Motor vehicle accidents are:
- A leading cause of trauma
- The second leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations
- The third leading cause of emergency department visits in New York State
Car accidents often cause severe neck and back injuries. If you have suffered a neck or back injury in a car accident, you may face enormous personal and economic loss. You may worry about lost income and how you will pay for medical bills or future expenses. A disabling neck or back injury can affect your whole life.
If someone else’s negligence injured you in a crash, a car accident lawyer near you can file a claim seeking a settlement from the at-fault party. The question often arises, “What is the average settlement for car accident neck and back injury?”
The unsatisfying answer is, no accurate average exists. Nor would such an average apply to you, since the compensation you recover will depend on the seriousness of your injury, not any averages that might bear only superficial resemblances to your situation.
Let’s look at different neck and back injuries, then discuss the compensation you might seek with the help of a car accident lawyer.
Common neck and back injuries
range from minor sprains to catastrophic spinal cord injuries. The spinal cord is the bundle of nerves that connects your brain to the rest of your body. An injury to the spine may interrupt the flow of messages between your brain and body, often with devastating consequences.
Sometimes there is no immediate sign of the damage, and by the time symptoms appear, there may be complications. The long-term effects and recovery time for neck and back injuries depend on the nature and severity of your injury.
Here are some more common back and neck injuries after a car accident.
Whiplash is a common motor vehicle accident injury. It occurs when the victim’s neck forcefully snaps back and forth during a crash. Whiplash affects over one million people in the U.S. each year. It can happen in many accidents but is commonly associated with rear-end collisions. Whiplash injuries can range from mild muscle strain to disability or even death.
Lumbar spine injuries
The force of a car crash can damage the muscles and surrounding tissue in the back, causing lower back pain. Lumbar sprains are common after a rear-end collision. Lumbar spine injuries can also include fractures, which may require surgery, or sciatica, which can be treated with physical therapy.
Trauma from a car accident may result in spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the channel that houses your spinal cord. This forces the vertebrae outwards while pinching the nerves inside the channel.
If this occurs in the neck, symptoms may include:
- Neck stiffness
- Tingling in the arms or fingers
- Difficulty lifting even light objects
If the injury is in the back’s lumbar region, the victim may feel lower back stiffness or pain, sore hips, tingling from the legs to the toes, or in some cases, loss of bladder or bowel control. If untreated, this condition may worsen over time.
Discs cushion the vertebrae and keep them from jarring against each other. The force of a car crash can compress the discs or knock them out of alignment. In a car crash, a disc may move out of place or break open, which puts pressure on the spinal cord.
This can happen anywhere along the spinal cord, but it is a common cause of middle back pain following a car accident. Treatment ranges from physical therapy to surgery to replace the disc. If untreated, disc herniation can cause further degenerative spinal disorders.
Thoracic spine injuries
The thoracic spine consists of vertebrae in the middle of the spine, between the cervical and lumbar vertebrae. Most thoracic spine fractures are due to car accidents, although they may also result from falls or sports injuries. Injuries sustained to the thoracic spine during a car accident can cause sprains or fractures in the thoracic spine, possibly causing permanent nerve damage.
Facet joint injuries
The facet joints between each pair of vertebrae contain a thin cartilage layer, allowing them to slide and control movement. Without these joints, the spine might break under the stress of a car crash. Facet joint damage can cause debilitating pain and immobility.
A car accident can cause:
- Facet joint fractures
- Torn cartilage between the joints
- Facet joint dislocation (separation of the joints)
Symptoms of back and neck injuries
You should always seek medical attention after you have been in a motor vehicle accident. Your doctor will examine you for possible fractures, slips, dislocations, nerve damage, and any other injuries you may have. Sometimes you will know immediately that you have been injured.
However, some symptoms are not readily apparent, so it is essential to recognize the signs of neck and back injuries. It may take some time to learn the full extent of your personal and economic losses, so it is best to document everything from the beginning. For example, an injured person may think they have a minor headache when they have a cervical spinal injury.
Untreated injuries are dangerous as they may worsen over time, or the victim can develop complications.
Immediate symptoms of back and neck injuries include:
- Extreme pain in the neck, back, or head
- Paralysis anywhere in your body
- A sensation of weakness
- Lack of coordination
- Tingling, numbness, lack of sensation in your extremities
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of bladder or bowel control.
- Inability to walk or loss of balance
- An awkward or twisted body position
- The immediate onset of a headache
Delayed Symptoms of Neck and Back Injuries:
Some injuries develop over time. For example, soft tissue damage, such as whiplash, may develop due to swelling or inflammation.
