The back is an important body part as its central support structure. The spine is needed for many motions, such as sitting, standing, bending, or twisting. Unfortunately, many back parts can be injured in an accident, leading to instability, stiffness, chronic pain, or even paralysis, a loss of sensation and function.
Individuals who suffered a back injury due to an accident caused by another person’s negligence can seek compensation for the injury through the personal injury claims process. However, because not all back injuries are equal in severity or the likelihood of making a full recovery, the amount of compensation that can be received for this type of claim can vary widely. Reach out to a back injury lawyer.
Here is a look at some factors determining how much your back injury is worth in a lawsuit.
Types of Back Injuries
As explained by the Cleveland Clinic, a healthy spine has three natural curves that make the shape of an S and help to absorb shocks to the body that can cause it to become injured.
The spine includes:
- Thirty-three stacked vertebrae form the spinal canal, a tunnel that houses the spinal cord and nerves to protect them from injury. It should be noted that by the time they reach adulthood, most people only have 24 vertebrae, as some of these bones on the bottom end of the spine fuse during growth and development.
- Facet joints are made up of cartilage and allow the vertebrae to slide against each other for the body to twist and turn. The facet joints also provide the spine with flexibility and support.
- Intervertebral discs are flat, round cushions between the vertebrae that prevent them from rubbing together.
- The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that extends from the base of the skull to the waist and—along with the brain—makes up the body’s central nervous system. The spinal cord is a messenger for the brain that communicates with the rest of the body.
- Soft tissues, such as ligaments, muscles, and tendons support the spine and aid in movement.
Any part of the spine can be injured in an accident. According to the National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus, the most common part of the back to be injured is the lower (lumbar) spine. However, injuries in the middle (thoracic) area of the back or the cervical (neck) area are also common.
The types of injuries that occur include:
- Strains and sprains. A sprain involves a torn or stretched ligament that leads to pain, swelling, bruising, and loss of range of motion. A strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon that causes pain, muscle spasms, swelling, and difficulty moving.
- Herniated discs. The intervertebral discs are filled with a jelly-like substance. In certain accidents, these discs can rupture, irritating nearby nerves and causing pain.
- Fractured vertebrae can cause symptoms such as pain, swelling, changes to posture, tingling in the arms or legs, height loss, and even bowel or bladder incontinence.
- Spinal cord injuries involve damage to the spinal cord and generally result in a loss of sensation and function below the injury site.
Many back injuries will heal without surgery. However, others will require surgery to give the sufferer more stability in the area or to address chronic or severe pain caused by the injury.
Spinal cord injuries can result in paralysis of some of the body or even all of the body from the neck down. Complete paralysis means no remaining sensation or function in the area below the injury. Incomplete paralysis means the sufferer retains some feeling or voluntary movement.
Seeking Compensation After a Back Injury
Those who have suffered a back injury due to someone else’s negligence can seek compensation through the personal injury claims process. This process involves filing a claim against a relevant insurance policy held by the at-fault party, such as an auto liability policy, a homeowners policy, or a policy that covers liability for a business or property.
In some cases, claims can also be filed against the claimant’s insurance policies, such as their health insurance, personal injury protection (PIP), uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage, and medical payments (MedPay) coverage.
When a claim is filed against an insurance policy, the insurance provider who services that policy will assign it to a claims adjuster. The claims adjuster is an employee or contractor of the insurance company. Their job is to evaluate the claim, determine if the policy it was filed against covers such damage, and determine how much is owed to the claimant.
The at-fault party’s liability policy will review claims to determine the insured’s liability for the injury.
After the claims adjuster has completed their evaluation:
- They can accept the submitted claim, notify the claimant, and process the claim for payment. While this does happen occasionally, understand that the claims adjuster’s responsibility to their employer is to keep payouts on claims as low as possible.
- They can choose to deny the claim. To do so, they must notify the claimant and their attorney of the reason for the denial.
- They can offer a settlement to the claimant for less than the claim’s value in exchange for the claimant dropping any legal disputes on the matter.
Because insurance companies must pay for their insured’s liability for injuries covered by the policy and litigation is expensive and time-consuming for all parties involved, the vast majority of back injury claims will be resolved through out-of-court settlements.
