Millions of people are injured every year in auto accidents and due to the mechanics of the crash and the lack of protection afforded it, the neck often takes the brunt of it. One of the major ways to ensure safety during a car accident is to maintain stability. That is why seat belts and shoulder harnesses work so well. But, protection for the neck relies mainly on the headrest, which is not always effective due to positioning problems. When the unprotected neck experiences excessive movement subsequent to a car accident, injuries occur.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common neck injuries, steps you need to take and how such damages are evaluated and valued.
The Cervical Spine
The cervical (neck) portion of the spinal column consists of 7 bones called vertebrae. The bones form a conduit within which the spinal cord and blood vessels pass. It is supported by ligaments that hold the bones together, connecting them one to another, minor musculature and tendons, which attach the muscles to the bone. The c-spine supports the weight of the head and promotes flexibility. The neck also houses the vocal cords that enable speech and is instrumental in respiratory function. When impacted by an outside force, such as that of a rear-end collision, the injury can cause serious damage, some types of which are described below.
Common Injuries to the Cervical Spine
There are a number of injuries that can damage the neck. Due to its vulnerability, injuries as a result of a car accident can potentially plague the injured party for years after the accident. Sometimes the injury symptoms are delayed or progress slowly, so knowing what to look for is an important consideration. Making sure that no remaining problems exist before settling your case increases the chance that you will be compensated for all injuries stemming from a collision. We’ll take a look at each type of injury in the following sections.
- Neck sprain: A neck sprain occurs when the ligaments are stretched beyond their normal limits, particularly when the neck is forcefully jerked back and forth in a snapping motion. This is commonly referred to as whiplash.
- Neck strain: This involves damage to the neck muscles, either deep or superficial ones. Since the muscles help in forward, backward and lateral movement of the neck as well as rotation, this can severely impact normal movement. Beyond tearing the muscle fibers, neck strain can also involve muscle spasm. This painful situation severely limits the normal range of motion. This is also seen with whiplash.
- Herniated disks: The vertebrae are cushioned by a gel-like substance found in the intervertebral disks. With force, the gel is forced out of the disk that normally sits between the vertebrae and into the area within which spinal nerves are found. This puts pressure on the nerves and subsequently causes pain. Herniated disk pressure may be relieved with surgery.
- Cervical radiculopathy: This occurs when pressure is placed on an exiting nerve by the herniated disk material. Since the nerves supply sensation and direct movement, this can result in lost feeling, inability to move and weakness in the area supplied by the nerve.
- Vocal cord paralysis: Vocal cord paralysis is caused when the larynx or voice box is hit during an accident or the nerves supplying it are disrupted. When this happens the individual is incapable of speech or has significantly persistent hoarseness, throat pain or vocal fatigue and may have respiratory issues as well. In the latter situation, the person may have an inability to breathe out and this requires medical intervention. It can sometimes be fatal unless treated.
- Carotid artery damage: The carotid arteries that supply blood to the brain can be injured in an accident where the neck is impacted. This can result in decreased blood flow to the brain, causing a brain injury. Depending on the degree of injury, the victim may be severely affected or die.
Symptoms of Neck Injury
Common injuries to the neck can produce the following symptoms:
- Decreased range of motion, often seen in whiplash and muscle spasm
- Jaw discomfort
- Upper thoracic pain often experienced between the shoulders
- Tightness in the muscles on either side of the spine
- Pain in the low back
- Visual difficulties, including blurred vision
- Arm numbness
- Balance difficulties
- Problems swallowing
- Speech problems associated with vocal cord damage
- Sensation of swelling in the throat
- Breathing difficulties
How a Neck Injury Is Valued
The value or amount of compensatory damages a victim receives is dependent on the severity of the injury and whether it will result in chronic problems or not. For instance, someone who has fractured a vertebra or herniated a disc will likely require surgical intervention. In some cases, recovery takes an extended period to complete and for some the healing process stalemates at a specific level.
Persistent problems require long-term care and increase the amount of financial compensation that is required. It stands to reason that a muscle pull in the neck, while painful, requires less treatment-associated costs than the removal and subsequent fusion of a herniated disc. Most often physical therapy is an intricate part of the recovery process.
Money Damages in Neck Injuries
Economic damages are more predictable than non-economic damages, particularly when a jury is involved. Economic damages such as medical cost and lost wages are list items where bills and employment records are used to access the monetary amount. Non-economic damages are not calculated in the same way and include the physical pain the person suffers, both at the time of the accident and in the future and psychological and emotional damages.
Non-economic damages are case-specific and decided by the jury if the case goes to court. One facet of non-economic damages is the loss of quality of life. This involves the degree to which an injury affects an individual. For example, in a serious neck injury where damage to the nerves supplying the upper extremities exists, the person’s use of his or her hands will be affected. If the injured party is a surgeon, the ability to perform surgery may be lost. The impact this has on the individual will require taking into account the person’s mental and emotional response to the loss.
Proving Negligence in Neck Injury Cases
Proving negligence in an injury case is essential. Without this, the case will have little or no merit. An attorney will be able to investigate the accident using on-site factors such as road marks or the final placement of vehicles, witness statements, video capture of the accident and police statements to come to a viable conclusion. On occasion, a forensic expert will become a valuable asset in reconstructing the accident. Once negligence is proven, the case will be able to proceed.
Call Upon a Neck Injury Law Firm
When you or a member of your family has suffered neck injuries due to a negligent driver, you have the right to demand compensation for the financial losses you endured. Retaining an attorney with experience in this type of injury along with the acumen necessary to take the case through to its conclusion with a successful end is necessary.