Syringomyelia and Chiari malformations are relatively rare, closely related, neurological conditions that may be congenital but also may be caused or severely aggravated by trauma in an accident such as head or neck injury an automobile collision. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computer tomography) scans are essential to the diagnosis of both.

Physicians accustomed to dealing with musculoskeletal injuries such as fractures, disc herniations, and whiplash, often completely miss the diagnosis of these extremely painful and debilitating injuries. They may even accuse the patients of exaggeration or malingering.

Chiari malformation is a little-understood condition in which the lowest area of the brain, the cerebellar tonsil, is forced out of the normal place inside the skull. While generally a congenital preexisting condition, it may have been asymptomatic and undiagnosed until aggravated by trauma. This in turn may compress portions of the brainstem and upper spinal cord, causing severe headaches, dizziness, vertigo, clumsiness, vision problems, spastic movement of limbs, and numbness or weakness in arms and legs. It may lead to paralysis.

A woman was a brilliant, successful professional when she was involved in an apparently minor car wreck. Doctors viewed her debilitating pain with skepticism, accusing her of malingering. She was disabled from her successful business career and virtually bedridden for years, going to close to 100 doctors before finally finding one who understood the traumatic aggravation of a previously asymptomatic congenital Chiari malformation, and how to treat it. After finally finding a medical team that knew how to treat the traumatically aggravated Chiari malformation, she recovered a good quality of life and launched a successful new career.

Recently, our firm recovered insurance policy limits of almost a million dollars for a young woman with a preexisting congenital Chiari malformation whose condition had been dormant several years before a collision with a commercial truck. Doctors who first saw her after this collision had limited understanding of Chiari malformation. Fortunately, she found her way to a neurologist deeply experienced in treating this condition. With seasoned medical care, her symptoms improved. With lawyers who understood the long-term implications of Chiari malformation, she recovered the maximum amount of money available without having to go through years of litigation and trial.

Syringomyelia is a condition of the spinal cord more often than not closely related to Chiari malformation. It is characterized by a fluid-filled cavity or cyst known as a syrinx that forms within the spinal cord. A syrinx can expand over time compressing or destroying the surrounding nerve tissue. Frequently seen symptoms include pain in the shoulders and neck, muscle weakness, pain and stiffness in the legs, numbness or decreased sensation, especially to heat and cold, scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine), muscle contractions, and ataxia (uncoordinated movements). It may eventually lead to paralysis and death.

There are several congenital or idiopathic causes of syringomyelia, but it also may be caused or severely aggravated by trauma in an accident. Posttraumatic syringomyelia is the term used for cases that result from trauma. Such injuries often are initially diagnosed as a mere whiplash.

World famous golfer and prominent Atlanta lawyer Bobby Jones acquired traumatic syringomyelia in a freak accident in 1929. His symptoms gradually became noticeable before he was finally diagnosed in 1950. Over the years, he progressed from leg braces, a cane,  walker,  wheelchair, and finally was confined to bed.

We represented a woman with traumatic syringomyelia who was fortunate to get to a highly rated neurosurgeon who was able to relieve excess pressure from the syringe in her spinal cord. We were able to recover before trial the maximum of all insurance coverage available. She went on to become prominent in advocacy for people with syringomyelia while developing a successful real estate sales career.

If you or a loved one has received a diagnosis of Chiari malformation or syringomyelia after a truck crash or other traumatic injury, call us at 404-253-7862.

Johnson & Ward has been a leading personal injury specialty law firm in Atlanta since 1949.
Ken Shigley is a former president of the State Bar of Georgia (2011-12), triple board certified by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, recipient of the Traditions of Excellence Award for lifetime achievement, and was lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice (2010-21). He graduated from Furman University and Emory University Law School.
John Adkins specializes in personal injury and wrongful death litigation. He is an honor graduate of Kennesaw State University and Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego.
Ed Stone specializes in personal injury and wrongful death litigation. He is a graduate of Kennesaw State University and John Marshall Law School in Atlanta.