In every young adult’s life, there comes a moment when the thought of invincibility suddenly becomes a quaint, yet blatant, misconception of the past. For many, this occurs in the form of a back injury, as there is nothing like a simple, mundane task gone instantly wrong that harnesses visions of not being able to walk, play athletics, work, or even live a pain-free life. At this point, it is clear that if the body is a temple, your back is the buttress work that keeps it from crumbling to the ground.
Back injuries can be especially devious in that the extent of the injury and its ramifications are seldom completely apparent. Men especially are quick to downplay the effects of such an incident and may not even come to terms with what happened until much later. Add to that, often there is a sense of culpability one feels whether or not some other party could be considered partially responsible for the harm.
What to Do After Your Back Injury
There are a number of things you can do in the first few days and weeks after your accident to protect your right to compensation. Back injury claims are sometimes difficult to win, so your actions in the immediate aftermath can have significant impact on your chances of success. Consider the following:
- Write out the accident as you remember it. Passage of time can make the circumstances of an accident more difficult to recall.
- Keep accurate records of all medical treatment: hospital bills, rehab bills, doctor visits, and even travel costs to and from your medical treatment.
- Make notes of conversations that you have with people involved in the accident or the injury claim. Anything that you say or speak about with another person can affect a back injury claim. Get written confirmation of any promises made by insurance carriers or opposing parties.
- Keep all written communications you receive: emails, letters, or even handwritten notes. All documents are important.
- Identify all evidence early. Work with a personal injury attorney to identify and preserve the evidence necessary for your claim. Action is better sooner rather than later. Evidence can disappear or become less reliable over time.
NOTE: What you say to insurance adjusters or opposing parties can negatively affect your claim. Be honest when asked about your accident, but never admit fault or downplay the potential adversity of what you may be suffering. Stick to the facts of the accident, and defer to an attorney to avoid scuttling a back injury lawsuit in its early stages by saying the wrong thing.
Damages Awarded for Back Injury
Compensation for a back injury claim typically includes both economic and non-economic damages (usually grouped together as a single award of “compensatory damages”). Here is a closer look at both types of damages in a typical back injury case, as well as other forms of financial recovery that may be available.
Economic Compensatory Damages
Economic compensatory damages (sometimes called special damages) are actual financial losses due to money spent – or money you are not able to earn – because of your injury. Potential economic compensatory damages in a back injury claim include:
- Past and future medical bills: These will vary based on the severity of your injuries. Costs of surgery can be enormous. X-rays are often required even for minor strains and sprains. Chiropractic treatment or physical therapy can be ongoing costs. In cases involving serious spine injuries and paralysis, the cost of future medical care (lifelong in some cases) can be millions of dollars.
- Lost income and wages: In a back injury claim, you’re entitled to compensation for any lost income and expected future reduction in your earning capacity. Damages are determined by an examination of your salary history and the amount of work you missed, including sick time or vacation time. Lost future income is calculated with an assessment of your projected earnings and the impact your back injuries will have on your ability to do any kind of work.
Non-Economic Compensatory Damages
Non-economic compensatory damages (sometimes called general damages) provide compensation for non-monetary losses associated with the effects of your back injuries – losses to which a dollar value is not always so easy to attach. These typically include:
- Pain and suffering: A pain multiplier is often used to assess pain and suffering damages. Your economic compensatory damages (i.e. medical expenses and lost wages) will be multiplied by a set number determined by the seriousness of the injury.
- Emotional distress: Damages may be assessed separately or compensated as part of pain and suffering, depending on state law.
- Loss of consortium. When back injuries are so serious (such as in cases of partial or total paralysis) that the victim’s loved ones (spouses and children) are deprived of a normal loving relationship and companionship (including the loss of a marital sexual relationship in the case of a spouse) loss of consortium damages may be awarded.
Punitive damages in some cases can be awarded for a back injury. There must be proof that the defendant’s action or inaction in causing the accident amounted to more than just common negligence. Even then, punitive damages are usually only awarded after the case has gone through a full civil trial and a jury has decided that they are appropriate. The defendant’s conduct must be considered so egregious that payment of additional damages is justified to punish the defendant’s behavior.