Guide to Filing an Accident Lawsuit for a Back or Neck Injury in North Carolina

North Carolina neck back injury

Find a personal injury lawyer for your neck, back, or spinal cord lawsuit

A back, neck, or spinal cord injury can be caused by a car crash, slip and fall, or other types of accidents. An injury like that can change your life, and you should worry about recovering — not about covering your medical bills. A lawsuit might be your best bet to recoup the costs associated with a serious injury.
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There’s a reason why people don’t say, “Boy, that’s a pain in the leg!”

Sounds strange, right?

But most of us have called something (or someone) a “pain in the neck” at one time or another.

Lots of neck and back pain just happens... sometimes it’s related to age, or it could be a naturally occurring part of your body structure. If that’s the situation, you can work with your doctor to figure out if there’s a treatment and how to keep your pain to a minimum.

For many people, though, a neck, back, or spinal cord injury is caused by a sudden trauma or accident. If your injury is the result of someone else’s negligence, you might be able to make a claim for financial damages.

How to prove negligence for a back or neck injury

Any personal injury lawsuit in North Carolina requires these 5 elements:

  1. A person or entity (like a business or government agency) had a duty. Everyone has a duty to another person, and that duty changes — even minute by minute — depending on circumstances and relationships. But be aware that you can have a duty relationship with someone you don’t even know. (For example, a driver has a duty to every other driver, passenger, pedestrian, or another road user.) In essence, your duty is an action or failure to act in a reasonable way to protect someone from being harmed.
  2. The defendant breached their duty. This can happen if someone causes an auto accident, has an unsafe condition on their property or acts in any other way that causes injury.
  3. That breach of duty causes an injury. As an injured person, you’ll need to prove that the defendant’s breach is the direct reason why you were injured.
  4. The defendant should have foreseen that their action could cause you to be injured.
  5. Your injury caused you financial loss. In other words, it costs money. The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is to make a plaintiff whole, or to restore you to the financial condition you would be in if the accident hadn’t happened. Therefore, you’re entitled to recover the amount of money that covers your expenses related to the accident.
Enjuris tip: The right personal injury lawyer can help you figure out how much the total expenses are, both right now and in the future.

North Carolina’s pure contributory negligence rule

Unfortunately, the legal system isn’t always straightforward.

For instance, North Carolina follows the pure contributory negligence system of law, which says that if you contributed to your own injury in any way, you can’t recover damages.

Why is this important?

It’s important because North Carolina law is different from most other states. Each state follows 1 of 4 fault systems. In most states, a plaintiff can recover damages even if they were partially responsible for the accident. Under those fault systems, the plaintiff’s total damages would be reduced by their percentage of liability.

Not so in North Carolina.

Only Alabama, District of Columbia, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia prohibit a plaintiff from collecting any damages if they had any portion of the liability.

Enjuris tip: You can read more here about fault systems by state.

Why you need a North Carolina personal injury lawyer

If your accident happened in a state where you could recover damages even if you were a little bit at fault, your lawyer’s focus would be on presenting the evidence in a way that minimizes your responsibility. They would then negotiate a settlement based on your percentage of fault.

In North Carolina, it’s not enough to minimize fault. Your lawyer’s role is to show that you were not at fault for any aspect of the accident... and that can be a real challenge.

For example...

The defense might say that even though there was a crack in the sidewalk that caused you to fall, the fact that you were texting while walking contributed to your injury.

Or the defense might say that even though the other driver ran a red light, if you had braked a moment sooner, you might’ve avoided a collision.

... or there could be any number of variations, depending on the circumstances of the injury.

Because of North Carolina’s tricky fault system, if the defense can show that there was even a tiny action that you could’ve done differently to avoid being hurt, you might not recover any damages at all. That’s why it’s essential to find a lawyer at the beginning of the insurance claims process. Your lawyer can do all the communication with the insurance company so you don’t accidentally say something that might make it seem like you were at fault.

Common back, neck, and spinal cord injuries

Neck pain

When you begin to experience neck or back pain, consider first whether it might be related to your daily activities. You might be able to feel better simply by adjusting your habits. Consider the following:

  • Posture while working at a computer, reading, or watching TV
  • Find a pillow that isn’t too high or flat
  • Stress or tension tightens your muscles
  • Work or exercise that requires upper body muscles, lifting, or straining

If your neck pain is caused by one of these types of behaviors, it will usually resolve on its own and you can self-treat with over-the-counter medication, heat or ice, and rest. If it lasts for a long time, though, you should definitely call your doctor.

Enjuris tip: Whiplash is one of the most common neck injuries that arise following an auto accident.

Back and spine injuries

Your spine is your backbone, and it protects the spinal cord. There are 33 bones that make up the spine, which extends from the base of your skull to your pelvis. The spine also includes cartilage discs that separate the bones, sort of like shock-absorbers.

If you suffer an injury to the spine, you’ll most likely feel it as back or neck pain.

