Suing for Spinal Injuries After a Car Accident
If you experience a fender-bender or some other type of car accident that doesn’t result in any major injuries, the process of filing a claim through insurance may seem straightforward enough, albeit frustrating. Florida is a “no-fault” state, which means when an automobile accident occurs, insurance providers must give coverage to their insured driver, no matter who is at fault for the crash. This allows you to use supplemental payments to address the damages to your car and any minor injuries suffered. But the trade-off under this law is that you are then prevented from filing a car accident injury lawsuit.
This sounds like it should make most scenarios easier to manage, but what if you suffer an injury so severe that your insurance plan doesn’t cover it? What if the medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering you endure after the accident leave you not only trying to recover physically, but agonizing over how you’re going to recover fiscally and emotionally too?
Luckily, Florida law still allows for car accident lawsuits to be filed when a “serious” injury is suffered. And a spinal cord injury most certainly qualifies as serious.
Defining a Serious Injury
Spinal cord injuries and other serious back, neck, or traumatic brain injuries typically work as exceptions to Florida’s no-fault rules. That’s because if an injury is found to qualify as “permanent,” or totals more than $10,000 in damages of any kind, filing a car accident lawsuit against the responsible party is permitted.
Many spinal injuries are defined as “permanent” in some way because of their severity and long-lasting effects. Bones and soft tissue in the spine might heal, but damage to the spinal cord itself often involves nerve damage. Nerve tissue doesn’t behave or heal in the same way that bone or muscle tissue does — it’s much less durable and regenerative.
Severe spinal injuries can present themselves in a number of ways:
- Whiplash injuries: The most frequent type of spinal injury experienced during a car accident, whiplash can be an injury to the neck or the spine depending on the severity. Multiple spinal injuries can often compound the complications of whiplash, meaning it can become progressively more severe than initially thought. Chronic whiplash can also occur, resulting in lifelong pain.
- Herniated discs: The spine is composed of 33 vertebrae, which are bone casings that protect the spinal column. In between each of these vertebrae are jelly-like discs that keep the bones from rubbing together. During an accident, these discs can shift, tear, or rupture, resulting in what’s called a herniated disc. This can result in pain and numbness in various areas of the body, and often requires surgery to address.
- Spinal fractures and spondylolisthesis: During a car accident, the body may be rapidly jerked in multiple directions. That pressure can cause compression fractures of the spine, which can result in a spinal fracture or spondylolisthesis (when a vertebra is fractured and then shifts out of place). These can lead to numbness, pain, and immobilization of the entire spine.
- Spinal cord injuries: These tend to be the most devastating of all spinal injuries because even though the spine itself can sometimes be repaired, doctors haven’t yet discovered a way to successfully repair the bundle of nerves it protects. Victims of spinal cord injuries often need a great deal of continuous support, treatment, and assistance with simple life tasks, especially if paralysis occurs.
- Facet joint injuries: Facet joints are the joints inside the spine that allow it to bend and move, acting as the hinges between vertebrae. But these self-lubricating joints are commonly injured in car accidents, often resulting in the need for physical therapy, lubricating injections, chiropractic care, and other ongoing procedures.
Car accident victims who experience any such injuries may be owed compensation if another driver is found at fault for the accident. Even if a medical professional declares your injuries are not completely permanent, they may still be sufficiently serious and costly enough that the law won’t force you to file solely through your insurance company.
Building Your Case
If you’ve been in a car accident you believe was caused by the negligence of another driver and now have serious spinal injuries, your next step should be to contact an experienced lawyer to discuss your options. The right car accident and personal injury team can guide you and your case in the right direction.
When you file your lawsuit, you must prove that the other driver was at fault. This begins by demonstrating what kind of duty of care the driver owed you while on the road together. In general, that duty of care includes obeying all state traffic laws, as well as making sound judgements on the road. Once that’s shown, it’s then necessary to demonstrate how the defendant breached that duty of care. If you can prove this breach, you can prove negligence, and the court may award you damages.
But before receiving those damages, you must also prove exactly what damages you suffered or continue to suffer from the at-fault driver’s negligence. With spinal injuries, this is most often accomplished by demonstrating the expenses of medical care for things like emergency services, surgeries, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and necessary medical devices like a wheelchair. Because these injuries are incredibly painful, damages for pain and suffering may also be in order. They can even extend to compensation for lost wages or reduced earning capacity.
A Question of Fault
The above scenarios may sound very similar to what you or a loved one has experienced in a car accident, save for one detail: What if you aren’t sure the accident was entirely the other driver’s fault? What if the defendant claims that you were, in some regard, also at fault for the crash? You may be surprised (and relieved) to learn that these details may not keep you from filing a claim.
Florida operates on rules known as “pure comparative fault.” This means there are some rules in place that allow victims to recover damages from an accident even if they are found partially at fault for causing the accident. The damages may be reduced by a percentage of fault they are found to share with the other driver, but the rules still enable them to collect partial damages equivalent to whatever harm the other driver is found to have caused.
If you’ve been in a serious automobile accident that has resulted in a spinal injury to you or a loved one, contact our team so we can review your case. Whether you believe the other driver was 100% at-fault, or you feel you may have been partially responsible for the accident in some way, you may still have a strong claim to file. Spinal injuries have the ability to dramatically alter your quality of life, so you should receive the compensation you need to make those adjustments and ease your suffering. The Whisler Law Firm can help make that a possibility. Schedule a free consultation by calling 833-529-5677.