Understanding the Average Settlement
After a car accident, injured individuals are generally most concerned with getting back on their feet. But how does one do that following an injury? Back and neck injuries are some of the most common injuries sustained in accidents, and unfortunately, they can also be some of the most expensive injuries. All types of car accidents can cause chronic pain requiring long-term medical treatment.
For the average person, the prospect of moving on and recovering may seem impossible when confronted with these figures. Thankfully, you don’t have to cover these costs alone. Pennsylvania law allows victims to pursue damages against the at-fault party after an auto accident. If you have been injured in a car accident, a car accident injury attorney can help you pursue compensation for your injuries.
Common Back and Neck Injuries After a Car Accident
The spine extends from the bottom of your neck to just below your hips. It supports your body, allows you to walk, and protects the spinal cord—your body’s primary messaging system. The force of a car accident is often enough to jolt the spine and cause serious injury to your neck or back. An injury to the spine is always something that requires serious attention. If you suspect a back or neck injury, don’t hesitate to seek immediate medical care. Some of the most common neck and back injuries include:
Strains and sprains: Strains and sprains are usually minor injuries. A sprain is a ligament injury. Your ligaments connect your bones, usually at the joints. A sprain occurs when the ligaments are torn or stretched too much. A strain is similar to a sprain, except a strain affects the muscles and tendons rather than the ligaments. Neck strains are often referred to as whiplash. Most strains and sprains heal on their own with minimal treatment. A doctor may recommend pain relievers or massage to help alleviate some of the pain.
Herniated or bulging discs: The discs in your spine act as a cushion to each of your vertebrae. A bulging disc occurs when the fluid inside the disc begins to push against the outside of the disc. Bulging discs occur naturally as a result of aging or trauma. In many cases, bulging discs do not cause pain and a person may not even know they have a bulging disc until an event like a car accident requires medical imaging.
A herniated disc, on the other hand, is almost always the result of trauma. A herniated disc is also known as a ruptured disc. When the disc ruptures, the fluid seeps out of the disc. This may put pressure on the surrounding nerves, which can cause severe pain.
Cervical fracture: The neck is composed of seven cervical vertebrae. One of the major concerns after a cervical fracture is damage to the spinal cord. A serious fracture can damage the spinal cord and cause paralysis or death. Minor fractures may not require surgery but will likely cause extensive pain.
Spinal cord injuries: Spinal cord injuries are the most serious type of back injury. A spinal cord injury occurs because of a blow or penetrating wound to the spinal cord. According to the Mayo Clinic, motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of spinal cord injuries. A spinal cord injury can cause paralysis, which in many cases is permanent. The degree of paralysis will depend on the location and severity of the injury.
For more severe injuries, the prognosis is worse. According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, the average lifetime cost for a spinal cord injury can range from $1 million to $2.5 million, depending on the age of the victim and the severity of the injury.
What Is the Average Settlement for a Neck or Back Injury?
There is no magic calculation that will tell you exactly what your injury is worth. Some people may tell you that it is the actual damages multiplied by a certain percentage. While many insurance adjusters use this as a basis for their offers, many factors will affect the value of the case, including where you are in the process.
In most cases, an insurance company will start at the low end of what they have to offer and work their way up until they reach the max amount they are going to offer. Your claim value may also fluctuate up or down as you get closer to a court date or as new evidence is discovered. While it’s impossible to predict the exact amount your settlement will be worth, there are a few items that are usually included when determining the value of your case. These include:
Economic damages have a direct and calculable economic value. These expenses can generally be added up and reimbursed dollar for dollar. Economic damages include:
- Medical expenses: Medical expenses are one of the largest costs associated with an accident. Even minor injuries can cost over $10,000, and more serious injuries can exceed $100,000. Expenses include doctor visits, surgical treatments, medications (prescription and over the counter), medical devices, physical therapy, and chiropractic care.
- Lost wages: After an accident, you may find it difficult or impossible to return to work. Lost wages cover income lost as a result of the accident, including any recovery time. If you are unable to return to work at all, you should also seek compensation for future lost wages. If you can work in some capacity, your lawyer may argue for lost earning capacity and retraining.
- Home modifications: A spinal cord injury can leave you unable to walk. Other injuries can make it difficult to get around, move, or reach items around the house. Home modifications can help make the transition home easier.
