Car Accident Back Injury Claims Are Tricky, Here’s What to Know
Car accidents frequently cause back injuries. These injuries can be life-changing and lead to complications ranging from chronic pain to reduced range of motion and even full paralysis.
North Carolina state law recognizes the challenges and costs associated with back injuries and allows you to seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver or their insurer. Learn more about pursuing compensation for a car accident back injury.
What Are Some Common Back, Neck, and Spine Injuries?
Your neck, spine, and back are connected, so an injury at any one point can cause problems in the entire system. Common car accident injuries include:
- Whiplash: Whiplash is a very common neck injury in auto accidents and particularly in rear-end collisions. It happens when the impact of the crash causes your head and neck to snap back and forth violently. The motion strains the muscles and ligaments in your neck and, in more serious cases, can damage the spinal cord and vertebrae.
- Discogenic injuries: As the name suggests, these are injuries to the discs in your neck or spine. The discs are spongy, fluid-filled sacs that separate and cushion the bones of the spine. Examples of discogenic injuries include bulging discs, which occur when the intervertebral disc is pushed outward which often causes nerve impingement with pain and numbness radiating from the injury point downward, and disc herniation, in which a disc ruptures and the fluid inside leaks out causing irritation and damage to nearby nerves.
- Spinal stenosis: Stenosis means narrowing of a passage, and spinal stenosis refers to an injury or condition which narrows a nerve passage, thereby causing impingement of the nerve with associated pain, numbness, and other symptoms.
- Spondylolisthesis: This is a condition that occurs when one of the vertebrae of your spine slides out of place in relation to the position of the vertebrae below it, causing pain (especially lower back pain) and numbness. Spondylolisthesis is often a congenital or degenerative condition, but it also can be caused by high-energy trauma. This is a true change in the orthopedic alignment of the spine.
- Facet joint injuries: The facet joints connect your vertebrae at the very back of the body and enable you to bend and twist. The force of a collision can cause you to move back and forth rapidly, making the facet joints collide against each other as your neck jerks. Facet joints can break easily, and the resulting damage can cause chronic pain.
- Spinal fractures: The vertebrae, which are the bones of the spine, can be broken in a serious car accident. Fractures are occasionally stable and may result in conservative injury, but in many cases, spinal fractures are severe and risky and require surgical repairs. Orthopedic surgeons often use screws, plates, cages, and metal hardware to repair and stabilize spinal fractures. These surgeries typically result in permanent loss of range of motion and also increase the patient’s risk of injury above and below the surgical site.
- The severing of the spinal cord: The nerves of the body travel from the brain, down the brain stem, and then down the full range of the spine. Following a severe accident and spinal trauma, the spinal cord can be damaged or cut, resulting in significant loss of bodily function below the injury site and, in some cases, total paralysis and loss of all physical function.
Signs You May Have a Back, Neck, or Spine Injury
Possible symptoms of a neck, back, or spine injury include:
- Back or neck pain/discomfort
- Clicking or grinding sound in your neck or back when you move
- Reduced/limited range of physical motion, such as when turning your neck
- Numbness or tingling at the injury site, or down the arms or legs below the injury site
- Headaches which often are caused by cervical spinal injury
- Muscle cramps, weakness, or palpable muscle spasms
The Common Difficulty With Back Injury Cases
Insurance companies typically resist back injury claims and challenge them. The frank truth is, back injuries are the most common type of injuries that are the subject of false or fraudulent claims. While fractures, disc herniations, and obvious orthopedic injuries can be easily imaged and diagnosed after a traumatic event, there are many other types of back injuries that do not show up on X-rays or other diagnostic imaging.
In back injury cases involving strains, sprains, simple whiplash, and “soft tissue” injuries, the diagnosis typically derives mainly from the subjective complaints of the victim. Insurance companies often challenge these cases as they know that the doctor cannot point to any specific images or findings to objectively prove that the injury occurred. Further, most adults have some level of degeneration in the spine. Thus, x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs typically reveal degenerative disc disease or other degenerative conditions that are a result of aging, not trauma.
Because of these factors, back injury cases are often difficult to prove with unequivocal medical evidence. While there are some exceptions, we typically face challenges in these cases. You should expect your insurance adjuster to carefully review all medical records, request pre-accident medical records, and oppose fair payment.
Is Compensation Available for Car Accident Back Injuries?
The amount of compensation (“damages”) you may seek depends on the severity of your injuries and your financial losses. Soft tissue injuries, such as a brief period of soreness that resolves with physical therapy or chiropractic care, tend to have lower settlement amounts. These injuries are seen as more common, and juries in North Carolina typically grant rather conservative awards in simple whiplash cases arising from car accidents. We see very high settlements and trial verdicts in personal injury cases involving severe spinal injuries. In these cases, the victim should engage aggressive legal counsel to assemble a thorough medical case, secure medical opinion evidence confirming that injuries will be permanent, and ensure that the victim receives generous payment for past AND FUTURE medical needs, for all pain and suffering which will occur over their entire life, and for all other money damage claims that can be presented at trial.
In general, the following damages are available in NC personal injury cases involving back injury:
- Medical bills, including ambulance transportation, surgery, doctor or hospital visits, medications, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and any future medical treatment related to your injuries
- Lost past and future wages, including salary, commissions, bonuses, and other work-related perks
- Assistance with daily activities, such as the costs of hiring a housecleaner or childcare services
- Pain and suffering, both physical and emotional
Injured Your Back in a Car Accident? Call Nagle & Associates Right Away
If you’ve suffered a car accident injury to your back or spine, don’t attempt to seek compensation on your own. North Carolina’s personal injury law is complex. North Carolina is one of just four states where you can’t recover any damages if you were even a small percentage at fault for the accident. A single communications error could jeopardize your whole claim.
Let us take care of the legal work. At Nagle & Associates, P.A., we have over 20 years of experience negotiating with insurance companies on behalf of car accident victims. Carl Nagle is a former claims adjuster and former insurance defense lawyer. He now works only for North Carolina car accident victims. Our fee is just 25% of the settlement (most firms charge 33/3%), and we ONLY handle NC roadway accident cases. Call us at (866) 631-2228 for a free consultation.