The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center estimates that there are over 17,730 new spinal injuries each year in the US. They’ve found that auto accidents are the leading cause of spinal injuries and account for 39.3% of all spinal injury cases since 2015. Males make up about 78% of all patients. If you want to know more about spinal injuries from auto accidents and what you can do if you are in such a situation, keep reading.
What are Spinal Injuries?
Spinal injuries refer to damage that occurs to your spine, which stretches from your head to your waist.
The chance of being in an auto accident that results in a spinal injury is not extremely high. Still, it is a possibility, and we should be aware of what could happen. Spinal injuries can leave victims with long-lasting pain and even paralysis.
The spinal cord is a vital part of your central nervous system. It is made up of soft tissue and surrounded by the vertebrae. It extends down from the base of your brain along the length of your body and is a relay point for nerves (tracts) and nerve cells that are spread throughout your body.
The primary function of tracts is to carry messages from your brain to different parts of the body. It is responsible for muscle movement and sensations such as heat, cold, pain, pressure, and special awareness.
Spinal injuries from auto accidents can impair or even wholly inhibit these functions, depending on your injury severity.
The injury could result from a sudden blow that you experience in an auto accident to your spine or the surrounding tissues/vertebrae. This can crush or dislocate your sensitive tissues or cause the vertebrae to break. Some spinal injuries also bleed.
Types of Spinal Injuries
The spine is divided into three different regions: the Cervical spine (neck & upper back), the Thoracic spine (middle of your back), and the Lumbar spine (lower back).
Incomplete vs. Complete Injuries
“Completeness” of an injury refers to the severity of a spinal injury.
Complete spinal injuries from auto accidents lead to a complete loss of sensation and motor function below your trauma location.
In an incomplete spinal injury, a victim experiences impairment of sensory and motor function below the injury’s location. You can still have some control of one side of your body and feel your limbs that can’t move or move one part of your body more than the other. An incomplete spinal injury can vary in severity.
Tetraplegia vs. Paraplegia
These two terms refer to the different types of paralysis caused by spinal injuries.
Tetraplegia is also known as quadriplegia. It is mostly caused due to trauma experienced in the cervical spine. Functions in limbs from your neck-down are affected by this type of paralysis.
Paraplegia is mostly caused by injury to the thoracic spine. It causes loss of motor and sensory functions from the waist down.
Whiplash-Associated Disorder (WAD)
Whiplash is one of the most common spine-related injuries that occur from motor accidents. A collision from the rear end of a vehicle is the most common incident that causes whiplash injuries. The force from the back of your car causes the neck to snap back and forth suddenly. This causes damage to the tissues in your cervical spine.
It can take a few hours to a few days for you to develop symptoms, which include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Ringing in ears
- Headaches at the base of the skull
- Blurred vision
- Vertebral fractures can occur anywhere along the spine and can vary in severity. They are very rare nowadays, as car safety standards have improved drastically. However, they may still occur in horrific motor accidents.
- A compression fracture occurs when the front of your vertebra gets damaged while the back remains intact. We often see a “wedge-shape” in the victim’s spine.
- Burst fractures occur when the spinal bones get shattered in multiple places. The resulting bone fragments harm the spinal cord tissues.
- A flexion fracture occurs when your upper body is jerked ahead by a collision. At the same time, the seat belt holds your lower body in place. This causes stretches and tears in your vertebra.
Symptoms of a fractured sign may include:
- Moderate to severe pain that is worse with movement
- Tingling and numbness
- Possible loss of bowel/bladder function.
A victim will almost always recognize a fracture as it will cause excruciating pain.
We have discs in our spines that serve a similar function to shock absorbers/suspensions in a car. They take the burden of any shocks or shakes that our body experiences. Discs are filled with a jelly-like liquid and are covered by a hard exterior.
When you suffer from a herniated disc, the fluid from the center of a disc leaks out and affects the spine’s nerves. Herniated discs can occur due to a myriad of factors, including auto accident trauma.
In some cases of this condition, there are no symptoms; however, a few can occur are:
- Numbness/tingling in legs and arms
- Sharp pain radiating from shoulders/lower back to arms/legs.
- Muscle weakness near the suspected area
Spinal Cord Injuries
The spinal cord is the most sensitive and vital part of your spine. Damage to the spinal cord is the deadliest form of spinal injuries. This is because modern medicine has various treatments for damage to the spine but has no cure for the trauma that occurs to the nerves in the spinal cord.
Patients suffering from spinal cord injuries may have to try experimental treatments or just hope that the damage is not too bad. They will also require a lot of support and care.
How Do You Get Diagnosed and Treated?
