Motor vehicle accidents (35%) are the leading cause of spinal cord injury in Canada, followed by falls (17%).  In Canada, there are approximately 4,300 new spinal cord injuries each year.  The number of individuals living with spinal cord injuries is expected to increase to 121,000 by 2030 as the Canadian population ages and the causes of these injuries are likely to shift (i.e. older people falling rather than young males involved in motor vehicle accidents).

Spinal cord injuries devastatingly impact the individual, their family, their community and all of society.  The economic burden of new traumatic spinal cord injuries is approximately $2.7 billion per year in Canada.


SCI occurs when there is damage to the spinal cord caused by an injury or a disease.  The spinal cord itself is a bundle of nerves that runs from the base of the brain down the back.  The spinal cord is protected by vertebrae (bones that make up the spine) and sends message from the brain to control the body’s movements, provide nerve supply to internal organs and feel sensation in the rest of the body. 

When an individual suffers a complete SCI, messages can no longer transmit, resulting in the loss of feeling and loss of movement below the injured part of the spinal cord.

When an individual suffers an incomplete SCI, the amount of function varies depending on the nerves that have been damaged, and the muscles, organs or the area of sensation that they supply.

SCI can also affect bodily functions such as blood circulation, breathing, bowel and bladder control and sexual functions.

SCIs are characterized as quadriplegic if the injury is in the neck (cervical vertebrae) causing loss or impaired function and/or sensation in the arms, trunk and legs. 

SCIs are characterized as paraplegic as the result of a spinal cord lesion located at the thoracic vertebrae or lower down in the lumbar or sacro-coccygeal regions.  This type of injury causes an impaired function or sensation in the legs and possibly in the lower trunk, depending on the level of the injury.


Spinal cord injuries are either categorized as traumatic or non-traumatic.

A traumatic SCI occurs as a result of external impact or injury that damages the spinal cord.  The most common causes of this type of SCI are motor vehicle accidents, falls, sports injuries (i.e. diving into shallow water) or the result of a violent attack.  It isn’t surprising that car accidents are the leading cause of spinal injuries as they are an almost daily occurrence throughout Alberta.

Falls are also a common source for spinal injuries, which are often the result of carelessness or negligence.  A failure to promptly clean up spills, poor lighting, ice, debris or obstacles on the floor, loose carpeting and damaged flooring are all examples of situations that may cause falls.  Spinal injuries resulting from fall accidents cause trauma to the neck and back after the impact of violently striking a hard surface.

Non-traumatic SCI occur when a disease, infection or tumor damages or presses on the spinal cord causing the loss of function.  Diseases such as multiple sclerosis can also cause lesions on the spinal cord that may result in paralysis.  A congential disorder, such as spina bifida, results in SCI where the spinal cord is malformed or exposed at birth.


There is no cure for SCI, however, researchers are currently working toward understanding spinal cord injuries and research has shown the possibility of spinal cord repair and regeneration.  There have also been new advances to help those that suffer from SCI to better manage their quality of life.


Those that suffer from SCI following an injury will move onto the rehabilitation stage once the victim has stabilized.  Through rehabilitation, the individual can learn how to live with their injury.  Physiotherapy may help the individual regain function and various therapists (physiatrist, physical therapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, and/or rehabilitation counsellor) can help teach the individual to become self-sufficient.

Treatment can include:

  • Helping to regain or maximize the ability to use affected limbs and to maintain strength in unaffected limbs;
  • Teach new ways to move, transfer and care for oneself;
  • Teach long-term movement skills like walking with mobility aids or using a wheelchair;
  • Providing education and exercises to prevent future mobility problems.

Spinal cord injuries are considered both severe and catastrophic injuries and may result in significant compensation for accident victims arising from civil law suits involving victims who were injured due to the negligence of others.  Although monetary compensation will not resolve the trauma that victims of SCI face, it may help to ease the significant financial burden.

If you or a loved one have been involved in a motor vehicle accident or another serious accident and suffer from spinal cord injuries as a result of someone else’s negligence, the experienced personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie LLP can help evaluate your specific case to determine whether you have a valid claim.  It is important that you call us promptly so we can help you understand your rights and the potential to recover compensation for your injuries.  For a free case evaluation, please contact our office online or at 403-571-0555 to make an appointment.  We look forward to helping you obtain the compensation that you deserve.