Back And Neck Injury Settlements
Neck injuries are one of the most common vehicle accident injuries, second only to bruises and contusions.
They are also one of the most commonly undervalued injuries in car accident settlements. The average value of back and neck injury settlements typically depends on three primary factors:
- the extent of the injuries
- the degree of fault on the part of the other party, and
- the amount of insurance coverage available.
Some neck and back injuries are minor and often settle for around $10,000. But if the back or neck injuries were severe, debilitating, or paralyzing, the average settlement can be for hundreds of thousands or over a million dollars.
Why Does The Average Settlement For A Car Accident Vary So Much?
The wide range of “average” settlement amounts for a car accident case is because there is no such thing as an “average” claim. Intricate details about the accident, your injuries, and even your personal life can change the value of your case and significantly alter the expected settlement.
Every accident is different, even those that caused neck and back injuries. Even though these injuries affect the same body parts, some are much more severe than others and will come with much higher medical expenses. Extremely painful injuries will also cause more pain and suffering than those that are not debilitating.
Many states also give you the right to compensation for the loss of enjoyment of life. If your injuries will prevent you from doing the things you most enjoy doing, this can increase the expected settlement amount.
Additionally, different victims will suffer professional repercussions in different ways from similar accidents. The same neck or back injury can end a professional athlete’s career, while only causing a week of lost wages for an office worker. The athlete would be entitled to his or her lost earning capacity which could run into the millions of dollars, while the office worker would receive only a few hundred.
Your settlement after a car accident can also increase or decrease based on your network. Your spouse or loved ones would be entitled to compensation for their loss of consortium, or loss of companionship.
What is Mechanism of Injury
Mechanism of injury is the medical explanation of what happens structurally to your body during a traumatic event that caused your injury.
Without a medical explanation of the mechanism of injury in your neck injury claim, your case would boil down to – “I was in a car accident and now my neck hurts, give me money.” Meaning, without the jury’s understanding of this topic, how much money you get for a neck injury will be negatively affected.
An un-savvy car accident attorney will skip the medical lesson, and this limits their ability to prove the full extent of a client’s injuries. The result is a negative impact on your case, and back and neck injury settlements amount. The more serious your injury, the more problematic that becomes for you and your case.
A brief explanation of mechanism of neck injuries, and injury types, in car accidents will help you understand your claim.
Vulnerability of the Back & Neck During Accidents
Your neck is left virtually unprotected during a car accident. This likely explains why more than 80,000 back and neck injuries resulting from car accidents are recorded in the U.S. making traffic collisions the primary cause of back and neck injuries.
When traveling in a car, your body may be held firmly in place by a seat belt, but your head and neck are unrestrained and remain so up until the point of impact.
Upon impact, your head may jerk backwards and forwards, to the side or even be struck by flying debris. Rapid movements such as these can cause serious injury to the muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, and nerves in the cervical spine, where your neck is located.
Not only does the impact of a collision affect the neck, but the anticipation of impact often causes the individual to tense their neck muscles, meaning that they will have more potential for injury than if their muscles were relaxed.
These are all factors that are part of the mechanism of your neck injury and understanding them better will be a part of how to make a stronger claim for whiplash after a car accident.
Mechanism of Back & Neck Injury Following a Car Accident
The following three major injury types can occur to the neck and cervical spine following a car accident:
- Damage to the spinal cord or discs due to shearing and bending between the cervical vertebrae, physical stretching of the spinal cord or direct impingement by fractured vertebrae.
- Fracturing of the cervical vertebrae and damage/rupturing of the ligaments and soft tissue that link the vertebrae together.
- Direct impact damage to the soft tissues containing the trachea with larynx, esophagus, and major arteries and veins to both the head and brain.
The first two injury types are typically caused by an excess of bending, shearing, or displacements produced by force pushing the head and neck away from your upper body.
This occurs when the head receives an impact when bent forwards, and produces vertebrae wedge and burst fractures, along with spine dislocations.
In a typical front-end or rear-end accident, the neck will bounce in both directions – forward and then returning to the headrest, or vice-versa. For this reason, the typical neck injury in an accident is a combination flexion-extension injury.
A neck injury caused by hyperextension tends to cause damage predominantly to the soft tissues in your neck. While this is not life-threatening, it can lead to long-term disability and can be included in back and neck injury settlements demand. Knowing the relationship between this injury and a specific impact type (rear-end accident) can help establish medical causation in your case.
Hyperextension injuries can also cause vertebrae and spine dislocation. Although this injury is not as common, it is visible in imaging such as x-rays, which will help relate the injury to the accident more easily which can help you in claiming whiplash after a car accident.
This occurs when there is an impact to the face while the head is in a neutral or bent position, and can produce fractures of the spinal processes, damage to the load-bearing surfaces, and spine dislocations.
This occurs when the body accelerates quickly forward, causing the head to accelerate via the neck. This might happen to a passenger in a rear-facing seat with no head restraint, or an inadequately designed one.
Common Car Accident Back & Neck Injuries
Soft Tissue Damage
Tearing, sprains, or strains to the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the neck following a car accident are described as soft tissue damage. This type of injury is usually painful and often causes stiffness and tenderness in the neck. Whiplash is one form of soft tissue neck injury.
