How to File a Lawsuit for a Montana Back or Neck Injury
Back and neck injuries can mean expensive treatments or surgeries. A personal injury lawsuit can help you recover costs associated with your care.
There are few injuries that affect your life more than back and neck pain. Recovery, including physical therapy and ongoing treatments, could take months or years. Who pays for all of that? It might not be you — a personal injury lawsuit can help you recover those costs.
Neck and back pain is one of the most difficult conditions to manage because it affects so much of your body's physical function.
If you suffer a broken arm or leg, for example, you might be able to stay off of it or keep it in a cast, and you'll get some pain relief by positioning it correctly and avoiding putting your weight on that part of your body.
But with back and neck pain, it might be impossible to find a comfortable position, and it might affect how and if you can work or participate in activities you normally would.
If your back or neck injury is causing you to miss out on work and life, or if your doctor recommends treatments or surgeries, you might be wondering how you're going to cover these costs.
The first question to ask yourself is: What's the cause of my back or neck injury?
Common causes of neck injuries
Some conditions that develop on their own (without an acute injury) can cause neck pain. But often, neck pain is caused by a specific injury. The most common include:
- Falls (either slip and fall accidents or falls from heights)
- Excessive twisting of the spine
- Whiplash (in a car accident)
- Blows to the back or top of the head
- Sports-related injuries
- Penetrating injury (stab wounds)
- External pressure applied to the neck (strangulation)
You can probably point to the general “neck” body part on a diagram, but what is it actually? From a medical perspective, the neck includes:
- Bones and joints of the cervical spine (or vertebrae)
- Discs that absorb shock when you move (that separate the cervical vertebrae)
- Muscles and ligaments that hold the cervical spine together.
Neck pain can also happen because of normal daily activities that include:
- Forward posture while working, reading, watching TV, etc.
- Using a pillow that's too high or flat, or sleeping with your neck bent in an unusual way
- Experiencing stress or tension, which can make your muscles tighten
- Work or exercise using your upper body
Common causes of back injuries
Your backbone is also called the spine. The spine protects the spinal cord. The spine consists of 33 bones that extend from your skull to the pelvis, including the cartilage discs that separate them—kind of like shock-absorbers.
These bones make up your spine:
- 7 cervical vertebrae that form the upper part of the spine
- 12 thoracic vertebrae between your neck and upper back
- 5 lumbar vertebrae in the lower back between your chest and hips
- 5 sacrum vertebrae at the base of the spine
- 4 fused-together vertebrae that make up the coccyx (tailbone)
Back injuries can be caused in a variety of ways, including lifting heavy objects, sports-related injuries, falls, hits to the back, or even an awkward twist or other motion.
Car accidents are by far one of the most common causes of back injuries. If you've been in a car crash, you might experience pain associated with one of these conditions:
- Whiplash. Whiplash can occur even from a minor car accident like a rear-end fender-bender. Muscles, ligaments, and tissues can be damaged if the head and neck are propelled forward when your body remains still. Whiplash causes pain, stiffness, dizziness, fatigue, and blurred vision. Sometimes it will resolve without treatment, but it could also require physical therapy.
- Spine fracture. If the impact is enough to force your body to jostle around and the seatbelt doesn't hold your torso in place, you might suffer a spinal fracture. This can be compression, which would be a small crack along your vertebrae, and it can result in pain in the immediate area of the fracture, in addition to bladder issues, numbness or muscle weakness. The pain might be increased by breathing or walking. A spinal fracture might require surgery or immobilization.
- Spinal stenosis. This condition isn't directly caused by a car accident; it usually occurs because of aging and degeneration. But a trauma can cause the symptoms to accelerate and cause pain that wasn't there before.
- Spondylolisthesis. This injury is a stress fracture that forces vertebrae to move out of place, which causes them to compress the nerves or spinal canal. It results in numbness, pain, weakness, or difficulty walking. Surgery and physical therapy are usually recommended as treatments.
- Herniated disc. The discs are cartilage, not bone, and they act as the shock-absorbers for your vertebrae. But if trauma or force causes them to shift, they can compress the nerves and cause pain or numbness. Sometimes, people will refer to this as having a “slipped disc.” Surgery is sometimes an option for a herniated disc, but often the treatment will be pain relief and physical therapy.
