Automobile accidents occur every day. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an estimated 2.74 million people were injured in motor vehicle crashes in 2019. Back injuries are one of the most common car accident injuries.
Even low-speed collisions can cause back injuries because the human body simply isn't designed to absorb the jarring impact of a car accident. And in turn, even a seemingly minor back injury can have a significant impact on your daily life. In this article, we'll cover:
The spine can be divided into three distinct areas: cervical vertebrae (neck), thoracic vertebrae (upper back), and lumbar vertebrae (lower back). Each section of the spinal cord and its vertebrae are surrounded by discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. Injuries to any of these bones, discs, and soft tissues can cause varying degrees of pain—from mild to debilitating, and from temporary to permanent.
Injuries to the thoracic spine tend to be serious back injuries. The thoracic spine, or upper back, connects to the ribs and chest region. Sprains and fractures in this area are usually caused by high-velocity auto accidents, and can lead to permanent nerve damage.
The lumbar spine is comprised of the five largest vertebrae and the strongest of the muscles necessary to provide stability for the spine. Therefore, a sprain or strain to the lumbar spine can prove particularly painful. A sprain involves actual damage to the ligaments, while a strain is a stretching of the ligaments, tendons, and muscles. Sprains and strains can cause swelling, bruising, and tenderness. They might also limit movement and severely impact your ability to perform daily activities.
Some car accident victims experience herniated discs. Discs are the cushions that separate the vertebrae and protect the spine. A herniated disc occurs when a disc is displaced. Often, the herniated disc then places pressure on the spinal cord and its surrounding nerves. Sudden and intense pain in the lower region of the back and numbness in the legs are the most commonly reported symptoms.
The most serious back injuries involve the spinal cord. A spinal cord injury—damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves at the end of the spinal canal—often causes permanent changes in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the site of the injury. Some spinal cord injuries cause total or partial paralysis. Further, depending on the type of injury or treatment received, victims of spinal cord injuries might be at risk for secondary medical problems, like infection, blood clots, pneumonia, and spinal fluid leaks.
Some people experience severe back pain or restricted mobility immediately after a crash. Others develop symptoms over days or even weeks (see below). Back injuries typically cause one or more of the following symptoms:
Many people assume back pain will resolve on its own within a few days. But even minor back injuries have the potential to cause chronic pain and mobility limitations if left untreated.
After a car accident, doctors diagnose and assess the severity of back injuries through the use of x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, myelograms, and bone scans. Once a diagnosis is made, treatment varies according to the type and severity of the injury sustained. Many back injuries require only short-term, temporary treatments like pain medication, injections for inflammation, physical therapy, and chiropractic care.
Serious back injuries might require surgery to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord itself or the surrounding nerves. Some back surgeries involve removing parts of vertebrae, and even fusing vertebrae together after the removal of a ruptured disk.
Typical compensation for a back injury claim covers an injured person's economic and non-economic losses (damages). Damages can include:
The value of your back injury claim might also depend on who was at fault for the car accident and whether you took reasonable steps to minimize the financial impact of your back injury ("mitigate damages").
After a car accident, you have the legal right to seek compensation for your injuries and losses by filing a car accident lawsuit in court. Most people, however, try to file a personal injury insurance claim first. As soon as possible, contact your insurance company to report that you've been injured in an accident. If the other driver was clearly at fault, you might also want to report the accident to the other driver's insurance company. Be careful when you speak to the other driver's insurance company—they represent the other party's interests, not yours.
Most car accident claims settle at some point during the insurance claim process. The first step is to calculate your back injury settlement value and then you can devise a strategy to negotiate for the full value of your claim.
Consider hiring a lawyer to make your best case for compensation during settlement negotiations or in court. A skilled legal professional will help you gather evidence, make sure every loss is included in your claim, and negotiate with insurance adjusters and defense attorneys on your behalf. Find out more about how an attorney can help with your car accident claim and get tips on finding the right personal injury lawyer.