The Type of Compensation You Can Seek for a Back Injury
The personal injury claims process affords those injured by someone else’s negligence the right to seek economic and non-economic damages. In the legal arena, damages means compensation for harm, and economic damages refer to compensation for the expenses of the injury.
Those expenses commonly include:
- Medical expenses. Back injuries commonly require diagnostic imaging scans, such as X-rays or MRIs, to determine the cause of the pain and properly treat the injury. Some back injuries, such as damage to the vertebrae or discs, will also result in surgery. Most back injury patients will have prescription medications and physical therapy during their treatment. Spinal cord injury sufferers will incur ongoing medical expenses throughout their lives to handle the cascade of complications accompanying this type of injury.
- Income loss for time missed from work as the claimant recovered from their injury. A study on work absences for back pain revealed that around 68 percent of workers suffering back injuries would return to work within a month, and around 93 percent would return to work within six months after the injury.
- Lost earning capacity resulting from permanent injuries that cause disabilities that will prevent the injured party from being able to perform the tasks of their job or—in many cases involving spinal cord injuries—will prevent them from performing the tasks of any job.
Non-economic damages refer to the impacts of the injury on the claimant’s quality of life, such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Factors that Determine the Value of Your Back Injury Claim
Because non-economic damages involve harm that doesn’t produce hard evidence, such as a bill for services or a receipt in many cases, determining the value of a back injury claim is quite a bit more complex than simply adding together the expenses that have been incurred.
When establishing the claim’s value, a claimant’s attorney will consider:
- The policy limits of relevant insurance policies. A policy limit refers to the maximum amount of coverage that is available through the policy. An attorney will look carefully at the claim and the policies held by the at-fault party and the claimant to ensure enough resources to compensate for the claim.
- The severity of the injury. More severe back injuries result in higher expenses in all damage categories. The sufferer is more likely to need a higher level of medical treatment, hospitalization, and even placement in a skilled nursing facility in some cases to receive needed round-the-clock medical care. They are more likely to miss an extended period of work or be unable to work. They also commonly face more impacts on their quality of life.
- The income the claimant earned before the accident. It stands to reason that the wage loss compensation needed will be higher for those at the peak of their career than for a claimant who is unemployed or retired.
- The clarity of liability. One of the main things a claims adjuster will look for when evaluating a claim is who was liable for the accident that caused the injury. If liability is disputed, they will often use this as a reason to reduce the settlement. However, when the at-fault party’s liability is clear, it is easier to justify the claim’s value during settlement negotiations.
Why Having an Attorney Helps You Receive the Compensation You Need
People often ask if having an attorney is necessary or if a claimant can obtain a settlement independently. It’s a reasonable question, given that most insurance agencies allow people to file claims online. The answer to this question is: To obtain the compensation you need to cover the expenses and impacts you incurred due to your injury, you need an attorney.
As noted, insurance companies use claims adjusters to look out for their financial interests. This means the claims adjuster’s goal of keeping payouts as small as possible directly contradicts your goal of recovering financially from the accident.
Claims adjusters bank on the claimant not knowing the true value of their claim or what the insurance companies are legally required to do when confronted with a claim. They can use tactics to devalue the claim, such as offering a quick and low settlement with an arbitrary deadline for responding or stating that they need to see the claimant’s full medical history while evaluating the claim. In reality, they only need to see a limited amount of information about the injury to evaluate the claim.
An experienced personal injury lawyer spends years obtaining the education and experience needed to assist the injured in the claims process. They understand the requirements of insurance companies and the tactics claims adjusters play. They understand the importance of ensuring that a lawsuit is filed before the statute of limitations expires to keep all of the claimant’s legal options available. An attorney can also utilize a team of legal professionals to help quickly gather the documentation and evidence needed to prove liability and justify the claim’s worth.
When a back injury claim is settled out of court (which is the resolution to most personal injury claims), the claimant is no longer legally permitted to seek additional compensation from the at-fault party or their insurer if they discover they didn’t receive enough through the settlement. Because of this, it is extremely important that the claim is properly valued and includes all expenses and impacts incurred. It is also important that the claimant understands how their claim is valued to discern better whether an offered settlement provides enough compensation.
Contact an experienced personal injury attorney to help determine the value of your back injury and help you through the claims process.