Did you know more than 800,000 car accidents involving neck injuries are reported annually in the U.S. alone? From rear-end collisions to side-impact wrecks, car accidents are the primary cause of neck injuries in America. If you’ve recently injured your neck in an accident, doctors have likely referred to your injuries as damage to the “cervical spine,” the medical term for the bones and tissue that make up your neck.
A cervical spine injury can be completely life-changing, creating emotional and physical trauma as well as thousands of dollars in medical bills and lost wages. After suffering a cervical spine injury, you likely have dozens of questions—among the first may be how to reclaim the damages you’re owed.
Today, we’re discussing cervical spine injury settlement amounts as well as the factors that can influence your individual personal injury case.
What Are the Most Frequent Car Accident Back Injuries?
Your spine is one of the most delicate components of your body. It houses your spinal cord, which carries information from your brain down to the rest of your body. The bones that make up your spine are called vertebrae, and these bones are separated by jelly-like cushions called intervertebral discs.
Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves help maintain the structure and integrity of your spine. Medically, the spine is classified into three sections: cervical, thoracic, and lumbar.
- The cervical spine is your neck, from the base of your skull to your shoulder blades.
- The thoracic spine is your mid-back, from your shoulder blades to the bottom of your ribs.
- The lumbar spine is your lower back, from the bottom of your ribs to your hips.
A violent car accident can traumatize the sensitive components of your spine, which can lead to spinal injuries or debilitating back pain. Keep reading for the most common back injuries from car accidents.
A compression fracture occurs when a vertebra partially or completely breaks. Compression fractures generally occur in the thoracic (mid-back) or lumbar spine (lower back). These fractures typically occur when the upper part of the body is thrown forward while a seat belt restricts the lower half. This rapid motion causes the vertebrae to pull apart, fracturing the delicate bones. Compression fractures can cause chronic pain that worsens with movement over time.
Spondylolisthesis is the medical term for when a single vertebra slips out of place. This type of injury typically occurs at the base of the spine, but much like a compression fracture, can happen anywhere in the back. Spondylolisthesis is caused by spondylosis, or when a fracture in the vertebra forces the bone to move forward, backward, or over another bone.
Unlike a compression fracture where you can typically feel the symptoms immediately, spondylolisthesis tends to be one of the many delayed pains after an accident. Symptoms may not appear for weeks or months after the crash.
This is why it’s crucial to receive medical attention immediately after the incident, even if you’re not experiencing significant pain. Early documentation of damage (especially if it includes a diagnosis) can increase the value of your back injury settlement.
Bulging or Herniated Discs
We keep mentioning the intervertebral discs in this article, and for good reason. Your body has 23 spinal discs, and each holds an important purpose. These cushion-like discs rest between each bone to prevent your vertebrae from painfully rubbing together, plus they give your spine flexibility to bend, twist, and move. Violent collisions may damage one or more spinal discs, causing a bulge or disc herniation.
A bulging disc occurs when the outer cartilage of the spinal disc cracks, revealing its soft center. A bulging disc injury can be caused by age-related wear and tear or pre-existing spinal conditions. However, an auto accident can worsen existing damage and create a disc herniation.
A herniated disc occurs when the gel-like center of the intervertebral disc leaks into the spinal canal. The disc herniation itself can cause pain and swelling, but the aggravation to surrounding nerves can create a tingling, burning, and stabbing sensation. Bulging disc injuries and herniated disc injuries can also press on the spinal cord, transmitting intense pain to the legs and lower back.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Your spine is composed of several different types of soft tissue, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, and nerves. A muscle is a band of tissue responsible for movement. A tendon is a type of tissue that links muscle to bone. A ligament is a band of fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone at your joints.
During a car accident, the rapid forward-backward or side-to-side motion can cause these delicate tissues to stretch or tear. This soft tissue damage can include mild to severe back pain.
Damage to soft tissue goes by two names: sprains and strains. A sprain is a soft tissue injury caused by a tear in the ligaments. A strain is a soft tissue injury caused by a tear in the muscles or tendons. Soft tissue injuries themselves, as well as the above common back injuries, can create nerve damage, which furthers feelings of pain and discomfort.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Damage to the spinal cord is one of the more serious injuries you could sustain in a car accident. Spinal cord injuries range from cord pressure and bruising to partial or total paralysis. Spinal cord damage can cause you to lose sensation in parts of your body or lose reflex functions altogether.
Along the way, spinal cord injury victims may have several complications, including infection, bleeding blood clots, and pneumonia. Individuals with permanent injury may have to undergo cervical fusion surgery or an alternative type of spinal surgery to repair the damage.
What Are Common Neck Injuries After a Car Crash?
Car accidents can cause a lot of serious injuries, and among the most serious are injuries to the cervical spine. The cervical spine, or neck, consists of seven cervical vertebrae referred to as C1 through C7.
