Back and Neck Injuries Caused by Car Accidents

Most back and neck injuries that are caused by car accidents result from damage to one or more of the spinal discs, known to doctors as intervertebral discs. A spinal disc is a hard, fibrous disc, filled with a gel-like substance called the nucleus, that fits in between the vertebrae.  The fact that disc damage causes most serious back and neck injuries is unsurprising, since the vertebrae are numerous and extend from the base of the skull all the way down to the tailbone.

Bulging Disc vs. Herniated Disc

Bulging discs and herniated discs are some of the most common forms of disc damage. In a bulging disc, a bubble-like protrusion filled with nucleus gel appears on the disc’s exterior. In a herniated disc, the hard exterior of the disc suffers a rupture or tear, allowing the nucleus gel to escape. Both of these conditions can cause serious chronic pain, because the exterior of the disc or the nucleus gel is likely to put pressure against a nerve.

Symptoms of Disc Problems

Symptoms of a bulging or herniated disc include:

  • Pain in your buttocks, thigh or calf (not necessarily your back)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness or tingling, especially in the legs
  • Spasticity
  • Changes in bowel or bladder function
  • Pain in the neck
  • Pain in your arm, forearm and fingers
  • Pain over your shoulder blade.

Unfortunately, symptoms of a disc injury may not show up immediately, which is why you should seek a medical examination as soon as possible after an accident. These types of injuries can also significantly worsen over time, which is why you need to get a lawyer involved right away if you suspect that your injury may have been someone else’s fault or if your insurance company is playing games with you.

Establishing Your Claim: Why You Need a Lawyer

Back and neck injury cases can be complex cases that are difficult to win. Two of the most common challenges are summarized below:

The Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Problem

A back injury that causes only slight pain or no pain at all can look exactly the same on an MRI as an injury that causes severe, debilitating pain. In fact, sometimes even severe back injuries can be invisible on MRIs. While your doctor can, at least to some extent, treat you based on your own reports of pain, an insurance company is likely to dispute your pain reports and try to minimize the severity of the injury based on MRIs that fail to fully convey the severity of your injury.

The Causation Problem

An insurance company may assert that your back injury was not caused by your car accident but rather by a pre-existing injury. Alternatively, the insurance company might assert that the car accident merely worsened a pre-existing injury and thus they are liable for only a portion of your damages.

Settlement Negotiations

Most neck and back injury cases are ultimately resolved though settlement, although some of these cases are settled only after a lawsuit has already been brought to court. If your lawyer negotiates effectively, however, an insurance company is likely to settle with you for an amount approaching what it believes it would have to pay if the case was decided by a court. For this reason, even in settlement negotiations it is critical that you prove your case (especially the amount of your damages) with evidence that would be admissible in court. A good lawyer will know how to generate and preserve such evidence.