The spine includes:

  • 7 cervical vertebrae (upper spine)
  • 12 thoracic vertebrae (neck and upper back)
  • 5 lumbar vertebrae (lower back between chest and hips)
  • 5 sacrum vertebrae (base of the spine)
  • 4 coccyx vertebrae (tailbone)

A back injury can happen in everyday ways, too. For example, you could injure your back by lifting something heavy, falling, or making an awkward twist or turn.

There are some back and neck injuries that are more serious and cause severe and ongoing pain:

  • Sprain or strain. This type of injury could result in aches or stiffness that affect your upper arm, shoulder, back, or neck. If you experience shooting pain in your hand or fingers, you might have a pinched nerve (nerve root compression).
  • Torn or ruptured disc. A disc herniation is a tear that allows a jellylike substance inside the disc to leak and press against a nerve or the spinal cord. This can cause a range of symptoms, including headache, dizziness, nausea, or pain in shoulders or arms.

Spinal cord injuries (SCI)

A spinal cord injury could result in life-long disability.

Your spinal cord is like the information source for your body, containing many nerves that carry neurons (or impulses) from your brain to the other parts of your body. If part of your body is damaged, you might feel pain when the information travels from the injury back to the brain. But if your spinal cord is damaged, that information can’t be transmitted.

If your spinal cord is damaged, you might experience a loss of sensation in some parts of your body, and you might be unable to control functions like your bladder, bowels, or sexual functions. You could also experience spasms or intense reflexes.

Spinal cord accident injuries could be caused by:

  • Sports injuries
  • Risky behavior related to alcohol use

Neck, back, and spine injuries caused by car accidents

Car accidents are a leading cause of neck, back, and spine accidents. Some of the most common injuries include:


Whiplash happens when your torso (the midsection of your body) jerks forward and your head moves backward. Your seatbelt usually tightens to stop your body, but the head continues to accelerate forward and causes the ligaments and muscles in your neck to strain and can damage the spinal cord and vertebrae. This is typical in a rear-end collision.

Whiplash can sometimes be treated with massage, physical therapy, medication, and rehabilitation.

Discogenic injuries

A discogenic injury (having to do with discs) happens because of a trauma, like a car accident or fall. These kinds of injuries are diagnosed with an MRI or tomography exam. This could include:

  • Lumbar sprain, which is the result of excessive force that causes muscles, ligaments, or tendons in the back to stretch to excess.
  • Disc herniation, which is when a disc ruptures and the substance inside affects the nearby nerves.
  • Spinal stenosis can happen gradually, or as a result of a trauma like a car crash. A ruptured bone fragment or disc would put pressure on the spinal cord or nerves from the impact.
  • Degenerative spine disorders could happen absent a trauma but can make a patient predisposed to serious injury. An accident can also aggravate a pre-existing degenerative spine disorder.

Spondyloisthesis/spinal fractures

This condition is characterized by nerves and/or the spinal canal being compressed, which causes pain and numbness. Like whiplash, it occurs most frequently when a car is rear-ended at high speed.

Facet joint injuries

Facet joints connect the vertebrae and allow your body to bend and twist. The impact of a car crash can cause a person to move back and forth quickly, which could make the facet joints collide with each other as the neck jerks.

Back, neck, and spine injuries that happen at work

Back and neck injury that happens as a result of heavy lifting, twisting, or other actions that might not be a specific incident are harder to prove as related to work. However, if those activities are a regular part of your job, you might be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, just as if an injury happens because of a specific incident.

Types of compensation (damages) from a back, neck, or spinal cord injury

You could be entitled to economic and non-economic damages, which both fall into the category of “compensatory” damages.

Economic damages compensate you for anything that has a financial value:

  • Medical treatment, including doctor or hospital visits, ambulance transportation, surgery, pain medication, etc.
  • Rehabilitative or other physical or occupational therapies
  • Lost wages, both past and future
  • Diminished earning capacity (if you won’t be able to do the job you had before the accident, or if you won’t be able to work at all)
  • Assistance with activities of daily life (if you need to hire a housecleaner, pay for child care services, transportation costs, etc.)

Non-economic damages compensate you for the losses that don’t have a specific monetary value:

“Loss of enjoyment” is the legal system’s acknowledgment that you deserve to be happy. If your injury prevents you from doing something that was a regular part of your life — like playing a sport, activities with your children, playing a musical instrument, cooking, or whatever it is — that counts for something. It’s harder to quantify how much the dollar value is for loss of enjoyment, but your attorney has methods for figuring out how much it can be in a lawsuit.

Punitive damages can sometimes be added to your compensatory damage award. Punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant for especially egregious or malicious behavior and to serve as a deterrent so that they don’t take that action again in the future. Whether or not you can receive punitive damages depends on the nature of the injury, the type of defendant (person, company, etc.), and the extent of liability.

Enjuris tip: Workers’ compensation benefits don’t cover non-economic or punitive damages in North Carolina.

North Carolina spinal cord injury resources

If you’ve experienced a serious spinal cord injury, you can find help using some of these resources:

You can also get in touch with a North Carolina personal injury lawyer by using the Enjuris attorney directory. This free directory is a great resource to connect you with experienced and compassionate lawyers near you who are ready to help you receive compensation for your injury.


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