Herniated Disc Personal Injury Cases
Our lawyers handle herniated disc accident cases throughout the State of Florida. In fact, it’s one of the most common types of injuries that occur in a car crash. Unfortunately, it’s also the type of injury most often challenged by auto insurance companies. But don’t worry, at Distasio Law Firm we have been very successful in overcoming the ridiculous arguments used to try and de-legitimize these claims.
The reason automobile insurance companies like to challenge herniated disc accident cases stems from the lack of objective proof as to what actually caused the injury. Most people think an MRI is objective proof. But the reality is that an MRI only documents that the disc was herniated. It rarely provides objective proof of when the disc was herniated. As a result, it is fairly easy for insurance companies to hire medical doctors that get paid lots of money to say they can find no objective proof the car crash caused the injury. You need a law firm that’s knows how prove these doctors are wrong. We will explain how we do this in detail below. But before we do, you will need to understand a little bit about the human spine.
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What is a Herniated Disc Injury?
Your spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae. The discs are round cushions that rest in between each vertebra. These discs act as shock absorbers that protect the spine and the nerves running through the spinal column as you bounce, bend and twist. Each disc has an external covering that is filled with liquid gel material. When we are explaining this to juries we often compare the disc to a jelly filled donut. A herniated disc occurs when the external covering protrudes out and or tears. This can result in the gel inside leaking out. Normally the herniated disc itself does not cause pain. Instead, the pain comes when the disc protrudes far enough outside its normal space to push on the spinal cord or a nerve root. This pressure on the nerve can cause significant pain and or numbness. Often, the pain and numbness, called radiculopathy, radiates down an arm if the disc is herniated in the neck (cervical spine) or it radiates down the leg if the disc is herniated in the low back (lumbar spine).
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How Does a Car Accident Cause a Spinal Disc Herniation?
When we are young, the gel material inside the disc is full of water. This causes the disc to be soft and supple. As a result, the discs do a great job of absorbing impact. As we age, the disc begins to dry out. In addition, the normal wear and tear of life can lead to bone spurs forming around the vertebra above and below each disc. The aging process within the spine is called degeneration.
Spinal degeneration makes the disc more susceptible to injury. In a car accident, this susceptibility to disc injury is even more magnified because trauma from the impact causes the neck and low back to whip back and forth with extreme force. The whipping motion, commonly called whiplash, can cause an aged, dried out disc to tear apart or herniate.
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How Do Paid Defense Doctors Cast Doubt on Whether the Car Accident Caused the Herniated Disc?
Paid defense doctors use the spinal degeneration that is present in anyone over 30 as an excuse. They blame the herniated disc on this aging process. They start by pointing to the MRI. They can do this because MRI’s are very good at showing degeneration. Since anyone over 30 years old will have some evidence of degenerative changes visible on an MRI, it makes for an easy excuse. Paid defense doctors routinely testify that as we age, the drying out of the disc causes it to slowly rupture over time with each micro trauma throughout the day. Because an MRI rarely shows evidence of when the disc herniation occurred, it can be difficult to disprove this type of medical opinion.
How Do We Prove the Car Accident Caused the Disc Herniation?
With so many paid defense doctors willing to testify that car crashes do not cause disc herniations, it may be difficult for an inexperienced car accident attorney to prove otherwise. But we have found that with honest clients that are not trying to hide prior injuries, juries see through the defense doctor’s deception. This is because the defense doctor is purposefully ignoring the best evidence of when the disc herniation occurred. This evidence is the injured persons medical history and testimony about when they first started to experience pain. When a person has a clear medical history of no neck or back pain prior to the car crash and immediate onset of pain after the car crash, juries tend to believe the disc herniation happened in the car crash. This is especially true if family and friends are willing to testify that prior to the car crash they observed no evidence the person was in pain but after the accident it was obvious the person was injured Another important factor is the amount of damage to the vehicles involved in the accident. If there is a lot of damage to the cars juries are more likely to believe the crash caused the herniated disc.
