Answer the important questions about receiving damages and covering medical bills
When your doctor says, “Well, it’s just a tiny bulge on your MRI. It shouldn’t so much,” it can be very discouraging. While it’s true that if you take 10 people off the street and give them MRIs, all of them will have bulging discs, it’s also true that not all 10 of those people will have pain. What’s important is whether those discs are hitting nerves. That is what makes neck and back injuries so much worse than other injuries.
These can leave you in intense pain, or with full or partial paralysis. They are also particularly dangerous because the spinal cord is so central to the body’s daily functions.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, there are approximately 28,000 cases of spinal cord injury across the United States, and that does not include the number of people simply suffering from neck or back pain.
Serious neck and back pain — true, debilitating pain, not just annoying pain from sitting too long — can derail a person’s life. Recovery might mean months of rehabilitation and/or surgeries, and that can lead to financial burdens on you and your family.
Many of these injuries are caused by someone else’s negligence, whether it was a property owner, reckless driver or someone just being an idiot. If this was the case in your accident, you might be eligible for compensation to help offset your medical bills and financial responsibility.
Identifying a neck or back injury
First, you must identify whether you have a neck or back injury. That sounds simple, right?
Not quite. These types of injuries can be as minor as whiplash (the most common of neck injuries) or as major as complete paralysis.
After you are in an accident, adrenaline can keep your body from feeling the full severity of pain for days or even weeks. This is why it’s always advised to see a medical professional after an accident, even if you feel fine. You might be harming your insurance claim if you don’t. If it’s not documented by a medical professional immediately afterward, there will be a gap in your medical file, and your insurance company will have no reason to see the accident and your injury as connected. You will not receive compensation.
Some common symptoms of a neck or back injury could include:
- Neck and back pain (yes, we know it’s obvious)
- Loss of movement or weakness in an extremity
- Reflexive spasms
- Loss of bladder control
- The inability to feel sensations like heat, touch or cold
- Difficulty breathing or walking normally
- Intense back pain
- Difficulty with balance
If you experience any of these after a serious accident, you might have suffered a spinal cord injury (SCI). Neck, back or spinal cord injuries are considered catastrophic injuries, and that means high medical costs and long recovery times.
Accidents that cause back and neck pain in Colorado
There are certain types of accidents that are more likely to cause neck and back injuries, just by their very nature. The highest percentage of these, both in Colorado and nationally, are caused by car accidents, closely followed by slip and falls.
While literally anything could cause this type of accident (anything with enough force, that is), these are the most prevalent:
- Pedestrian accidents
- Premises liability accidents (e.g., swimming pool accidents)
- Construction site accidents
- Product liability
- Medical malpractice
- Bicycling accidents
- Motorcycle accidents
Can I sue for this type of injury?
An injury to your neck or back means a lot of financial uncertainty and medical rehabilitation. It can also mean tons of medical bills, maybe even a caregiver or assisted living. Filing a personal injury claim can be your way to receive compensation to help with that stress.
Personal injury cases require some degree of negligence on the part of a defendant so that victims can receive damages.
To review, negligence is when a defendant has a duty of care to others and carelessly breaches that duty, which in turn causes damages. For example, a driver has a duty to follow road signals and other driving rules. If he runs a stop sign and crashes into your car, that is negligence. If running that stop sign caused him to rear-end your car and break your neck, that negligent driver should be held responsible for your subsequent medical bills.
If your injuries were caused by the negligence of another, you can (and should) certainly file a personal injury claim. Anyone from the other driver to a medical professional who botched your spine surgery can be held liable (though medical malpractice has a different statute of limitations —two years with a discovery rule). Make sure to do it within three years of the injury, or else Colorado’s statute of limitations will run out and you will be barred from filing a claim.
What sort of damages can I get?
If you’ve suffered a neck or back injury in Colorado, you may be able to collect both special and general damages, though there are limits to what you can receive.
Special damages are economic and valued by monetary loss, which means you can add them up mathematically. They include things like:
- Medical expenses (current and future)
- Loss of wages
- Damages to property
- Funeral costs (in the case of wrongful death)
General damages are nebulous. They are non-economic and for things that money cannot compensate, like:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Loss in quality of life because of injuries
- Loss of consortium (loss of relationship with husband, wife or partner)
- Physical disfigurement or impairment
- Loss of companionship in a wrongful death case
There are, however, damage caps. For pain and suffering, the amount is $250,000 plus inflation, unless there is clear and convincing evidence for an exception or permanent damage. There is a total cap at $500,000.
What about fault in Colorado?
Colorado is a fault state. It was no-fault until 2003; before that time, drivers could turn to their car insurance for medical bills, not to the other driver, in an effort to make the court system more efficient. This kept smaller cases out of the court docket and insurance adjustors were responsible for handling things like fender benders and reasonable claims. After the law changed, drivers were expected to pick up more insurance ($25,000 per person for bodily injuries, $50,000 per accident, $15,000 for property damage at minimum).
In addition to this, Colorado also follows the concept of “comparative fault,” meaning that a victim can be held responsible for his portion of the accident and have damages lowered accordingly. If the victim is found to be more than 50% responsible, he or she cannot recover damages. So, if a victim were awarded $100,000 but was 40% responsible, the take-home would be $60,000.
This is when working with an attorney can be especially helpful.
After you’ve sought proper medical treatment for your injuries, contact a few attorneys for a consultation and see how you may receive compensation. Suffering a back or neck injury or watching a loved one’s pain and suffering can take its toll. Here are a few resources and articles to help you cope with a catastrophic injury or care for someone who is suffering from one:
- "Emotional and Psychological Trauma"
- "Grieving Chronic Illness and Injury – Infinite Losses"
- Resources for emotional recovery after an accident
- Tips on coping with chronic pain and depression as a result of injury