Five Factors That Go Into Most Case Results
One of the most common questions we receive from potential clients is: “How much is the average settlement for a car accident with neck and back injuries?”
The truth is, settlements vary widely and depend on factors that are unique to each type of accident. We’ve listed some of them below and discuss how each one can alter the value of your case.
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Factor 1: How Severe Are Your Injuries?
Neck and back injuries are not all created equal. They may consist of soft tissue injuries, which typically heal with a few weeks of rest, or they may involve the spinal cord and result in permanent paralysis. An injured individual can treat such injuries with over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers, or they may require multiple surgeries to repair. The more severe the injury, the more money is needed to repair and rehabilitate the victim.
Consider the following:
- The highest settlements for car accident injuries involving the neck and back would be spinal cord injuries, simply due to the amount of recovery required, the number and cost of the treatments provided, the likelihood of additional treatments in the future, the need for rehabilitation, the financial and emotional impacts of the injury, and the risk of permanent disability. If there are insurance resources available, these cases can settle for millions of dollars.
- Disc injuries represent the “middle ground” of most back and neck injury claims. A herniated disc may cause repeated surgeries, months of recovery, and chronic pain. Or the individual experiencing the herniated disc may recover from the repair with very few issues and no lasting effects. As a general rule, herniated disc injuries result in higher settlements than bulging discs, though this isn’t always the case.
- The lowest neck and back injury settlements are generally involved in soft tissue injury cases, such as those involving whiplash. While painful, there is no diagnostic test that is going to reveal a soft tissue injury or show you how severe it is. Settlements in these cases often hinge on how credible the plaintiff is in describing the amount of pain he or she is enduring, whether there were pre-existing injuries to the back and neck area, and how severe of an impact the accident involved.
Potential issues that could lower the amount of a settlement include:
- Pre-existing injuries that appear on scans. The insurance company will often try to argue that the accident wasn’t the cause of the back or neck injury or the source of the pain.
- A lack of acute findings on the diagnostic tests. Acute injuries look different on scans than degenerative ones. And while diagnostic tests aren’t the end-all when it comes to back or neck injury claims, it is often easier to negotiate a claim when there is visible proof of injury.
- How quickly the plaintiff is willing to settle. Settlements tend to increase over time, resulting in higher offers if a lawsuit seems inevitable otherwise. If you’re unable to wait for the negotiations to unfold, your settlement will likely be lower.
- A large part of your medical treatment involved diagnostic tests rather than actual treatment of your injuries.
- Your recovery period was short and doctors did not prescribe any medication associated with the treatment of your injuries.
Factor 2: The Total Cost of Your Medical Bills
Neck and back injuries can be extraordinarily expensive. According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, a spinal cord injury can rack up a million dollars worth of medical treatments in the first year, and continuing care can cost over $100,000 annually for the rest of the person’s life. Those who suffer high tetraplegia—which is the loss of function and sensation from the neck down—can expect lifetime medical costs of their injury to be between $2 million and $4 million, depending on the individual’s age at the time of the injury.
Some common medical treatments associated with neck and back injuries include:
- Diagnostic tests, including X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans
- Emergency treatments, such as maintaining your ability to breathe, preventing shock, immobilizing your neck to prevent further damage, ensuring that your other bodily systems are functioning properly, and avoiding blood clots
- Surgery to stabilize the spine, remove bone fragments, or repair fractured vertebrae that may be putting pressure on the spine.
- The need for assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or electronic aids, to help with daily living
Often, insurance companies will offer a quick settlement before the patient has even left the hospital or been given a clearer picture as to the medical needs they will face in the future. It is strongly encouraged that you speak to an experienced car accident attorney before accepting any settlement offer. Why? Because these lowball settlement offers typically don’t give you a full glimpse of the expenses you are going to incur and are often too low to cover those expenses. If you accept an early settlement and then realize later that you have more medical expenses than you previously thought, you won’t be able to go back and ask for more money.
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Factor 3: Did Your Injury Cause You to Miss Work?
An important part of your personal injury case is determining how much you’re entitled to receive to make up for wages and work missed due to your injury. You can claim income that you missed out on due to being too injured to work, as well as income that you lost due to having to take time off work to attend medical appointments related to your injury. Even if you had sick time or vacation pay available to use at the time of your injury, you are still able to claim lost wages for the time missed.
