Answer the important questions about receiving damages and covering medical bills
Neck and back injuries are flat-out traumatic, even if your doctor says, “Well, it’s just a little bulge on your MRI. I’m not sure why it hurts so much.” 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 painful.
These injuries can leave you in intense pain, or with full or partial paralysis. They are also particularly dangerous because the spinal cord is so pivotal for 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 cover the number of people simply suffering from neck or back pain.
Serious neck and back pain debilitate a person’s life. Recovery can mean months of rehabilitation and/or surgeries, and that can mean financial strain 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 careless. 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. Easy peasy, right?
Not so fast. These types of injuries can be as minor as whiplash (the most common neck injury) or as major as complete paralysis.
After 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 “shooting yourself in the foot,” as it were, in terms of your insurance claim. 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
- Loss of bladder control
- Reflexive spasms
- The inability to feel sensations like heat, touch or cold
- Intense back pain
- Difficulty breathing or walking normally
- 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 can easily be considered catastrophic injuries, and that means high costs and long roads to recovery.
Accidents that cause back and neck pain in Florida
There are certain accidents that are more likely to cause neck and back injuries. The highest percentage of these, both in Florida 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 my neck or back injury?
This type of injury means a lot of financial uncertainty and medical rehabilitation. It can also mean piling 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 for their injuries.
Negligence occurs when a defendant has a duty of care to others and carelessly breached that duty, which in turn caused damages. For example, a driver has a duty to follow road signals and other driving rules. If he runs a red light, that is negligence. If running that red light caused him to T-bone your car and break your spine in four places, 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. Make sure to do it within four years of the injury, or else Florida’s statute of limitations will run out and you will be barred from filing a claim.
What sort of compensation can I get?
These injuries are tough to handle, there is no doubt. Lifelong treatment costs can easily be a possibility. This means that you will likely need higher compensation to cover it all.
If you’ve suffered a neck or back injury in Florida, you may be able to collect both special and general damages.
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)
- Damages to property
- Loss of wages
- Funeral costs (in the case of wrongful death)
In contrast, general damages are nebulous. They are non-economic and for things that money cannot compensate, like:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Loss of consortium (loss of relationship with husband, wife or partner)
- Loss in quality of life because of injuries
- Physical disfigurement or impairment
- Loss of companionship in a wrongful death case
There are, however, damage caps. The Florida Supreme Court recently did away with damage caps for non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, though the caps on punitive damages still remain.
What about fault in Florida?
Florida is the Wild West when it comes to insurance and negligence, because it is a “no fault” state. This means if you get into a car accident, each driver is expected to turn to his or her own car insurance company to take care of medical bills and car troubles. This keeps claims out of the legal system and stops minor things from clogging up the courts.
It sounds like a good idea, but when you have something more substantial like a spine injury, you are going to need more help than a claims adjustor can provide. You also need more money than people have on their policy limits, because Florida doesn’t require people to carry much in terms of insurance protection. This is when you need to step outside of the car insurance system and into the legal system. People are allowed to do this when injuries are considered “permanent.”
A permanent injury is the “significant or permanent loss of an important bodily function; the permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement; significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement; or death.”
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
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.