When a Broken Bone Becomes a Personal Injury Claim
Recovering compensation for orthopedic injuries involve broken bones, sprains, strains, and other issues of the musculoskeletal system
A broken bone is no fun. It’s painful and can affect your ability to do your job and other activities of daily life. But there are other muscle and bone-related injuries, too. If yours was caused by someone’s negligence, or happened at work, you can claim damages for your injuries.
As a kid, a broken bone might have been a little bit fun — even with the pain. Your friends would sign your cast with magic markers, and maybe you’d get a little break from homework or practicing a musical instrument. But now that you’re grown up, the stakes are higher and the injuries can be more serious.
Orthopedic medicine focuses on musculoskeletal issues like bone, joint, muscle, ligament and nerve damage. An orthopedist would treat conditions that include:
- Musculoskeletal trauma
- Spine disorders
- Sports injuries
- Acute injuries and congenital disorders affecting bones, joints, or muscles
- Chronic degenerative conditions
There are some instances when a condition requiring orthopedic injury is the result of a degenerative disease, a birth defect, or other illness. But in many cases, an orthopedic injury is either from trauma (like an accident) or a repetitive motion injury (like carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance).
If you’ve suffered an orthopedic injury because of an accident or work-related repetitive motion injury, there might be compensation available to cover your expenses, lost wages, and related costs.
Common orthopedic injuries
There are several injuries that orthopedists treat on a regular basis. Sometimes, they just happen. Most of these could occur without being triggered by a specific injury or activity.
Often, though, they happen as a result of a slip and fall, work injury, car accident, or other kind of accident that could be because of someone’s negligence.
Here are 10 examples of common types of orthopedic injuries:
- Wrist fracture. Sports, slip and fall accidents, and other kinds of accidents can lead to a wrist fracture that would be treated either by immobilization with a cast or with surgery to stabilize small bones.
- Torn meniscus. The meniscus is the cartilage in the knee that allows you to move your legs. When the foot is placed in an awkward position, it could cause the meniscus to tear. In some cases, a torn meniscus can resolve itself and the patient would rely on physical therapy and rest for pain relief. In more severe cases, a torn meniscus requires surgery for a repair.
- Torn rotator cuff. The rotator cuff allows your shoulder to move in a circular motion. Like the meniscus, it tears when under stress, which can be very painful and restrict the person’s range of motion. Sometimes it can heal with rest and an arm brace or sling, but this injury often requires surgery.
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. CTS is an injury that is often suffered by people who perform repetitive motion at work. It’s seen in people who type at keyboards for long periods of time, those who spend many hours driving, factory assembly line workers, restaurant workers who are frequently slicing or preparing food, and other jobs. CTS often begins with pain or tingling in the hand or fingers as the ligaments and tendons become inflamed. Treatment usually includes a brace, physical therapy, and anti-inflammation medication.
- Tennis elbow (also called tendinitis). Tennis elbow isn’t specific to playing tennis. Repetitive motion or weight-bearing use of your wrist and arm can cause the tendons around the elbow to become irritated and painful. Often, this condition can be treated with rest and physical therapy.
- Torn ACL. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the knee can tear when the leg makes an abrupt or awkward turn or positioning. Although rest and physical therapy can be helpful for some people with minor ACL tears, most people require surgery for this condition.
- Plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia ligament attaches the toes to the heel. Stress of this ligament can cause pain and swelling that’s usually resolved with rest and decreased activity.
- Stress fracture. Although a stress fracture is a broken bone, it sometimes goes undiagnosed because it’s not as painful as a “regular” broken bone. Unlike a bone that breaks in an accident, a stress fracture can happen from stress and wear and tear on the muscles. Stress fractures are most common in the feet and ankles. A stress fracture can require surgery.
- Ankle and foot sprains. A sprain is extremely common, and usually it requires little treatment other than rest, ice, and compression. There are cases when the ligaments are damaged and require additional treatment.
