One of the most common questions an accident victim has following an injury is how much they could receive for their injuries. When someone has suffered a neck or back injury in a car accident, their life could be changed irreparably.
These injuries can have long-term, devastating effects on someone’s life, and a car accident lawyer can help them receive the compensation they deserve to maintain financial stability despite their limitations.
Types of Back and Neck Injuries From Car Accidents
After a car accident, victims may experience back and neck pain. In some cases, this is a result of an injury suffered in the accident that requires medical attention.
Victims should understand the types of back and neck injuries that can occur during a car accident, including:
- Whiplash. Whiplash is one of the most common back and neck injuries associated with car accidents. Whiplash occurs when the head and neck are suddenly forced to move in a jerking motion beyond their normal range. This violent action can cause damage to the soft tissues in the neck, including the muscles and ligaments, resulting in debilitating long-term pain. Common symptoms of whiplash include headaches, neck pain and stiffness, shoulder pain, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating. In comparison, many whiplash injuries can be treated without surgery. However, severe cases may require a course of physical therapy or even surgery to address the injury properly.
- Herniated discs. Herniated discs are common neck and back injuries from car accidents. A slipped, or ruptured disc can be very painful. These injuries happen when the center of a spinal disc, which is filled with a gel-like substance, bulges out through a tear in the disc’s outer wall. This bulging often irritates nearby nerves, causing pain and other symptoms. Victims may experience radiating pain in the neck and shoulder, numbness or tingling in the legs, or muscle weakness. Victims of a car accident who suffered a herniated disc may require multiple specialized tests, including X-rays, MRIs, or CAT scans, to determine the best course of treatment.
- Spinal cord injuries. These injuries are serious and life-altering. Unfortunately, they occur too frequently after a car accident. Spinal cord injuries can result in complete or partial paralysis and cause significant pain. These injuries can result from a blow to the neck or back and range from minor to severe. Those in a car accident need to seek immediate medical attention to quickly address any neck or back injuries. A spinal cord injury can cause paralysis, numbness, weakness, tingling, and loss of sensation.
- Fractured vertebrae. Also known as vertebral compression fractures, these are common types of injuries that can result from a car accident. These injuries often occur when the vertebrae in the spine are subjected to extreme force, leading to a fracture. This type of injury can cause debilitating pain and decrease the range of motion in the neck or back over the long term.
Any car accident victim who has suffered a back or neck injury in a car accident should seek immediate medical attention. In some cases, victims may undergo surgery to ensure the injury is corrected and promote healing. Victims should also seek guidance from a car accident attorney to help them determine the best way to get compensation for their injuries and hold the responsible party accountable.
All car accident victims should seek medical attention right away. Surgery is sometimes necessary to correct a fracture, eliminate swelling, and ensure proper healing. A car accident injury lawyer can review a victim’s case and explain their rights and options under the law. In addition, they can explain the average settlement associated with the specific type of neck and back injury a victim has suffered.
Insurance Company Adjusters and Neck and Back Injuries
When an insurance company receives a claim after a car accident, they assign an adjuster to handle the personal injury. A second adjuster will typically be assigned to handle damage to the vehicle. Remember, the insurance adjuster is not contacting a victim to help them. Their goal is to minimize the exposure of the insurance company.
Pennsylvania is a no-fault insurance state. New Jersey has a no-fault option. These rules will play a role in how the initial claim is filed. Under no-fault rules, a car accident victim can file a claim with their insurance company. Let’s take a look at what this means for car accident victims.
According to PennDOT Driver & Vehicle Services, drivers in Pennsylvania must maintain $15,000 coverage when one person suffers an injury in an auto accident. In the case of neck and back injuries, this may not come close to covering the financial losses suffered by a victim.
However, under no-fault rules, when a victim suffers a serious injury, they can also file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance. This process can get complicated because now there are multiple adjusters involved in the process.
New Jersey only requires $10,000 in liability coverage under the “basic” insurance policy. A New Jersey car accident victim should talk to a car accident injury attorney immediately following an accident in which they suffered a back or neck injury.
The more complex the injury, the larger the potential settlement. However, obtaining a fair settlement after a neck or back injury in a car accident can be very complicated. A skilled personal injury attorney advocating on a victim’s behalf may help the victim obtain the maximum settlement.
Damages Following an Accident Resulting in Neck and Back Injuries
The financial damages a victim faces following a car accident can be significant.
