What to do if someone else’s actions caused your neck, back, or spine injury
Suffice it to say, your neck, back, and spine are pretty important. Without them, you’re not much different than a flatworm or snail. Unfortunately, the importance of these body parts means that even minor injuries can be particularly disruptive—physically, emotionally and financially.
Let’s take a close look at neck, back, and spine injury claims in South Carolina.
What qualifies as a neck, back, or spine injury?
Your neck, back, and spine are all connected in the sense that an injury to one often affects the others. For example, if you suffer a muscle strain in your neck, you may experience stiffness in your upper back.
Despite their interconnectedness, your neck, back, and spine are different parts of your body:
- Neck. Your neck runs from the base of your skull to your shoulders. It includes the bones and joints of the cervical spine (vertebrae of the neck), the discs that separate the cervical vertebrae and absorb shock as you move, and the muscles and ligaments in the neck that hold the cervical spine together.
- Back. Your back runs from your neck to the top of your buttocks. When most people mention their back, they’re actually referring to their spine.
- Spine. Your spine runs from the base of your skull to your pelvis. An adult’s spine is composed of 24 small bones (vertebrae) that are stacked on top of each other. Between each vertebra is a disc that helps absorb pressure. Each vertebra is held to the others by groups of ligaments. The spinal column also has joints (called facet joints) that link the vertebrae together and give them the flexibility to move.
Common injuries that impact the neck, back, or spine include:
- Spinal trauma
- Pains and strains
- Pinched nerve
- Herniated disk
- Cervical dislocation
- Muscle spasm
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is a neck injury caused by the forceful, back-and-forth movement of the neck. It’s one of the most common injuries following a car accident.
Most people with whiplash get better within a few weeks by following a treatment plan that includes pain medication and physical therapy. However, some people have chronic neck pain and other long-lasting complications.
Symptoms of whiplash, which typically appear within a few days of the accident, include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Worsening of pain with neck movement
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Headaches (usually starting at the base of the skull)
- Pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Sleep problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
Common causes of neck, back, and spine injuries
Almost every adult will experience neck, back, or spine pain at some point in their life. Such pain is often caused by everyday activities, such as:
- Working on the computer for an extended period of time
- Experiencing stress or tension
- Sleeping with a pillow that is too high or too low
- Playing with your kids or pets
But sometimes, neck, back, and spine injuries are caused by the trauma of an accident or intentional act. Common examples include:
When can you sue for a neck or back injury in South Carolina?
In order to recover damages for a neck, back, or spine injury, you need to prove that someone else was responsible for your injuries.
In most cases, proving that someone else was responsible means proving that someone else was negligent.
South Carolina requires plaintiffs to prove 3 elements to establish negligence:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care,
- The defendant breached the duty of care, and
- The defendant’s breach was the cause of the injury.
Generally speaking, people are required to adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing acts that could foreseeably harm others. For example, all drivers must exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicles. If a driver breaches this standard of care (for example, by texting and driving), the driver may be negligent.
In some cases, people owe a standard of care even higher than reasonable care. For example, common carriers (those who transport others for money, such as bus drivers and taxi drivers) in South Carolina are required to exercise the highest degree of care to keep their passengers safe.
Janet Mickle, who was a passenger in the vehicle driven by Kenneth Hill, was impaled on the gearshift lever. The lever entered her body behind her left armpit, penetrated her spine, and caused complete paralysis.
At trial, it was revealed that Cherokee Inc. had been under contract with the South Carolina Highway Department to widen Black Street from 30 feet to 44 feet and that a Cherokee employee removed the stop signs at the intersection before beginning construction on the morning of the accident.
The jury ultimately found that Cherokee was negligent for removing the stop signs and failing to take any precautions to warn motorists approaching the intersection.
What if your neck or back injury occurs at work?
If you suffer a neck, back, or spine injury as a result of a workplace accident, you may be able to file a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides financial benefits to injured workers. In South Carolina, almost all employers with 4 or more employees (full or part-time) are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance.
What’s more, most neck, back, and spine injuries are covered regardless of how the injury happens. In other words, unlike personal injury lawsuits, there’s no need to prove that someone was at fault.
What damages can you recover for your neck or back injury in South Carolina?
In South Carolina, plaintiffs can recover 3 types of damages:
- Economic damages include the monetary losses caused by the accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage)
- Non-economic damages include the non-monetary losses caused by the accident (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium)
- Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are only available in cases where the defendant acted willfully or recklessly
What to do after suffering a neck, back, or spine injury
The aftermath of an injury can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve listed the 3 most important the steps you can (and should) take after a neck, back, or spine injury:
- See a doctor. If your injury is serious, call an ambulance or have someone call an ambulance for you. If you don’t think your injury is serious, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your doctor anyway. Many symptoms of neck, back, and spine injuries don’t show up until days or even weeks after the injury. What’s more, it’s important to start creating a paper trail in case you decide to file a lawsuit down the road.
- Gather evidence. Evidence has a way of disappearing the further you get from your accident. If it’s safe to do so, take photographs and collect witness information as soon as possible. If it’s appropriate to do so, call the police so they can file an accident report.
- Talk to an attorney. South Carolina has a statute of limitations that restricts the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. For this reason, it’s important to talk to an attorney as soon as possible after your injury. Most initial consultations are free so you won’t be out any money even if you decide not to sue.
Here’s a bonus tip:
Avoid posting about your injury on social media. One of the first steps defense attorneys take is to comb a plaintiff’s social media accounts for any statements or photographs that can be used against them.
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See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.