- Dislocated shoulder (labral tear). A shoulder doesn’t dislocate easily; it usually happens in an accident, contact injury, or sports-related activity. If the shoulder has dislocated once, it’s more likely that it will happen again. Sometimes this injury requires surgery for treatment.
What’s the difference between sprains, strains, and fractures?
Some people use the terms sprain, strain, and fracture interchangeably, but they are not the same.
A sprain stretches a ligament, which is the tissue that connects one bone to another. This is a common injury and can be mild, moderate, or severe. When a sprain is mild, the joint remains stable and there’s little treatment besides rest. A moderate sprain is a partial tear, but could leave a joint destabilized. In a severe sprain, a ligament could actually tear in a way that requires surgery for repair.
You might have a sprain if you’re experiencing:
- Limited movement
- Muscle spasms
- Muscle weakness
- Instability (feeling like your muscles are giving way)
- Difficulty with walking or moving the injured limb
A muscle strain is when it twists, pulls, or stretches. Muscle strain can be caused either by a specific incident or from overuse or repetitive motion. Back and neck pain is often related to muscle strain. Treatment can include rest, ice, compression, elevation (sometimes called “RICE”), medication, physical therapy, or surgery.
Symptoms of strain include:
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle stiffness
- Decreased motion or difficulty performing regular tasks
A fracture refers to a broken bone. Although each fracture is unique, there are 7 ways that a fracture can be classified:
- Comminuted: 3 or more pieces or fragments of bone at the site of the fracture
- Greenstick: incomplete fracture, where the bone is not totally separated
- Segmental: 1 bone is broken in two places, so there’s a segment that “floats” or is unattached
- Transverse: Straight-line break across the bone
- Spiral: Break spirals around the bone, like a twist injury
- Compression: Bone is crushed and is wider or flatter than normal
- Oblique: Break appears diagonally across the bone
If you’ve suffered a fracture, you might experience:
- Swelling or bruising
- Visible deformity
- Limited motion
Orthopedic injuries at work
There are many different ways you might suffer an orthopedic injury at work, and this kind of injury would probably entitle you to workers’ compensation benefits.
Workers’ compensation insurance provides benefits to nearly all employees in the U.S. who are injured on the job. An injury at work can be anything from a fall at a construction site to a trip over a phone cord in an office setting. As we discussed, work-related injuries also include repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel or other muscle strain.
You can also suffer an orthopedic injury if your job includes heavy or repetitive lifting. When your orthopedic injury is the result of a specific incident or accident, it’s simpler to file a workers’ compensation claim because all you really need to show is that (1) the accident happened at work or while you were performing a work-related function, and (2) proof of injury and treatment.
According to data
compiled by the National Safety Council in 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available), nearly 700 workers died in falls from heights and nearly 50,000 people were injured enough to require days off from work.
When the injury is one that develops over the course of time, it can be more complicated to prove that it’s the result of how you do your job.
If that’s the case, you’ll likely need a workers’ compensation lawyer to help make your claim.
If you’re able to receive workers’ compensation benefits, you can recover the costs of your medical treatment and lost wages if you had to take time off from work during your recovery.
Orthopedic injuries from a slip and fall accident
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 out of 5 falls results in a broken bone or a head injury. More than 800,000 people are hospitalized each year because of a head injury or hip fracture from a fall (300,000 older adults are hospitalized each year for hip fractures).
If you slipped or tripped and fell because of poor conditions on someone else’s property (or public property), you might be able to file a premises liability claim.
Enjuris tip: You can only claim damages if the injury cost you money. If you visited a doctor for your injury, received treatment, or were required to take time off from work because of the injury, those are compensable damages.
If you suffer a sprain, strain, or other injury that you “treat” on your own with over-the-counter medicine, ice, rest, etc., without taking time off from work, there’s no financial cost and you’re therefore not able to file a personal injury lawsuit or a workers’ compensation claim.