Watch for delayed symptoms such as:
- Stiffness or pain in your neck, back, shoulder, or head
- Weakness or inability to lift relatively light things
- Pain or pinching sensations in the shoulders, neck, or back
- Continuing tingling or numbness in the arms, hands, or fingers
- Sore and tender muscles
- Skin discoloration or bruising
- Restricted range of motion
- Changes in hearing or vision
- Confusion or feelings of stress or anxiety
- Abdominal pain or nausea
- Changes in appetite, sleep habits, mood, or behavior
Average settlement factors
There is no such thing as an average personal injury case or an average settlement. Each motor vehicle accident is different. Therefore, it takes work to predict the amount of a possible settlement. But even if a settlement amount is in the lower range, receiving full and fair payment for losses and injuries is still essential.
The circumstances of your accident, injuries and even your lifestyle can affect the settlement. Factors that may affect your settlement include:
The severity of the injuries
The nature and severity of your injuries are essential factors in negotiating an injury settlement. In general, someone with a severe injury will probably receive a larger settlement than someone with a minor injury.
Another critical factor is the likelihood of recovery. Are the injuries temporary or permanent? How long is recovery expected to take? For example, injuries resulting in chronic pain or permanent disability may result in a larger settlement.
How the injuries affect your income and job
Injuries almost always impede your earnings and harm the financial health of your entire family. You may simply lose wages because you have to take time off work for medical appointments or to recover.
You may need help to function or perform daily tasks in more severe cases. The injured person may be unable to return to their present job or even continue working in their chosen career. They may have to train for a different type of work or be unable to work.
Paying the bills
After a car crash, you may be hospitalized, undergo surgery, or have many doctors and other medical appointments. Medical expenses tend to be very costly and may be long-term costs. In addition to medical costs, your regular bills may be piling up. Therefore, it is vital to keep a detailed record of your bills to support your claim.
Pain and suffering
Some factors, such as bills or lost income, are easily quantifiable. Pain and suffering are more subjective. Therefore it is more difficult to place a dollar value on them. Pain and suffering can be both physical and mental in nature. Keeping a journal of your recovery can provide a detailed account of your pain and suffering and the impact on your life.
What types might you recover?
Typically, the higher the medical expenses and the more impact the injury has on your life, the more compensation you might receive. Always keep track of any paperwork your doctor provides and keep receipts to support a future claim.
Compensation may include:
- All medical expenses that may arise from your accident, including future costs
- The cost of rehabilitation and therapy
- Adaptive equipment and remodeling your home to fit your needs
- Long-term care
- Lost income
- Loss of future earnings
- Permanent disability
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship or consortium
- Punitive damages. The court rarely orders punitive damages, except in cases where the at-fault party behaved in a highly reckless or malicious manner
Seeking a settlement
About 95 percent of all personal injury cases settle before they go to trial. Some cases settle after the trial has begun. Taking a case to trial can cause anxiety. Many personal injury claimants settle for various reasons, such as saving time and money or reducing risk.
Insurance companies often offer a low settlement payment in the beginning. Any settlement offer may tempt you when you feel overwhelmed or in pain after a crash.
However, the insurance company wants to pay as little as possible on the claim.
To do this, they will investigate your accident closely and try to minimize or deny your back and neck injuries. They may even claim that you had a pre-existing medical condition to limit the settlement value of your case. Do not be intimidated. You deserve a fair settlement.
Settlements vary widely depending on the factors listed above and the area’s law. Some estimates place the national average settlement amount for neck and back injuries at over $834,686 and the median amount at $285,000.
Whiplash is a common injury after a car crash. There is a wide range of severity among whiplash cases. Some require little medical care and heal relatively quickly. Such an injury could result in a settlement of approximately $10,000.
However, additional treatment, such as physical therapy, can significantly increase costs. In addition, if the back or neck injuries were severe, debilitating, or paralyzing, the settlement amount could be much higher.
Other damage to tissues and tendons may receive compensation between $10,000 and $100,000. If an injury requires more extensive medical care or is life-altering, the settlement figure increases accordingly.
However, many victims have received significantly more. Catastrophic injuries, such as spinal cord or vertebrae damage, could receive a settlement in the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. For example, someone with a permanent disability or catastrophic injury maybe $1 million to $5 million.
Statute of limitations
A statute of limitations is a law that sets the maximum time that parties have to file a lawsuit after an injury. The statute of limitations can vary depending on the claim, but the statute of limitations in New York generally provides three years from the injury or the diagnosis of the injury. After the statute of limitations passes, the injured person cannot file suit.
Have you suffered a neck or back injury due to a car accident?
A neck or back injury can have serious, long-term consequences. You may be considering legal action if you have a neck or back injury from a car accident. A skilled, experienced car accident attorney will fight to obtain the best possible settlement for your case. For more information or a free case evaluation, contact a car accident lawyer near you today.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.