Some of the considerations when determining how much to ask for in regards to lost wages include:
- Were you regularly employed by someone other than yourself? This is the easiest situation to calculate, as it is based on your rate of pay and the hours you normally work. Your employer can verify this amount for you. If you were self-employed or worked irregularly, the task of proving how much money you lost from missing work becomes a lot more difficult. Some ways this can be done is to demonstrate, on average, how much money you made within a certain time frame before the injury through your tax returns, as well as copies of calendars and other documentation showing appointments and opportunities you missed while injured.
- Were you able to return to the job you previously held, working in the same position and performing the tasks that you did before? The more impact the injury has on your life, the higher the value of your case. If you were forced to accept a lower-paying position or to change careers due to the injury, this must be factored in. If you are permanently disabled from the injury and unable to work any type of job, you can claim loss of future earning capacity, which will be determined in part by how much you were earning before the injury, your age at the time of the injury, as well as your skill level and education.
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Factor 4: Permanent Injuries
The presence of a permanent injury is one factor that will cause the potential for a high settlement to increase significantly. Back and neck injuries—even those that seem less serious—often produce long-lasting or permanent effects that can impact all facets of your life. While receiving treatment for your injuries, you should ask the doctor treating you how high the likelihood is that you will suffer recurring or degenerative issues due to your injury. If the likelihood is high, you can request that the doctor take note of it in your records.
When establishing the value of your claim, multipliers are used to reflect the severity of the injury and the likelihood of long-term or residual impacts. The more severe the injury, the higher the multiplier. Injuries that are deemed permanent often result in the highest multiplier, meaning that more money is required to treat them. The following conditions increase the multiplier and, therefore, the value of your claim:
- The amount of pain associated with your injury
- How long and invasive the treatment of your injury will be
- How long the recovery period for your injury will be
- The more serious and visible the permanent effect of your injury is
Because permanent injuries may result in the loss of future income and opportunities in addition to having a profound impact on your personal life, cases involving permanent injuries often bring some of the highest settlements.
Factor 5: Emotional Impact
The impacts of an injury aren’t just physical or financial. Suffering a neck or back injury in a car accident can cause serious emotional implications, as well. Although pain and suffering-type damages, often referred to as non-economic damages, are often the hardest to calculate—as it’s hard to put a dollar amount on emotional well-being—they often make up the largest part of the personal injury settlement, as well. Some common types of non-economic damages that reflect the emotional impacts of being injured in an accident include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional anguish
- Loss of consortium, which is the loss of physical and emotional companionship suffered by the spouse of a severely injured person
- Loss of enjoyment of life, which refers to activities that you previously enjoyed but can no longer do due to the severity of your injuries
- Humiliation due to altered body image and the inability to perform tasks that you were formerly skilled at
Non-economic damages are generally proven not by what the person can do now, but by what he or she used to be able to do but can no longer do. These damages are a reflection of the parts of a person’s daily life and what defines that person’s self-image that often aren’t thought too much about until the person is no longer able to participate in those activities. For example, let’s say you and your partner loved to dance before you suffered your injury. Perhaps that was your favorite pastime and your way of socializing as a couple with others.
If your back and neck injury renders you unable to dance again, it not only takes from you an enjoyable hobby, but also takes the enjoyment of time spent together from your spouse. It can make you feel isolated from each other as well as from your social group. It can make you feel ashamed of how you look or move now that you are unable to obtain the physical exercise and the emotional satisfaction that the activity used to provide. This is just one example of the pervasive impacts of long-term injuries.
Typically, non-economic damages are calculated using the multiplier previously described. The more serious the injury, the higher these damages will generally be.
Establishing the Value of Your Claim
All of the above factors are taken into consideration when establishing the value of your claim. Your attorney can assist you in determining your case’s value and can explain more thoroughly how these factors come into play in your situation.
Please note that other factors may influence any settlement you may receive, including whether you had any liability in the accident, the types of damages you can recover, the testimony of medical experts or witnesses to your accident, how much litigation will cost the defendant, how patient you are willing to be while your attorney works on negotiating your settlement, and the availability of insurance resources. Insurance is an important factor, as this determines how much money is actually available for a settlement payout.
If you need more information about how to determine the value of your personal injury claim or for answers to your legal questions regarding personal injury and the options that are available to you, call a car accident lawyer.
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