The human body is a fragile thing, and it’s unfortunately easy for a traumatic event to have lifelong consequences. The spinal cord is a part of the body frequently injured in accidents, and these injuries can range from minor to severe.
Spinal injuries can follow a person their whole life. Whether as minor back pain and a limit on one’s range of motion to total paralysis, these types of injuries can seriously decrease one’s quality of life. Plus, treatment can be extremely expensive, leading to financial difficulties. Thus, anyone who has suffered a spinal injury will likely need some sort of help with their bills and compensation for their reduced quality of life. A good personal injury attorney can make a big difference.
Spinal Injuries Resulting from Car Accidents
Serious car accidents are one of the most common causes of spine injuries. When a car comes to a sudden stop, or when it’s suddenly accelerated by a hit from the side or the rear, the people inside are violently jolted. This can cause a broad range of injuries including:
- Herniated and ruptured discs
- Spinal fractures
- Facet joint damage
- Nerve impingements
The spine is both the literal backbone of the human body and a part of the central nervous system. This means that injuries to the bone itself can cause severe and lasting pain as well as restrict a person’s range of motion. Even worse, injuries to the nerves housed inside the spinal cord can leave someone paralyzed.
Spinal injuries can be obvious almost immediately, or they might only be noticed years days or weeks after an accident. Symptoms of spine injuries include:
- Pain in the neck, back, or head
- Inability to move fingers, toes, or limbs
- Loss of control of bowels
- Persistent numbness in arms, hands, or fingers
- Difficulty breathing
As these symptoms suggest, spinal injuries can range from inconvenient to life-changing. Even if minor, treatment can be very expensive. One study by the Veterans Health Administration found that the average annual treatment cost for a patient with a chronic spinal cord injury was $21,450. Severe injuries can be even costlier, both in terms of medical bills and hiring caregivers for a disabled person. That’s why it’s critical for most spinal injury victims to pursue compensation from those liable.
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Getting Compensation for Spinal Injuries Caused by Car Accidents
New York has a no-fault car insurance system. This means that the first source of compensation for any car accident injury is a driver’s own personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, regardless of who is at fault for an accident. PIP is available for most accidents, but it has some drawbacks and may not be enough to cover the more severe injuries sometimes associated with the spinal cord.
PIP covers only what the law calls economic costs, which means medical bills and lost wages from time spent off work. It does not compensate an injured person for pain and suffering, disability, emotional trauma, or diminished quality of life, all of which often result from serious spinal injuries. Additionally, PIP has a policy limit, which is $50,000 by default but can be higher in specific policies. Any medical bills over this limit are not covered, and spinal cord injuries can often result in bills well over the limit.
When PIP isn’t enough to cover an injury, an accident victim’s best option is to sue the driver at fault. However, New York’s no-fault system is set up to discourage car accident lawsuits, meaning it’s critical to have a lawyer help navigate the process. Bringing a car accident lawsuit in New York requires proving that one has suffered a serious injury, which involves gathering expert testimony from doctors and making a case in court.
New York Insurance Law § 5102(d) defines serious injuries to include:
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent loss of an organ or limb
- Permanent limits on the use of an organ or limb
- An injury that prevents a person from doing daily tasks for at least 90 days
While many of these, such as fractures or the loss of the use of one’s limbs, are common in spine injuries, not every spinal injury counts as serious under this definition. Cases involving spine injuries are frequently dismissed because the court determined that the injury was not serious. We know that a good lawyer can make the difference between being limited to PIP coverage or collecting hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars in damages.
A successful lawsuit over a spinal injury can lead to significant compensation in New York. In Mast v. Desimone, a woman suffered an injury to her lower spine that required multiple surgeries, leading to permanent pain and a restricted range of motion. A jury awarded her $120,000 for past pain and suffering. On appeal, the Appellate Division even ordered a new trial, finding that the jury should have awarded even more money for future pain and suffering and future economic loss because the injury would limit her career.
Even greater compensation can be awarded if the driver at fault was more than just negligent. In Chiara v. Dernago, a drunk driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.172 (more than twice the legal limit) rear-ended a truck, causing it to crash into a car. The occupant of the car suffered an injury to her neck that permanently restricted her range of motion, and the court awarded her $160,000 in damages for the injury itself plus an additional $70,000 to punish the drunk driver.
Finally, it’s extremely important to consult a lawyer before accepting any settlements. Most personal injury cases result in settlements, not trials. A settlement is a legally binding agreement where an injured person accepts compensation in exchange for giving up the right to sue. This means the money received from the settlement is the only compensation the injured person will ever receive. An experienced lawyer can examine the facts of a case and determine whether the settlement is adequate or if the injured person could get more at trial.
Frequently Asked Questions
Every case is different, and there is no set formula for determining how much an injury is worth. Settlements and jury verdicts can range from a few thousand dollars for minor injuries to over a million for severe injuries.
While some people do manage to make full recoveries, the vast majority of spinal cord injuries have symptoms for life. This is why it’s important to have a lawyer who will fight to get you as much compensation as possible.
Under statute CVP § 214(5) of New York’s Consolidated Laws, a victim of a spinal cord injury is allowed three years from the date of their accident to file a lawsuit for personal injuries. So, those who suffer such injuries have a good amount of time to discover the extent of impact on their lives. However, it’s critical that spinal cord damage is identified early on for both the victims’ well-being and the future of their cases.
Note that the three-year mark does not mean you have to finish your case within that time, as many cases can go on for months or even years. You simply have to file your case within that window, and from there, you may begin negotiations with and possibly litigation against the liable party.
Who Should I Contact if I’ve Suffered a Spine Injury in an Accident?
If you or a loved one has suffered a spinal injury, contact Rosenblum Law for a free consultation today. Our experienced personal injury lawyers will fight to get you the compensation you deserve. Call 888-815-3649 or email us.