How Legal Proceedings Benefit Someone With A Spinal Cord Injury As The Result Of Someone Else’s Negligence

If the injury is the result of a motor vehicle accident – which generally is the most prevalent cause of these catastrophic injures – the first issue is to ensure that the plaintiff applies for accident benefits, which are a standard part of the present motor vehicle insurance policy in Ontario.

The plaintiff with a spinal cord injury is deemed to be catastrophically injured, which allows that person to access medical and rehabilitation treatment up to $1 million. These benefits are substantially higher than for a person who suffers a non-catastrophic injury.

Catastrophic impairment sets a much higher limit for the various medical and attendant care benefits that you are entitled to, and although in most cases these benefits are high, they are not remotely sufficient to pay the actual costs of looking after people who are injured to this degree. What we have to do is try to access every other benefit available in Ontario, as well as, through any disability policy that the plaintiff might have purchased. The Ontario Disability Support Program or ODSP is a provincial program; there are federal programs; local municipal programs, and school programs, all of which must be accessed by the injured plaintiff. Accessing these programs is difficult and time consuming. For the most part, the response time is very slow and the benefits are quite inadequate.

The lawyer’s job is to ensure that the plaintiff has maximum access to the accident benefits available under the plaintiff’s own policy and then bring the appropriate claims against the at-fault driver. In Ontario, insurance coverage requires at least $200,000 in third-party liability limits. Fortunately, most drivers in Ontario carry limits of at least $1 million and more if they are aware of the nature of recent judgments. The accident benefits are integrated into the claims against the other driver. That is, it is a requirement that the plaintiff obtain the maximum amount of benefits available under their own policy in order to claim against the at-fault driver.

The claim against the at-fault driver requires proof of liability and proof of damages. Where liability is not in issue, that is where the defendant is liable, the litigation revolves around the assessment of damages. In the case of a catastrophically injured plaintiff, they are required to go through the trial process like every other plaintiff, which can take many years to accomplish. Damages are paid to the plaintiff based on a number of categories, such as, loss of income, future care costs, and general damages.

It is the future care cost aspect that is most difficult to prove at a trial. We have to show, through numerous experts, the extent of the plaintiff’s injury and the cost to provide for the plaintiff’s future care. This is a daunting task and requires a lot of legal expertise to convince a court of the extent of future needs such that the court will award sufficient money, i.e. damages, to look after the catastrophically injured plaintiff. In many of these cases, actuaries are required to compute the present value of these far-reaching future awards. Thereafter, the experienced lawyer wants to explore structuring the award to ensure a steady stream of payments to the injured plaintiff for the rest of their lives.

In most cases, parents or guardians of children who have very severe injuries do not want their children to be housed in special facilities because although there is constant attendant care, it is institutional care. People feel it is just simply not as good as parental care and that someone in one of these care facilities could fall through the cracks. If someone is left unattended for an hour when they should not be, the results can be terrible.

What also happens to most parents or siblings looking after people with these terrible injuries is that eventually they fatigue and burn out. I have not seen any studies on it but I am guessing that it takes years off the lives of the survivors, the immediate family members who have look after these people. They become worn out from having to provide the level of care required. What we attempt to do as lawyers is get enough money so, that throughout the day, parents and siblings have breaks and the injured person has a competent caregiver to take over. With enough resources, the family can take a break and trust the caregiver to provide appropriate care.

We also work with medical teams and other specialists to address the injured person’s future. As lawyers, we have various specialized teams to help us evaluate an injured plaintiff and then construct the best possible program both with medical care and vocational care that we can put together. Then we work towards securing the appropriate financing through the litigation process. We may still be subject to the liability for the accident on the tort side, so there may be limitations on the damages that we can obtain, but where there are no limitations, the case usually comes to a conclusion relatively quickly.


If you, or someone you care about, is dealing with Personal injury law issues in the Toronto, Ontario Region, contact Strype Barristers LLP.

This article is taken from a March 17, 2008 interview with Jeff Strype LL.B., Personal Injury Lawyer with Strype Barristers LLP in Toronto , a Personal Injury Law Firm.

Note that laws vary from province to province. Please consult with a lawyer in your own area to be sure of the laws and specific issues in your own jurisdiction.