Non-economic damages are costs that do not have a clear dollar value. While these expenses are more difficult to calculate and can vary widely, they are just as important as economic damages. Common non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering: Pain and suffering damages cover both physical pain and emotional pain. Back and neck injuries often result in lifelong, chronic pain. While other injuries may heal, this pain may never go away. It is not uncommon to experience anxiety or depression after an accident. A personal injury claim can help ensure you get appropriate psychological treatment to heal from the emotional trauma of an accident.
- Loss of enjoyment: An injury can make doing things you once loved painful or impossible. This may include simple, everyday tasks, like cooking and taking care of the children, or recreational activities.
- Loss of companionship: Loss of companionship is a claim made by the loved one of a victim of a motor vehicle accident. This covers the emotional effect an injury or death has on the loved one. Loss of companionship is applicable if the victim is unable to talk, emotionally connect, or have a sexual relationship.
Factors That Can Change the Value of Your Case
We’ve already discussed the basic factors that an insurance company or jury will look at when they evaluate your case, but within these categories, certain variables can increase or decrease the value of your case. For example, if the at-fault party was driving under the influence at the time of the accident, the court may award punitive damages to punish the driver for his or her actions. On the other hand, if the insurance company feels you are not a credible witness, it may try to offer you less than the true cost of your injuries. Other factors that are commonly considered in a personal injury case include:
- The severity of your injuries: The average settlement for a whiplash injury is much lower than one for a spinal cord injury. A spinal cord injury requires more invasive and more expensive medical treatment. The longterm effects of a spinal cord injury are also much more severe than whiplash. The amount and type of care your injury requires are important considerations for your case.
- Your prognosis: Your ability to recover from an accident is one of the most important variables when negotiating a personal injury settlement. If you are unable to return to work or have a permanent disability because of the accident, you should receive compensation for this loss.
- The degree of the other driver’s negligence: What was the other driver doing at the time of the accident? Was he or she drunk driving? On the phone? Speeding? These are all variables that may lead to a higher settlement award for you.
- Relevant evidence: When it comes down to it, an insurance company will try to offer you as little as it thinks that it can get away with. If it thinks there is not enough evidence to support your claims or that a potential jury won’t be sympathetic to you, the company may choose trial over a fair settlement amount. This is why it’s always important to gather any relevant evidence at the time of the accident and to be as truthful as possible during any interviews or depositions.
How a Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
Dealing with an injury is difficult for not only the victim but also the entire family. Medical costs can quickly mount, leaving injured individuals scrambling to figure out how they are going to continue care. At the same time, they are likely dealing with powerful insurance companies that may offer initial settlements that are tempting but likely don’t cover the full cost of injury. A personal injury attorney can help you secure a settlement that covers the full cost of your injuries, and he or she can focus on the legal proceedings, so you can focus on your recovery. In most cases, a personal injury attorney will:
- Talk to the other party’s insurance company
- Gather, organize, and present relevant evidence
- Negotiate medical bills and treatment options with care providers, often deferring bills until the case is settled
- Interview and depose witnesses
- File any necessary paperwork
- Negotiate on your behalf for a settlement amount that covers the full cost of your injuries
- File a lawsuit and represent you in court, if necessary
- Settle outstanding debt with medical providers out of your final recovery
Most personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis, which means that the attorney will not get paid unless and until you do. Generally, you and your attorney will agree on a set percentage that the attorney will receive out of the final settlement. At the end of your case, your attorney will do a final accounting and take care of any remaining medical bills, as well as attorney fees and costs, before issuing a check for your recovery.
Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney for Help
The only person that can give you a reasonable estimate of the value of your case is an experienced personal injury attorney. Even then, many variables will affect the outcome of your case.
While it’s hard to predict the value of your case, insurance companies are notorious for offering substantially less to unrepresented parties. While the goal is usually to settle your case out of court, if you need to take your case to trial, it could dramatically affect the value of your case, as it is no longer an insurance company calculating an award, but rather a jury of your peers.
If you have suffered a back or neck injury because of someone else’s negligence, you should seek compensation for your injuries. To learn more about your rights, contact an experienced personal injury attorney at The Levin Firm today.