Types of Neck, Back, and Spinal injuries
Falls and vehicle accidents are among the most common causes of neck, back and spinal injuries. This can include slip and falls that cause herniated discs, whiplash from a read end collision, or spinal damage from a violent head-on crash However, any accident where tremendous energy is released can result in serious trauma.
Serious neck, back and spinal injuries include:
- Herniated/slipped/ruptured disc: A herniated disk is a problem with one of the rubbery cushions (discs) that are between the individual bones (vertebrae) that create the spine. A spinal disc has a soft, jellylike center (nucleus) encased in a tougher, rubbery exterior (annulus). Sometimes called a slipped disk or a ruptured disk, a herniated disk happens if some of the nucleus pushes out through a tear in the annulus. This can irritate a nearby nerve and cause pain, numbness or weakness in an arm or leg
- Whiplash: A neck injury caused by forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck. Whiplash most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident
- Bulging disc: If the outer portion of a disc weakens and loses its shape it can bulge into the spinal canal, press on nerves and cause pain, tingling and weakness that extend to the areas connected to those nerves, like the arms and legs.
- Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the space within your spine, putting pressure on the nerves travelling through the spine. This occurs most often in the lower back and the neck. Symptoms include pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness
- Spinal cord damage: The spinal cord has a critical role in many functions of your body, including moving limbs and the transmission of sensory and motor nerve impulses to and from the brain. Together with the brain, it is your central nervous system, which coordinates the functions of various organs of our body. The spinal cord is the pathway through which the brain sends and receives information from various parts of the body. Spinal cord damage can impact your physical sensations, functioning of organs and control of our muscles
- Severed spinal cord: Causes a complete spinal cord injury, stopping all communication between the brain and the body below the injury. All sensory, motor, and autonomic function below the point of injury stops and that’s where paralysis begins
- Paraplegia: Or partial paralysis, is a form of paralysis where function is substantially impeded from the waist down
- Quadriplegia/tetraplegia: Paralysis below the neck.
Neck, Back and Spinal Injury Compensation
There are many damages you could seek through an insurance claim or lawsuit, depending the harm you suffered.
Economic damages: Past medical bills (for treatments such as cervical fusion or lumbar fusion) and payment for reasonably expected, future medical treatments; lost income since the accident and the income you may be expected to lose in the future due to your injuries; damage to, or the loss of, your vehicle and out-of-pocket expenses incurred because of the accident
Non-economic damages: Pain and suffering caused by the accident, injury and your recovery; the negative impact on your relationships; mental or emotional harm caused by the accident and injuries
These damages could be shown by:
- Copies of bills and receipts
- Establishing the market value of your automobile
- Expert opinion as to what medical treatment will be needed in the future
- Testimony from family members and a mental health professional on the emotional and psychiatric impact of the injury
- Tax records could show past earnings while expert opinion could establish what you would’ve been expected to earn if there was no accident and what should be expected afterward
Proving Negligence in Neck, Back, and Spinal Injury Claims
Negligence is a legal theory used to establish liability in accident cases. The plaintiff (the injured party) has the burden of proving that the defendant (the party accused of being responsible) is, more likely than not, legally responsible for the harm done to the plaintiff. He or she needs to show the defendant,
- Owed the plaintiff a legal duty or obligation (not to drive in a dangerous way in a reasonably safe vehicle; or have a reasonably safe surface for customers to walk on)
- That duty or obligation was breached (the person drove while intoxicated, was distracted by a smart phone, drove through a red light; the floor was known to be slippery but not cleaned)
- That breach is the factual and legal (or proximate) cause of the accident
- The accident caused harm to the plaintiff
- Under state law the defendant is obligated to compensate the plaintiff for the harm suffered
Often in accident cases both sides disagree on who’s at fault and by how much. In Texas there is a modified comparative fault rule that follows a 51% bar rule. The plaintiff can’t recover compensation if he or she is found to be 51% or more at fault for causing the accident.
If it’s shown the defendant is more at fault than the plaintiff, plaintiff’s recovery is cut by the share of his or her fault. If a jury decides a plaintiff is 40% at fault and there are $100,000 in damages, plaintiff’s recovery will be $60,000.
New Mexico follows a different system, pure comparative negligence. There’s no need to show the defendant was at greater fault than the plaintiff. He or she can recover from a defendant the defendant’s share of culpability, whatever it may be. If the defendant’s share of the blame for the accident is a third, the plaintiff can recover a third of his or her total damages.
Establishing damages is a critical part of the case. If that can’t be done, there will be no compensation and no point in filing a lawsuit. If a plaintiff has a pre-existing medical condition, the worsening of that condition caused by the accident can be compensable. It’s critical that all medical care be documented so the insurance company and a jury fully understand your past and current medical situation and what it’s expected to be in the future.
Neck, Back, and Spinal Injury Settlements
When deciding how to handle negotiations, you need to think about all the harm done and what you are willing to accept for your current and future needs . You also need to consider the downsides of going to trial, including the risks your case may be dismissed or that your damage award may be less than expected. That lack of control and uncertainty are major reasons why both sides choose to settle.
Negotiations are based on the needs of the parties and the ability of both to establish trust and work together. Mistakes by either party that can hamper or end negotiations can be:
- Not acting in good faith
- Seeing negotiation as a test of wills or a game
- Failing to fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of a case and factoring them into what to offer, demand or accept
Neck, Back, and Spinal Injury Lawsuits and Trial Preparation
If a lawsuit is filed, part of the litigation process is discovery, where both parties normally find the critical facts they haven’t uncovered to that point. Both sides ask each other questions in writing and under oath, exchange documents and information. Often the parties, after discovery, get a full picture of the important facts, understand the value of the case and reach an agreement.
During the investigation and litigation phase we often use experts. These are highly educated and experienced professionals who work on lawsuits and can give their opinions in court. We use accident reconstructionists to help us determine the cause of accidents and who is at fault. Medical experts can explain the nature and extent of injuries and how long limitations are expected to last.
This is all part of trial preparation, which starts when we’re retained by a client. Every step in the process is taken with the attention and seriousness needed to prove a client’s case in court. Our level of effort is the same, whether we’re negotiating with an insurance company or at trial.