Pre-Existing Neck and Back Injuries
The more difficult cases to prove involve pre-existing injuries. When a client has an injury to their neck or back that existed prior to the car crash, lawyers defending personal injury cases on behalf of insurance companies will point the finger at pre-existing spinal degenerative problems such as spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, and osteoarthritis. To win these cases we have to prove the client’s current problems are not due to the degenerative condition, but to the whiplash caused by the accident.
We start with Florida standard jury instruction 401.12(b)on concurring cause. This instruction says: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Practice-Procedures/Jury-Instructions#400
In order to be regarded as a legal cause of injury negligence need not be the only cause. Negligence may be a legal cause of injury even though it operates in combination with some natural cause if the negligence contributes substantially to producing such injury.
Most juries get the fact that the car accident can be the legal cause of the herniated disc because it substantially contributed to the injury along with the natural cause of the degenerative changes that existed prior to the car crash.
Next, we point to Florida standard jury instruction 501.5(a) on Aggravation or activation of disease or defect. This instruction states: https://www.floridasupremecourt.org/Practice-Procedures/Jury-Instructions#500
If you find that the defendant caused a bodily injury, and that the injury resulted in an aggravation of an existing disease or physical defect or activation of a latent disease or physical defect, you should attempt to decide what portion of (claimant’s) condition resulted from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. If you can make that determination, then you should award only those damages resulting from the [aggravation] [or] [activation]. However, if you cannot make that determination, or if it cannot be said that the condition would have existed apart from the injury, then you should award damages for the entire condition suffered by (claimant).
Once again, most juries understand that a car crash can aggravate a pre-existing degenerative spine condition. As a result, these cases come down to the injured person being able to clearly testify how the pain before the car crash was different than the pain after the car crash. If the jury likes and believes the injured person, they are likely to provide compensation for the injury.
What Happens When the Person Has Multiple Car Accidents?
When a person has been in multiple car accidents, it can be difficult to determine which accident caused a herniated disc injury. When the persons treating doctor can testify about which accident caused the disc herniation, there is very little controversy. However, often in these cases, medical experts cannot testify within a reasonable degree of medical certainty how or when a disc herniation happened. When this happens, we point to Florida standard jury instruction 501.5(b) on Subsequent injuries/multiple events. This instruction states:
You have heard that (claimant) may have been injured in two events. If you decide that (claimant) was injured by (defendant) and was later injured by another event, then you should try to separate the damages caused by the two events and award (claimant) money only for those damages caused by (defendant). However, if you cannot separate some or all of the damages, you must award (claimant) any damages that you cannot separate as if they were all caused by (defendant).
Once again it may come down to the credibility of the injured client. What the client’s medical records show and what the client testifies about the timing of their symptoms will be critical in determining which accident or trauma caused the herniation.
What is a Herniated Disc Case Worth?
No one can really say what any individual case is worth except a jury that deliberates about the facts of the case and comes to a verdict. That is why the real answer is that a case is worth the last dollar that is offered in settlement or if that is turned down, it’s worth whatever the jury provides for in its verdict. There are some factors to consider in deciding whether to take a settlement offer. Things to consider are the medical treatment rendered over the course of the injury and the frequency and intensity of the pain. Cases that involve very little medical care and or very little pain tend to settle for less money. Cases that involve steroid injections and or spinal surgery and cases with frequent and intense pain can settle for six or even seven figures. Of course, all of this assumes the other person was clearly responsible for causing the injury and there is plenty of insurance to cover the case.
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We’re Here to Help You with Your Herniated Disc Injury Case
Our law firm has handled hundreds of herniated disc injury cases. We know the medicine, we know the defense experts, and we know how to prove your case. If your injuries were caused by a negligent car driver in an auto accident, we are confident we can help. Call us today to discuss what we can do about your case.