You must always visit a doctor for a checkup after you have experienced a motor vehicle accident. A doctor may be able to eliminate the possibility of a severe spinal injury through physical examination. They will test the victim’s motor and sensory function and take a full account of what happened in the accident. This can often be enough to rule out injuries if there are no other symptoms.
But if you are feeling intense pain, are fading in and out of consciousness, or are showing other signs of a spinal injury, the doctor will recommend imaging tests.
You may have to get:
- An X-ray— can be useful in showing any fractures in the spine.
- A CT scan— provides more precise details about anything suspicious
- An MRI— this is the most accurate imaging tool available and can identify herniated disks, fractures, and blood clots.
The treatment you receive will depend on the severity and type of injury. A mild case of whiplash can resolve on its own with proper care at home. On the flip side, a spinal cord injury does not have a treatment that would reverse the damage.
Fractures can heal with pain medications, physical therapy, and back braces. Pain management specialists will take you through a rehabilitation program to get you back on your feet.
Some severe cases may need surgery by an orthopedic surgeon.
Getting Compensation for Spinal Injuries From Auto Accidents
If you or your loved one has recently suffered from a spinal injury due to a motor accident, don’t take the first settlement offer offered by an insurance company. This is because there can be many medical bills and ambiguity surrounding the injury, which can make families worried. However, before you settle for anything, you need to consider a few factors. A personal injury lawyer can help you with getting fair compensation.
Here are some factors that you need to consider:
Proof of the Other Driver’s Fault
Insurance companies will not give you a generous settlement if they believe that you also hold blame for the car accident. Therefore, you must make sure the accident is investigated thoroughly, and that you gather conclusive proof to prove the other person’s fault.
This can involve eyewitness interviews, CCTV footage examination, Open Records Requests, or even filing lawsuits. A personal injury lawyer is experienced with these situations and can help you make an extensive investigation.
The Severity of Your Spinal Injury
As discussed above, spinal injuries can vary in severity. Some injuries can heal by themselves with proper home care, while some are irreversible or would require multiple surgeries.
Spinal cord injuries in the neck and back will lead to the highest settlements. This is because they require a long period of expensive treatments and rehabilitation. They may require treatment in the future, as well. The emotional impact of these cases can lead to remarkably high settlements. The approximate lifetime cost for a 25-year-old who suffers from high tetraplegia can exceed $4.5 million.
A herniated disc will lead to a significant settlement if there are surgeries and long recovery periods involved. However, some herniated discs are resolved quickly without any chronic pain. These would have a lower settlement.
Whiplash spinal injuries from auto accidents will receive the lowest settlements. There is no test to see how much pain the patient of whiplash injury experiences. The case then depends on the victim’s description of their pain.
Your Medical Bills
There have been many spinal injury cases in California that have racked up medical bills of over $1million in the first year. Patients also incur $100,000 in annual costs after the first year for rehabilitation!
Medical expenses can include doctor consultations, medications, diagnostic tests, surgeries, or physical therapy. All medical care, including future medical bills, are included when calculating settlements.
One classic insurance company tactic is to offer a fast and low settlement before the patient has even been discharged from the hospital. They try to take advantage of the uncertainty that the victim is facing to force through a low settlement. Always speak to a personal injury lawyer before accepting any settlement because you will not be able to get more money later if your medical bills increase.
Missing Work Due to the Injury
California State Law, states that you are entitled to compensation for your wages and work missed due to spinal injuries from auto accidents. You can claim any income that you missed while you are injured, and the time you take off to get your routine medical care and therapy. Also, even if you have holiday leaves or sick leaves available, you can claim compensation for lost income.
You can also claim compensation if the injury leaves you incapable of doing your current job as well as before or if you have to take a lower-paying job because of your injury. Additionally, if you were self-employed, the burden of proof is on you to prove how much you would have earned while injured.
Statute of Limitations
According to California Courts, the statute of limitations for a personal injury case is two years. You have a maximum of 2 years to file a lawsuit after the date of your crash against the insurance company or the other driver. Failing to file in 2 years will cause you to lose your right to compensation.
Two years can sound like an extended period, but investigating an auto accident, negotiating settlements, and preparing case files can take a long time. It’s essential to contact your personal injury lawyer as soon as you can after an accident so that you can get the compensation you deserve immediately.
Arrange A Free Consultation
Spinal injuries from auto accidents can be a traumatic and life-changing experience for individuals. The economic, physical, and emotional costs of this type of injury can be highly stressful. Additionally, you also have to deal with low-balling techniques by insurance companies when negotiating settlements.
Hence, you have to be proactive after you have been in an accident. The most critical first step is to visit a doctor for a full diagnosis and treatment after your auto accident. The next step is to contact the expert personal injury lawyers at Phoong Law Corp, who will help you get the compensation you deserve for your injuries and take care of everything! Contact us today.