(August 2010) $8,000,000 settlement for a defective bridge where a gap in the bridge deck was too wide, allowing a bicycle tire to wedge in the gap, throwing the rider to the ground and paralyzing him.

You may have heard an interview on NPR, read a blog post, or read a story in The Seattle Times about this case. In the era of media spin and 15-second sound bites, it’s more often that we are forced to make assessments without the benefit of the facts. What apparently outraged some was the $8 million settlement. If you are interested in knowing the facts behind the story, read on. Make, remake, or confirm your opinion of what this case was about.

Government Liability

Washington State owns the Montlake Bridge. Washington State has a duty to make all roadways safe for bicyclists in addition to cars/all motor vehicles. The roadway across the Montlake Bridge was unsafe for bicycles.  The State knew this, yet chose to do nothing to make it safer. No other business or government entity was responsible for the safety of the Bridge besides the State.

The Montlake Bridge

Since 1999, the Montlake Bridge had been unsafe for cyclists (the State repaired the hazard in 2009). Washington State started a retrofit of the Montlake Bridge in Seattle. The project included replacing the metal grate surface of the traffic lanes. The replacement grate was of a different design than the existing. The seam, formed by two abutting sections of grate, sits in the middle of the lanes of traffic. The specifications for the Bridge deck called for a narrow seam, one that would not have posed a danger to bicycle tires. The State allowed the deck seam to be wider than the specifications called for (based on tolerances), wide enough for a road bike tire to drop into it.

1999 – Notice to the State of a Danger

During the deck replacement project, the State found out how dangerous the seam could be. A cyclist crashed when his front bicycle tire wedged in the seam and he was thrown to the deck face-first. Concerned about other cyclists, he contacted the City of Seattle, who contacted the State’s project manager to inspect the problem. The State’s project manager made a note about the crash in his project diary.

1999 to 2099 – The State Ignored the Danger

  • The State’ project manager does not recall ever following up.
  • The State could have erected a warning sign – it did not.
  • The State could have fixed the problem – it assumed this would not happen again.
  • The State could have closed the roadway to bicycle traffic – it did not.

Mickey’s Crash – October 28, 2007

Mickey met up with a friend to go for a ride around the south end of Lake Washington. They intersected near UW Medical Center. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon on Montlake, not much traffic, so they traveled on the road. There was no traffic within a block’s length behind them. Mickey rode in the right lane. Halfway across the Bridge he switched to the left lane to prepare for a left turn. As he traversed the lane, he was suddenly thrown over his front bars onto the Bridge deck on his back. His front wheel had wedged into the seam in the deck. It took two people to dislodge the wheel.

Bicycles on the Bridge

In comments to the multiple articles written about Mickey’s case, many were critical of his decision to ride on the roadway rather than on the sidewalk. This case settled in the months leading up to the trial date, but in pre-trial motions the court determined that Mickey had the right to ride on the roadway and that Mickey had the right to travel in the left lane because he was preparing for a turn.

  • “[I]t is the ruling of this Court that bicycles are entitled to travel upon the Montlake Bridge roadway as a matter of law.” Judge McPhee, February 16, 2010.
  • “Plaintiff Michael Gendler’s operation of his bicycle in the inside (left) lane of the Montlake Bridge at the time of the subject incident was authorized by law.” Judge McPhee, May 28, 2010.

The Settlement Amount

What does $8 million mean? It’s not winning the lottery. It’s not a windfall. The settlement amount represents the exorbitant costs of the care for someone with a spinal cord injury. To learn more about Mickey’s life as a quadriplegic, read this article.

The $8 million settlement was well justified, as it will help to cover exorbitant medical bills, ongoing medical care, 24/7 assistance, facility accommodations at home and at work, etc.  However, proponents of legislation to reduce the frequently target the Gendler case because of the high settlement amount. We believe that most Washingtonians recognize the importance of keeping the government accountable, when government entities ignore safety issues that could ultimately result in catastrophic injuries to innocent citizens.

Fulton v. XYZ Corp.

(August 2006) $2,200,000 settlement for a roofer who fell from a construction site roof 35 feet rendering him a paraplegic.  Suit was against general contractor and second tier contractor for failure to maintain a safe workplace.  Substantial comparative negligence issues.

Whitmer v. Yuk, Pierce County and City of Lakewood

(June 2001) $6,350,000 settlement for negligence and failure to provide traffic signals at a busy intersection.

Molitor v. Heaverlo

(May 2001) $1,660,000 (policy limits) settlement plus additional contingent payments for a 23-year-old T-4 paraplegic injured in a vehicle rollover.

Huntington v. Atkinson

(1999) $1,050,000 (policy limits) settlement for paraplegia from auto rollover.

Homewood v. Aaby, et al.

(1995) $2,550,000 settlement for paralysis of a young woman from an auto collision plus an additional undisclosed amount from Toyota for a seat belt design failure.

Kuoppamaki v. Epsilon Gamma Foundation

(1990) $1,500,000 settlement for paralysis from fraternity rush function diving event.

Ethel Adams v. Farmers Insurance Co.
(2005) Ethel Adams was happily delivering dentures for her employer on March 23, 2005, when her life forever changed. A crazed man named Michael Testa was chasing his girlfriend Elizabeth Campo down Aurora Avenue. He bashed her with his truck until she lost control and flipped up and over the center line. Her truck crashed head-on into and on top of Ethel’s little Hyundai, smashing it backwards into oncoming following traffic. Ethel was almost crushed to death. What makes this case special is that a new law was enacted, called the Ethel's law. It was unanimously passed: SHB 2415.
Lan Remme v. City of Seattle and State of Washington
Fit cyclists, Lan Remme, hit a dangerous section on the Montlake Bridge. ($4,000,000) WSDOT Bridge Inspectors photo-documented and reported a 2-inch vertical change between concrete sidewalk panels, calling it a Priority One “tripping hazard”. After assigning it a repair number, WSDOT did nothing else. One year later, on April 2, 2011, Lan Remme rode his bicycle onto this Montlake Bridge sidewalk, traveling at 5 mph. According to an eyewitness, at the very point of the 2-inch “tripping hazard”, his front wheel abruptly stopped, pitching him over the handlebars. His helmeted head struck the sidewalk, and he was left motionless. Lan is now an incomplete quadriplegia and suffered serious injuries including right sinus and orbital facial fractures.
Pattison v. City of Chelan
$4.5 million settlement for a spinal cord injury that resulted in the client being a tetraplegic. Client dove into Lake Chelan in a city park and hit his head on submerged rocks. No warnings of the danger was posted.
Schneider v. Major Car Manufacturer
(2007) A young woman suffered profound injuries as the result of a car crash. The other driver testified that Ms. Schneider did nothing wrong. SKW brought justice against the car manufacturer of Marissa's car, for faulty design. A confidential settlement was obtained for Marissa and her family.
Perez v. THG Construction
SKW fought for Mr. Perez, against a construction company for allowing workers to work under treacherous conditions.
Lacey Hicks v. State of Washington Department of Transportation, City of Aberdeen
Due to lack of maintenance of the light poles on the Chehalis River Bridge, one of them smashed through Lacey's car. Lacey sustained serious injuries, including a spinal cord injury. In Spring 2012, the State finally indicated readiness to fund a project for a proper lighting system.