Your life can turn upside down in an instant if you are involved in a car accident. When thousands of pounds of metal come barreling at you because of a negligent driver, you can suffer severe injuries. Spinal cord injuries are common and can be devastating.
If you have suffered a serious disc injury in an auto accident, you probably want to know what a fair settlement is worth. I will present the factors that go into this evaluation so that you can gain some insight into this complicated legal issue. However, meeting with an attorney for a free consultation is the best way to determine the potential value of your case.
For this discussion let us assume that the wrongdoer is 100% at fault. However, don’t hesitate to contact me even if you think that you may partially be at fault. Ohio follows the modified comparative negligence rule, meaning that you can still recover damages if you are found to be responsible to the degree of 50 percent or less.
Understanding Disk Injuries
Intervertebral discs separate every vertebra in your spine, cushioning them and preventing the bones from touching. The outer part of the disc is the tougher fibrous area called the annulus fibrosus. The inside is a jelly-like substance called the nucleus pulposus. This fluid-filled jelly sack can be pushed out by compressive forces.
The disc provides a shock-absorbing effect that dissipates these compressive forces across multiple levels in the spine and still allows for the flexibility required for performing normal activities of daily living. When a disc is injured, you can experience pain, numbness, weakness, and other negative effects.
Let’s talk about basic disc terminology, as there is a lot of confusion when it comes to the meanings of bulge, protrusion, herniation, and degeneration of a disc. The American Journal of Neuroradiology has some excellent definitions that are referenced below.
The following terms are often used when describing disc issues and injuries:
- Disc bulge: A bulging disc pushes back towards the spinal canal. “A disc bulge means that contour of the outer rings (annulus) extends, or appears to extend, in the horizontal (axial) plane beyond the edges of the disc space, greater than 50% (180 degrees) of the circumference of the disc and usually less than 3mm beyond the edges of the vertebral body.”
- Disc protrusion: A protruded disc occurs when “disc tissue beyond the disc space is contained within an intact annulus."
- Disc herniation: A disc herniation is a "localized displacement of disc material beyond the normal margins of the intervertebral disc space…The term ‘ruptured disc’ is used synonymously with herniated disc, but is more colloquial and can be easily confused with violent, traumatic rupture of the annulus or end-plate."
- Disc degeneration: “As a part of the aging process, discs begin to lose their high water content and their ability to dissipate force as efficiently. By the age of 35, approximately 30% of people will show evidence of disc degeneration at one or more levels. By the age of 60, greater than 90% of people will show evidence of disc degeneration at one or more levels on MRI. In some patients, this disc degeneration can be asymptomatic; in others, disc degeneration can lead to intractable back pain”.
Disc degeneration is the defense that is frequently used to argue that your injury was already there and not caused by the car accident.
Patients with disc herniations in the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar spine can present with neck pain, back pain, arm pain, leg pain or any combination of the above. The pain may be due to the bulging or herniated disc pressing on either the spinal cord or a nerve root and/or due to the damage to the disc itself. The disc has its own nerve called the sinuvertebral nerve, which monitors mechanical and chemical stimuli and whose purpose is to perceive pain.
The critical point of these definitions is that the conditions can all be the source of injury. In addition, it is important to keep in mind that there are other conditions such as muscle, ligament, and facet injury in the spine that can be the source of pain.
Damages Available in Ohio
In order to determine the monetary compensation that you deserve, you need to know what Ohio law allows you to be compensated for. In some cases, your injury could cause you to have all of these damages.
The list of available damages includes:
- Lost wages
- Medical expenses reasonably necessary for your treatment
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Any disfigurement of your body
- Impairment of earning capacity
You can often recover for past expenses and suffering, as well as anything that is reasonably likely to exist in the future.
Factors Used to Analyze A Disc Injury Settlement Amount
This section looks into the factors that drive or impair the settlement value. Generally speaking, the more serious the injury, the higher the settlement value.
When calculating the settlement value, the first two things to look at are the past medical expenses and the past lost wage. Then, you want to add in the future lost wage and the future medical expenses.
Is this an injury that has knocked a person out of employment totally, or has the injury caused the person to not be able to work at a good paying job, causing them to take a job with lesser pay? These numbers often need to be crunched by a vocational expert and an economist who has an eye for these considerations.
The answers to these questions may also play a role in your settlement:
- Did the injury manifest itself right away?
- Are you taking a significant amount of pain medication?
- Is there objective evidence that you have an injury?
- Have you had previous back problems?
- Is the objective evidence strong in terms of x-rays, cat scans, and MRI's?
- Have you followed your doctor's advice or neglected to do so?
- How serious was the car damage?
- Have you had surgery?
- Do the doctors agree that there is an objective basis for the pain you are claiming?
- Do you have an experienced personal injury lawyer that knows how to present your case, gather the evidence, and if need be file a lawsuit and finance the litigation?
- Has your attorney been known to try cases if the offer is low?
These factors come down to 1. the collision, 2. the early manifestation of injury, 3. what tests support your injury, 4. how strong your doctors are in supporting you, 5. how you have comported yourself and are your actions consistent with a serious injury and 6. have you hired an experienced personal injury trial lawyer.
Certainly, this list is not exhaustive but it covers the main points in evaluating your disc back injury settlement value.
Insurance Companies Will Often Offer You Less Than You Deserve
Many people ask if there a settlement calculator that is used. Some insurance companies do use computer programs, but they are not necessarily accurate. In fact, the insurance company may even try to give you an offer that is less than what their own computer says. Regardless, computers cannot really predict with any certainty what a case is worth. This is an art rather than a science.
The adage that you add up your medical bills and multiply by 3 and then add lost wages does not hold true. The range of settlement comes down to the nature and extent of your injury. In Cincinnati, Ohio my experience is that a back injury that causes $20,000 in medical bills, $10,000 in lost wages, a discectomy, and leaves you with the ability to work at your former job with some permanent back pain should start at $100,000. In other jurisdictions, this may be a $300,000.00 case.
Depending on the factors listed earlier, your case could range from roughly $50,000 to $150,000, depending on the positive and negative factors. Don't let the insurance company tell you that your case is worth little in Cincinnati. I have seen offers as low as $15,000 and the verdict ended up on the higher side of $80,000. Here is a video on a case I tried on a spine injury jury verdict in Hamilton County, Ohio.
You must objectively evaluate the case then strive to get at least the mid-range for settlement. If the insurance company low balls you, trust your experienced personal injury trial attorney to fight for the compensation you really deserve.
Contact an Experienced Back Injury Attorney Today
As you can see, disc injury cases can be complex at times. It takes a skilled attorney to navigate all of the factors that affect damages in order to secure the maximum compensation that you deserve for your car accident. Attempting to settle this issue on your own can deal a fatal blow to the real value of your case.
Call me at 513-621-2345 for a free, no-obligation case evaluation regarding your disc injury. I represent clients in West Chester, Mason, and Cincinnati, Ohio.