How do you help the victim of a suspected spinal injury?
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How do you help the victim of a suspected spinal injury?

The first instinct many people have when they see someone seriously injured right in front of their eyes is to rush to their aid -- but in California, that can sometimes come back to haunt a would-be Good Samaritan. The law that applies to rescue attempts is somewhat narrowly defined, which means that you can still be sued for making someone worse if you take unnecessary risks.

For example, if you see someone injured at work by a blow to the head from a falling object, you need to pause before you act. If the injured person is in no immediate danger from something that could make things worse, call 911 and activate your workplace's emergency response protocol first.

Then assess the victim to see if he or she potentially has a spinal injury:

-- Does the victim have a head injury with a change in consciousness? Is he or she unconscious or coming in and out of consciousness? Is he or she disoriented?

-- Is the victim telling you that he or she has severe neck or back pain? Does trying to move make it worse?

-- Is the victim unable to move his or her back?

-- Is the victim positioned oddly, with his or her back or neck at an unnatural angle?

-- Does the victim feel any weakness, numbness, or paralysis in his or her arms or legs?

-- Has the victim lost control of his or her bladder or bowels?

Any of these symptoms should indicate that the victim is likely suffering a spinal injury. If he or she is wearing a safety helmet, leave it in place. Try to comfort the victim verbally and place towels or heavy blankets on either side of his or her head to prevent any movement until medical professionals arrive.

The only time a potential victim of spinal trauma should be moved without professional medical help is if he or she is in further danger. For example, if the victim is choking on vomit or blood, you can enlist help to roll him or her onto one side while trying to keep the victim's neck and back aligned.

Anyone who suffers a spinal cord injury as the result of another's negligence or reckless actions should consult an attorney for advice.

Source: Mayo Clinic, "Spinal injury: First aid," accessed March 22, 2017

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