Causing significant pain and having the potential to injure your spinal cord leading to paralysis, a neck fracture is an extremely serious injury that requires immediate medical attention. Anyone suspected of having such an injury should remain as immobile as possible until medical assistance arrives.
When you go to the hospital following a car accident, they will often do an x-ray. This is to rule out that you do not have an “acute injury” (a serious injury), such as a neck fracture. The X-ray will not rule out a herniated disc or other discogenic injuries.
Slipped or Herniated Disc
During a collision in which a high level of impact occurs, the intervertebral discs in the cervical spine may slip out of place from between vertebrae and cause the injured disc to compress nerves in the spinal cord. When this happens, you can feel pain, weakness, tingling and numbness in the neck, hands, shoulders, arms, and fingers.
Facet Joint Injury
Helping to stabilize and mobilize the head and neck, the facet joints in the cervical spine can become inflamed and irritated during a car accident. The surrounding ligaments may also be damaged, affecting the range of motion and movement of your joints.
A doctor can diagnose if you have a facet joint injury by using a type of injection with a local anesthetic. You should speak with your pain management doctor about this.
Understanding the type and extent of an injury is very important for negotiating the maximum value of back and neck injury settlements.
Be Careful with Seemingly Not Serious Back & Neck Injuries
You need to be careful with back and neck injuries that do not seem serious. For your own sake, if you decide to wing it without a car accident attorney – which is a terrible idea for so many reasons – do not settle the case in the first 3-4 months.
Let your body go through the recovery motions and keep an eye on yourself so that your neck injury settlement amount comprehensively covers everything you went through because of the accident.
If you’re 100% better or think you are, wait another 30-60 days and see how you feel. If after that, you are symptom-free, then you know the full picture of your injuries and what you’re negotiating for.
How to Value a Back & Neck Injury For an Insurance Claim or Settlement
There are too many unique factors in any given personal injury case to predict the value of a back or neck injury claim, but there are commonalities to consider, and lessons to learn from past cases.
How Both Sides Value a Back & Neck Injury Case
“Valuing” a personal injury case in this context often means coming up with the best guess at what a jury might award a person who is suing for a back & neck injury (the plaintiff), and then estimating:
- what the person being sued (the defendant) would be willing to pay, and
- what the plaintiff would be willing to accept to settle the case before trial.
Regardless of which side is doing the calculation, the two key factors in valuing back and neck injury settlements are the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries and other losses (“damages” in legalese) and how likely the jury is to find the defendant at fault for the accident that led to the injury.
Nature, Severity & Duration of the Neck Injury
Back and neck injuries range from minor whiplash-like strains and sprains to spinal disk damage and cervical fractures.
In general, the more severe and long-lasting the injury, the higher the compensation in a personal injury insurance settlement or jury verdict. Additionally, “hard” injuries like a fractured bone (cervical fracture in the case of a neck injury) tend to result in larger settlements than soft tissue injuries like whiplash or pinched nerve (cervical radiculopathy).
Type of Medical Treatment Matters
Fair or not, many insurance companies will gauge the seriousness of an injury based on the nature and cost of the medical treatment required. A back or neck injury requiring spinal fusion or another surgical intervention will be “worth” more than a strained neck requiring a few weeks in a brace.
Similarly, injuries requiring treatment by physicians – as opposed to chiropractors, or even physical therapists – are given more weight by many insurance adjusters.
Estimating the potential recovery of damages due to a back or neck injury with any degree of accuracy is quite difficult for one main reason: at trial, it will most likely be a jury that ultimately decides just the settlement amount the defendant must pay you.
Some damages, like medical bills and lost income, are fairly easy to quantify. But for subjective damages like “pain and suffering,” predictions are at best an educated guess based on awards in similar neck injury cases.
Since every case and every jury is different, even the best analysis will still only predict pain and suffering damages within a broad range.
Another key factor is how the back or neck injury affects you. For example, if you’re an avid violin player, but can no longer hold the instrument properly because of the injury, your damages based on “loss of quality of life” will likely be higher in the eyes of a jury.
Similarly, if you had a preexisting neck injury, your damages might be reduced since it might not be possible to tie the defendant’s actions to all of your current pain and suffering.
Proof of Fault (Legal Liability)
The other major factor in valuing a back and neck injury case is the likelihood a defendant will be found liable at trial. If you have little or no evidence proving the defendant was at fault for the accident that led to your neck injuries, the value of the case goes down considerably.
Even if the potential damages are high, a defendant will be less willing to settle and more inclined to take their chances at trial. Similarly, you will be more inclined to accept a low settlement rather than run the risk of getting nothing at trial.
Need Legal Help?
If someone else was at fault for the accident that led to your back or neck injury, the best way to get the right information that’s tailored to your case is to talk to an experienced, reputable, and dedicated back and neck injury lawyer.
Back And Neck Injury Settlements
At Bobe & Snell Law Office LLC, we have an experienced, competent, and meticulous team of lawyers that handles and negotiates back and neck injury settlements for our esteemed clients. You can count on us to look out for your best interests and to negotiate the maximum settlement possible for you
Feel free to call us now at (470) 268-5802 or contact us online to schedule your FREE, No-Obligation Case Review/Consultation.