The back is a significant part of the human body. It supports the body and impacts nearly every movement. Thus, it makes sense that back injuries can leave people with debilitating pain.
If you or someone you love suffered a back injury in a car or other accident, discuss the circumstances with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. If another person or party carelessly, negligently, or intentionally contributed to the circumstances that led up to the accident, you deserve compensation for your injuries.
The Spinal Anatomy
The spine consists of several different anatomical parts, including:
- Cervical (neck)
- Thoracic (upper neck)
- Lumbar (lower back)
- Sacral (sacrum, found in the pelvis)
- Coccygeal (coccyx, located in the pelvis)
Back injuries usually involve injuries to the thoracic and lumbar spine. A typical car accident rarely hurts a person's sacrum or coccyx.
If there is damage to vertebrae or a spinal disc, diagnostic films, medical records, doctors, and attorneys will refer to the specific spinal area (as referenced by the vertebrae number) where the injury occurs, such as:
- Cervical vertebrae (C1-C7) - neck
- Thoracic vertebrae (T1-T12) - middle/upper back
- Lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5) - lower back
- Sacral vertebrae (S1-S5) - pelvis
Between each vertebra are spinal discs. For example, a C3-C4 disc injury refers to a disc injury between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae because it identifies the two vertebrae surrounding the injured disc.
The spine has three natural curves that keep the body balanced and allow it to bend and stretch easily. While the spine is flexible and strong, it can easily suffer damage from a sudden traumatic force. Unfortunately, seat belts sometimes cause such a force in auto accidents.
Although seat belts undoubtedly save lives, they can also result in extreme back injuries. They immobilize the spine at two points while the rest bends and twists during a car accident. This position can potentially result in several different back and neck injuries, such as flexion and extension muscle tears, slipped or ruptured spinal discs, and sudden fractures.
Strain or Sprain Back Injuries
During a car accident, injuries to the soft tissue ligaments and tendons in the muscles around the vertebrae often occur. The dollar will call these back strain or sprain injuries in your medical records.
The impact between the vehicles involved in a motor vehicle collision can cause the back muscles to stretch or tear or even damage the nerve endings. Partial or complete soft tissue ruptures occur if a muscle, ligament, or tendon gets torn.
How Serious is a Strain or Sprain Back Injury?
Symptoms of sprains and strains usually range from very mild up to severe and debilitating. Some people completely recover from back sprains and strains within a few weeks, months, years, or never. This unpredictable recovery pace is one reason you should avoid negotiating any back injury compensation settlements without an attorney’s experience.
Are Sprain or Strain Back Injuries Ever Permanent?
Yes, unfortunately, some sprain or strain injuries can be permanent. However, the severity of the injury varies widely depending upon the force of impact and severity of the crash.
While it might be true that most strain and sprain injuries are relatively minor and will eventually heal over time, the same isn’t true of all these injuries. Some back sprains/strains can have a direct, negative effect on an individual’s everyday life and for the rest of their life.
When negotiating a settlement for a lower back injury, your attorney should take this into account. The insurance adjuster might argue that this is too speculative. In this case, it might be more appropriate to wait several months before agreeing to a settlement. During this time, continue receiving your recommended medical treatments.
Can Permanent Lower Back Injuries Increase a Personal Injury Settlement?
A lower back strain or sprain is permanent and will significantly impact your settlement offer. Your back injury settlement must consider the possibility of permanency.
Unfortunately, most insurers will classify your claim as just another soft tissue injury case and won’t offer a fair and reasonable settlement until you file a lawsuit. This attitude is why the average settlement offer for car crash back injury is frequently less than it should be for those who don’t have an attorney.
Catastrophic or permanent damage to the soft tissue in the back will almost always result in them having to devise ways to manage their disability daily. You may have to adapt your entire lifestyle to experience some quality of life. If this is your situation, a personal injury attorney can help you prove these losses to the insurance carrier by utilizing third-party witnesses, developing client stories, and relying on demonstrative evidence.
Additional Types of Car Accident Back Injuries
Strains and sprains are the most common kind of lower and middle back injuries. However, there are other frequently occurring back injuries associated with car accidents.
- Herniated disc - The supportive discs in the spine can slip out of place (herniate), crack or even rupture due to the extreme force in a car accident. These injuries can be painful and debilitating.
- Fractures - The force exerted in a car accident can also lead to spinal compression fractures. Although these are less common injuries, they are severe, and surgical hardware may become necessary for healing and stability.
- Spinal cord injuries - The extreme forces of an automobile collision may bruise, lacerate, sever, or otherwise damage the spinal cord. However, a spinal cord injury is not typical following a car accident. More frequently, spinal cord irritation occurs from other back injuries, like herniated discs. These injuries often necessitate intensive spinal cord surgery and rehabilitation.