In order to file a personal injury lawsuit, you must prove that someone’s negligence resulted in an injury that cost you money.
Premises liability is a cause of action when you’re injured on someone else’s property. There are several elements necessary to establish liability for a premises liability claim:
- The accident was foreseeable, or the owner should have been aware that it could happen
- The owner made an effort to warn visitors or to fix the dangerous condition
- You were on the property with the owner’s permission (if you were trespassing, the owner has a duty not to cause harm but isn’t responsible for upkeep or maintaining a property to be free from hazards)
For example, a premises liability claim could arise from an orthopedic injury if you:
- Slipped on ice in the parking lot while visiting a public library, school, or other government facility
- Tripped over a loose floor tile or piece of carpet in a store, restaurant, or other business
- Fell on loose steps at a friend’s home
- Were injured by a loose or broken fixture in a house or apartment that you rent from a landlord
There are infinite examples of premises liability claims and how injuries can happen. If your orthopedic injury happened because you were injured on someone’s property, it would be worth a call to a personal injury lawyer to see if you have a claim.
Orthopedic injuries from a car accident
A car accident can lead to badly broken bones, fractures in the spine, or other issues that require intensive and ongoing treatment.
If you’ve been in a car accident and suffered an injury, you can claim damages for:
- Medical treatment, including hospital and doctor visits, surgeries, medication, etc.
- Ongoing therapies and rehabilitation
- Assistive devices (wheelchair, walker, home modifications like ramps, etc.)
- Lost income, past and future
- Pain and suffering
- Mental distress
- Permanent disfigurement
- Loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium
The medical expenses associated with broken bones are often straightforward to calculate. By compiling bills, receipts, and other documents regarding your medical treatment, your lawyer can establish a figure that would compensate you for costs.
A serious broken bone injury that affects you long term can be a different story. You might be fortunate enough that the broken bone heals after a few weeks in a cast or brace. But if you have a disabling fracture or multiple breaks, your recovery will take longer and you might not ever regain full use or range of motion.
What if I can’t return to work?
You might suffer a broken bone in an accident that happened outside of work, but it affects your job because you can’t perform required tasks.
Lost wages or future earnings are part of a personal injury claim. Depending on the nature of your injury, your lawyer can estimate the amount you need as compensation for your losses based on how long you’re expected to be out of work or unable to perform the job you did prior to the injury.
Since a personal injury claim could take months or years before you receive compensation, you might wish to consider a claim for Social Security Disability Benefits
so you can stay afloat while unable to work.
What to do after an orthopedic injury
The first step is to visit a doctor or hospital and get a diagnosis. If you’ve been in an accident, your first priority should be receiving immediate medical care.
This is important for two reasons:
First, the sooner you can get treatment, the more quickly you can be on your way to recovery. Second, it will be an important piece of evidence for a claim. If you have any kind of accident, don’t wait to get treatment. The more time that elapses between the accident and diagnosis, the more difficult it will be to establish that the accident caused the injury.
It’s also important to be aware of the statute of limitations in your state for a personal injury. The statute of limitations is the amount of time available to file a personal injury claim. A workers’ compensation claim likely has a different statute of limitations than a personal injury lawsuit, and a claim against a government agency might have yet another time limit.
Your orthopedic injury might be covered under an insurance policy like someone’s homeowner’s insurance, business premises insurance, workers’ compensation, or auto insurance. But you don’t need to agree to any settlement unless you’re certain it covers all of the costs and expenses you’ve incurred (or will incur in the future).
If you’re unsure, it’s best to consult a personal injury attorney for advice. Most personal injury lawyers offer a free initial consultation to evaluate your case and provide guidance as to the course of action you should take.
Enjuris.com offers a no-cost Personal Injury Lawyer Directory you can use to find a lawyer near you who’s qualified, experienced, and ready to handle your orthopedic injury claim.
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