Common damages in car accident cases include:
- Medical costs. When someone suffers a neck or back injury, they may face mounting medical costs. Unfortunately, these costs may last for weeks, months, or years in more serious injury cases. An attorney can explain how a victim can seek compensation for current and estimated future medical costs.
- Wage losses. When someone suffers a debilitating injury to the neck or back, their chosen career could be in jeopardy. Accident victims may be unable to return to their prior employment or any employment. Therefore, a settlement demand may include the loss of wages or future earning capacity.
- Long-term care. If a victim of a neck or back injury requires in-home or skilled nursing care over the long term, the victim should not face financial ruin because of the negligent conduct of another driver. These expenses can be immediate or may extend over the victim’s lifetime. The at-fault driver should be held financially responsible for these costs.
- Pain and suffering. This is a form of non-economic damage intended to compensate a victim for actual pain, mental anguish, and other distress they face as a result of their injury. Factors include how the injury affected the victim’s life and career, mental health, and usual day-to-day activities.
In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, victims may also seek punitive damages. However, it is important to note that punitive damages have serious limitations on when they are awarded.
In Pennsylvania, the responsible party must demonstrate a lack of care for the safety of others. One example is a drunk driver who causes an accident.
In New Jersey, punitive damages may be awarded in cases where the driver demonstrated a lack of care. There are often caps on how much can be included in punitive damages designed to punish the at-fault party.
Factors in Car Accident Settlements
No two people who suffer neck and back injuries in a car accident are the same. The extent of the injury will differ depending on several factors unique to the victim, including their height and weight, overall health before the accident, and age.
Some things to consider in determining a fair settlement for neck and back injuries include:
- Injury severity. A spinal cord injury will likely have a higher settlement than a whiplash injury.
- Treatment and prognosis. The treatment options available to victims and their long-term prognosis will factor into a final settlement amount.
- Impact of injuries. How the injury impacted a victim’s life will also affect the amount of fair settlement.
Insurance company adjusters may initially make an offer to a neck and back injury victim. Generally speaking, the initial offer will be far less than the victim is entitled to receive. The insurance adjuster wants to get a settlement quickly so the insurer does not have to pay a significant final settlement. They can usually present a settlement offer within a certain dollar range.
Generally, the adjuster will start their offer at the lowest end of the range. No accident victim should believe an insurance adjuster when they tell them this is the maximum the insurance company will offer, especially when it is an initial offer. Their hope is that an unsuspecting victim will accept the initial offer at face value. Remember, once an offer is accepted, the insurance company is under no further obligation, regardless of the potential losses a victim may face.
Turning the Tables and Blaming the Victim
Back and neck injuries are often invisible. Yet, this does not make the impact of the injury on someone’s life any less serious. One of the challenges a victim may face is their prior medical history. If you were treated for a prior back injury, this personal history could harm your claim. Be sure to hire an attorney to review your case and negotiate the best possible terms for your compensation.
The insurance company may blame the victim for their injury or the severity of their injury. A medical release form is one of the many documents an insurance company may request from a car accident victim. While it is generally accepted the insurer needs the medical record associated with the car accident, these releases are seldom so narrow. The release often requests full access to the victim’s medical history. This is because the insurer will try to find a way to shift part of the responsibility for the injury to the victim.
Before providing or signing any medical release or other agreements with an insurance company following a claim, hire an experienced personal injury attorney to review the documentation.
Should Victims Get Legal Advice After a Neck or Back Injury?
The simple answer is yes. If you’ve recently been in an accident that resulted in a neck or back injury, seek the help of an experienced accident attorney. An accident attorney will provide you with the legal advice and representation you need to pursue the compensation you deserve for your injury.
A lawyer can help accident victims by:
- Informing a victim of their legal rights and options
- Negotiating with the insurance company
- Determining reasonable settlement amounts
- Filing a personal injury lawsuit when necessary
Insurance companies have their own lawyers working on their behalf. When an accident victim does not have an advocate, these lawyers will do everything legally possible to minimize the victim’s final settlement.
Contact a Neck and Back Car Injury Accident Attorney
When someone suffers an injury, there are no hard and fast rules regarding an average settlement. Each accident victim has a unique set of circumstances that can determine what amount of settlement they may be entitled to collect for their injuries.
By contacting a lawyer as soon after an accident as possible, a victim is likely to find the help they need to get the best possible settlement and to ensure their financial stability regardless of the extent of their back or neck injury. Victims should get a free consultation with the Levin Firm's car accident lawyer in Philadelphia immediately.