A spinal cord injury will likely result in the largest average settlements of all these injuries.
Damages in a Back Injury Case
The value of your back injury claim will rest mainly on your damages. Damages represent how your life was impacted or inconvenienced due to your injuries. They can be economic (special) or non-economic (general).
Economic damages include your expenses or financial losses related to your injuries, such as:
- Lost wages and income from missed work hours due to medical appointments or healing from your injuries
- Medical expenses, including emergency, doctor, surgery, and hospital bills, as well as prescriptions and medical equipment
- Any projected future lost wages and medical expenses
Non-economic damages are less concrete but generally include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
If you sustained a back injury in a car accident, you deserve compensation for both types of damages. An experienced personal injury attorney can help ensure that you get compensated accordingly.
Depending on where you live and the circumstances of your accident, you might also obtain punitive damages. Only a judge or jury can award these damages. The at-fault party acted must have acted intentionally or with extreme recklessness or indifference to cause your injury. For example, a victim in a drunk driving accident might receive punitive damages.
Surgery Case Settlements
If your doctor recommends surgery to fix your back injury, then the total cost of treating a back injury can easily surpass $100,000, depending on where you live. For example, in a metropolitan area like Los Angeles, lower back surgeries can cost twice as much as they do in a rural town.
The average settlement for back surgery cases is more than $100,000, generally increasing in metropolitan areas or if the injury resulted from a truck accident.
Settlements for Lower Back Sprain & Strain
The average settlement for lower back injury settlements for sprains and strains runs around $10,000 and $50,000. Larger settlements are often the result of better, more experienced attorneys who know how to fight back against the sneaky tactics of the insurance companies.
Back Injury Settlements
A fair car accident back injury settlement should account for your medical bills, loss of income, and pain and suffering. In addition, medical expenses and lost earnings should include both past and future losses, as many back injuries may continue to need treatment.
Carefully documenting those claims can boost the likelihood of recovering fair settlement money for them. Your lawyer can help ensure your physicians are documenting your injuries in sufficient detail to help support your claim.
Proper diagnosis and continued monitoring for improvement frequently include MRI, CT scan, or X-ray. You may need other tests to determine the extent of your back injury. These diagnostics can quickly add up and help increase the value of your settlement.
It’s also crucial to follow the doctor’s orders and not miss any doctor appointments. Every medical appointment you don’t attend will not only hurt your recovery but can also diminish your potential settlement amount.
Factors That Can Decrease Baack Injury Settlements
There is no blanket or one-size-fits-all answer to how much a back injury is worth in an accident. However, when you meet with an attorney, they will evaluate all aspects of your accident and injury to help provide you with an estimate of how much money you might be entitled to receive. Many factors can increase or decrease personal injury settlements, including back injuries. Factors that have the potential to reduce your settlement amount include the following:
A back injury claim won't succeed if the insurance carrier won't accept liability for their insured party. Therefore, collecting as much evidence as possible from police reports and medical records is imperative to help support the claim. If an attorney can demonstrate liability to the insurer, it will help the injured party get the highest settlement offer possible.
The Extent of the Back Injury
To maximize a settlement from an insurance company, you must prove the severity of your injury and how it has impacted (and continues to impact) your everyday life. If your attorney can establish that you sustain a permanent injury, your settlement may increase. However, your lawyer generally can't do this unless the symptoms continue for over six months.
Applicable Insurance Policies
Suppose the at-fault party only has liability insurance coverage for $10,000, and your back injury is worth $100,000. You may not receive compensation for the total value of your injury. However, if multiple parties are at fault or you have your own insurance coverage (for instance, in a car accident case, PIP, MedPay, or underinsured coverage), you may obtain far more compensation.
The Knowledge and Skills of Your Attorney
Hiring an experienced attorney is crucial to obtaining full and fair compensation for back injury victims. You need an attorney with solid negotiation skills who isn't afraid to litigate your claim if they need to. You need a personal injury attorney who can highlight the strengths in your case and point out the weaknesses in the at-fault party's case to increase your settlement.
Dozens of Other Factors
More than a hundred factors can affect your back injury settlement for better or worse. These are only a few. An experienced lawyer well-versed in all of these factors should assess your case as soon as possible. This professional assessment helps ensure no money is left on the table when negotiating with the at-fault party’s insurance company.
Get an Experienced Lawyer on Your Side Today
Most back injury claims are inherently challenging. Insurance companies almost always attempt to downplay the severity of the injury on the victim’s life, or they try to say that the claimant’s injury and pain are pre-existing. Pursuing these claims alone or with an inexperienced attorney who hasn’t handled many back injury claims is a recipe for disaster.
If you want full and fair compensation for your back injury, you need representation from a skilled and knowledgeable attorney who isn’t afraid to stand up for your legal rights. Contact us today.