Spinal cord injury in adults can result from various mechanisms of injury, usually caused by high-impact events. Every medical center has protocols in place for the treatment of suspected spinal cord injuries. Medical personnel is typically alerted to a possible spine injury when they receive a patient from a vehicle accident, a sports-related accident or any other situation known to be a major cause of spinal cord disruption.

The spinal cord carries the brain’s messages to the body’s nerves, controlling sensations as well as blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. Depending upon where a partial or full spinal cord disruption occurs, one or more of these vital functions can be irreversibly damaged.

Medical treatment 101

One of the first rules encountered by anyone who learns medical treatment procedures is not to move an injured person without first stabilizing her or his spinal cord to keep it in alignment with the head. Even a small piece of bone from a fractured spine can disrupt the spinal cord, causing partial or full paralysis. When a patient enters any medical facility, each professional—including the clerical staff—understands the need to immobilize a person who has even mild symptoms of a possible spinal cord injury. While urgent care centers do not typically treat spinal injuries, they are nevertheless trained to recognize the symptoms and stabilize the patient immediately.

Medical treatment protocols

A man complaining of back pain from an on-the-job lifting accident he had just experienced drove to a local urgent care center. The injured man filled out the admittance paperwork, noting that his presenting symptom was severe back pain. The urgent care staff moved the man around in different positions during examination and testing. A care center employee instructed the man to walk down the hall to the X-ray room. When placed in position for the X-ray, the man was unable to stand. He also told the staff he could no longer walk. Even then, they continued to move him around for more tests. The emergency room of the major hospital that owned the urgent care facility was directly across the street, yet the urgent care center did not follow protocol and refer the patient there.

The urgent care staff failed to stabilize the patient and send him to the emergency room, per their treatment protocol. The man, who was able to walk when he entered the treatment facility, eventually suffered paralysis while he was still at the urgent care center by being continually moved during the staff’s various tests.

Failure to follow medical protocols

The urgent care center did not notice obvious signs that the man’s work accident herniated a spinal disk. Because of the inept movement and handling by the urgent care personnel, the disk finally exploded and severed their patient’s spinal cord. The man sued, and the jury awarded a $7.9 million judgment. Refusing to acknowledge the series of medical blunders at their urgent care center, a hospital representative blamed the victim, stating the man should have gone to the emergency room instead. Ironically, the hospital spokesman was right, although not for the reason he implied. The jury, fortunately, placed blame on the hospital clinic’s malpractice as the true cause of the man’s injuries.