The most common type of injury following a car accident, pedestrian accident, bicycle accident, or slip n fall accident is a herniated disc injury. While most herniated discs affect the lower back (lumbar spine), the neck (cervical spine) and, the upper back (thoracic spine), are can also be affected.
So now that you know it is the most common injury following an accident, exactly what is a herniated disc?
What is a Herniated Disc?
A healthy disc is a small and spongy material that rests in between the bones (vertebrae) that form the spine and act as a shock absorber. However, when a disc is damaged it may bulge, rupture, or herniate. This is called a herniated disc. It may also be called a slipped or ruptured disc.
What causes a herniated disc is where the battle lies in most if not all accident cases. In order to receive compensation for a herniated disc injury, a plaintiff must prove that the accident caused the herniated disc or aggravated a pre-existing condition. Thus, there are 2 ways a disc can herniate.
Age or degenerative changes
Think about it as simple wear and tear of the disc. As you age, your discs dry out and aren’t as flexible. This is the insurance companies standard defense to every herniated disc case. The big insurers(State Farm, Allstate, Progressive, GEICO) are dismissive of herniated disc cases and raise degenerative changes as a standard defense. As a brief aside, we recently settled a case with GEICO where they claimed my 16 year old clients herniated disc was degenerative. Obviously, we were able to discredit the ridiculous defense.
Trauma or Injury to the spine
When this happens, the gel inside the disc can be forced out through the tears or cracks in the outer layer of the disc. This causes the disc to herniate, rupture, or fragment into pieces.
When the disc herniates (bulges) it can press on nerve roots. The pressure can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the area of the body where the nerve travels. A herniated disc in the lower back can cause pain and numbness in the buttock and down the leg. For example if you have a disc that herniates to the right, you may have pain and numbness down the right leg. Left sided disc causes left sided radicular complaints.
A herniated disc injury is treated with physical therapy, epidural injections, and surgery (If all else fails).
Herniated disc injuries are serious, and juries recognize the value of lifelong pain. A Miami jury recently awarded $6.3 million to a cruise line worker who was injured on the job and then sent for back surgery. The verdict included $5 million for past and future pain and suffering, $714,194 for future medical care and $514,131 in lost future earnings.
Insurance companies will not only deny causation, they will also challenge the severity and future limitations caused by the injury. They may want to think twice about that argument, as this football season alone two high profile players had their season cut short because of a herniated disc. See Tony Romo and Arian Foster.