In The News: In March 2019, a 76-year-old Florida man was seriously injured in a snowmobiling accident in southwest Montana, about 6 miles west of West Yellowstone. He sustained severe head and neck injuries when he lost control of the snowmobile, striking several trees and ending up with his head pinned under the snowmobile. Rescuers transported him to the Big Sky Medical Center.
Common neck and back injuries
When a neck or back injury happens, you might experience:
- Sprain or strain is an injury to your neck muscles or ligaments. This could result in aches or stiffness that travel to your upper arm, shoulder, or back. A shooting pain that spreads into the hand and fingers could indicate a pinched nerve (nerve root compression).
- Fracture or dislocation of the spine that could result in a spinal cord injury.
- Torn or ruptured disc, which could result in a disc herniation. When a tear happens, a jellylike material inside the disc can leak out and press against a nerve or the spinal cord. This could cause you to feel dizzy, nauseated, have a headache, or feel pain in your shoulder or arm.
Work-related back and neck injuries
Did your back or neck injury happen at work? If so, you can file a workers' compensation claim.
Montana workers' compensation insurance covers both on-the-job accidents and occupational illnesses or diseases. In other words, even a back or neck condition that develops gradually over time can be covered by workers' comp if you can show that it's the result of your workplace activity.
Particularly if you're suffering pain from muscle strain, herniated discs, or even a fracture, it could be because of a pattern of lifting or other motion you do as part of your daily work tasks.
Enjuris tip: When you visit the doctor for an initial diagnosis, make sure to tell them what you do for work and how that might be affecting your physical condition. It's important for the doctor to include in your medical record if the condition you're experiencing could be work-related.
If you intend to file a workers' compensation claim for a back or neck injury, be aware of Montana's requirements for notice to your employer and the insurance company so that you don't miss those deadlines.
Back and neck injuries from a slip and fall accident: who's at fault?
A slip and fall can cause serious injury to your back and neck.
If it happens at work, in a restaurant or store, on the street, or in any other public location, the property owner might be negligent in properly maintaining the area. There are several factors that go into proving fault in a slip and fall, and a personal injury lawyer can determine whether your circumstances create legal liability.
If the slip and fall happened at work, your employer is automatically liable. Workers' compensation insurance covers a workplace accident regardless of whether there's fault.
The elements for liability in a slip and fall lawsuit are:
- The owner or an employee (someone in charge of the property) caused the condition that led to the fall (for example, a torn carpet, spilled liquid, or something that was left on the floor and was a tripping hazard).
- The owner or employee knew that the surface was dangerous but didn't fix it or notify users.
- The owner or employee should have known that the surface was dangerous because it was reasonable to know and the danger was foreseeable.
Read the Enjuris guide to premises liability
for more on proving fault and how to recover damages.
Can I treat back pain on my own?
If you're suffering from back pain, it's important to visit your doctor to make sure that whatever's happening isn't going to get worse, and to get a specific diagnosis.
If your back pain is the result of a car crash, workplace injury, or slip and fall, it's also important to have a documented diagnosis as soon as possible because this will become a vital part of your legal case if you need to go that route.
However, if you're suffering and require immediate pain relief, there are some at-home remedies that you can try. Please be sure to check with your doctor before self-treating this or any injury.
- Heat or ice packs
- Strengthening exercises
- Over-the counter analgesic medications, including acetaminophen and aspirin
- Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which include ibuprofen and naproxen)
- Counter-irritants, including Bengay or Icy Hot
Your doctor might prescribe physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, nerve-block therapies (steroid injections), epidural steroid injections, or opioid pain medication (oxycodone, morphine, or others).
Working with a personal injury lawyer
A Montana personal injury lawyer can help guide you through the legal process toward getting financial relief for your injuries.
If you're in pain, the last thing you need is more stress about how you're going to pay for your treatments, surgeries, or covering lost work time.
A lawsuit can recover both economic and non-economic damages. If you're already receiving treatment for your back or neck injury, maintain a list of every cost you incur, whether you pay it out of pocket or it's paid by insurance. Keep track of dates, providers, treatments, and amounts so that your damages can be calculated in a lawsuit or settlement.
Chronic pain can be more than physical, too. Sometimes, it leads to depression and other emotional responses, and you might want that to be included as part of your damage calculation.
Your lawyer will know what experts to call, how to calculate damages, and can navigate the legal system on your behalf in order to get you the relief you deserve.
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- What would you want others to know? Tell us what happened in your accident, and how life has changed for you.