These bones run from the base of your skull to the top of your shoulders. Cervical vertebrae are especially important, as they contain the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2). These delicate bones influence your center of gravity, mobility, and more.
Just like the thoracic and lumbar spine, the cervical spine is incredibly vulnerable to injury during a car crash. Your head tends to rush forward on impact, which can severely damage the fragile structures there. The trauma from an auto accident can damage both the atlas and the axis, resulting in severe injuries.
Cervical vertebrae are small, measuring just under an inch wide. But despite their small size, they balance a whole lot of weight. In fact, your atlas bears the weight of your entire head, which is about 11 pounds on average. Your atlas is also responsible for facilitating movement between your head and neck, meaning it helps your head nod and shake.
The impact of a car accident can cause your atlas to become misaligned. When this happens, it interrupts the communication between your brain and the rest of your body. This disruption can make it difficult to move your head, and it can lead to neurological difficulty. As a result, issues with memory, sleeping, and balance can occur.
Whiplash is undoubtedly one of the most common auto accident injuries. Also referred to as whiplash-associated disorder (WAD), it’s actually a type of sprain caused by a tear in the neck’s delicate ligaments. During an auto accident, the rapid back-and-forth motion causes the neck to rush forward and then snap back, stretching or tearing the sensitive soft tissue.
Immediately after an accident, the symptoms of whiplash may not be apparent. Whiplash symptoms can appear days or weeks after the accident occurred. Generally, whiplash creates localized neck and shoulder pain, as well as a limited range of motion in the cervical spine. In more severe cases, whiplash can cause chronic headaches, dizziness, and vertigo. Your total whiplash personal injury settlement typically relies on the severity of the injury.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Much like the lower regions of the spine, the neck can also receive spinal cord damage in an auto accident. Severe spinal cord damage in the neck can cause partial or total paralysis, or it can cause a victim to lose sensation and reflex functions from the neck down. A cervical spinal cord injury may also lead to bleeding, blood clots, and infections, such as pneumonia.
What Are the Types of Damages in a Cervical Spine Neck Injury Claim?
Before searching for cervical spine injury settlement amounts, it’s important to fully understand the types of damages that can be included in an injury claim. There are two types of damages in most car accident cases: special and general.
What are Special Damages?
Special damages are expenses that are capable of exact calculation. They’re tied to a precise number, which can usually be found on a receipt, bill, or statement. Special damages are also referred to as “economic damages” for this reason.
Examples of special damages included in an accident settlement:
- Medical bills and future medical expenses, including home care
- Lost earnings and lost earning capacity
- Property damage
What are General Damages?
General damages are expenses that are not capable of exact calculation. They refer to the emotional and mental damages suffered from a car accident. For this reason, they’re referred to as “non-economic damages,” since they’re not tied to a number. However, that’s not to say general damages don’t increase the value of your case.
Non-economic damages typically include the hardships your accident caused, including:
- Long-term disability or paralysis
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Emotional trauma
- Pain and suffering
Major Neck Injury Settlement Amounts
Average neck injury settlements can be hard to estimate. Much like any type of personal injury claim, neck injury settlements vary wildly depending on the individual factors of each case. When neck and back injuries are catastrophic, settlement values can go into the millions. The following cases detail some pretty devastating damages as well as the sizable compensation the victims received.
$5.1M for a Hit-and-Run Case
A man in New York received a $5,160,916 verdict after being in a hit-and-run car accident case. The man was a passenger traveling in a company-owned truck when the at-fault motorist ran a stop sign and collided with the truck’s passenger side. The at-fault motorist then fled the scene. The victim suffered disc bulges in two spots in his lower back and disc protrusions at three spots in his neck. He required spinal fusion surgery in two places and had to begin weekly treatments of chiropractic therapy, physical therapy, and acupuncture. Despite his efforts, his range of motion was severely impacted, and he was unable to return to his career as a landscaper.
$2.7M for a Side-Impact Accident
In another car accident case, a 60-year old retiree received a $2.76 million cervical spine neck injury settlement after he was hit by a United Parcel Service (UPS) truck operator. The victim was sitting in his double-parked car on a two-way road when the truck operator approached from behind.
The UPS truck driver entered the opposite lane to pass the victim’s vehicle but was met with oncoming traffic. The truck operator then swerved the truck back into the victim’s lane, colliding directly into the victim’s vehicle. The victim sustained serious injuries to his neck and back, which required an anterior cervical discectomy, cervical fusion, and lumbar fusion surgery.
$2.4M for a Rear-End Collision
Lastly, consider the 39-year-old customer service technician who received a $2,400,000 settlement from his accident with a commercial truck. The truck operator rear-ended the victim’s car in stop-and-go traffic, causing devastating neck injuries. The truck accident was so severe, the trunk of the victim’s vehicle was crushed, and his rear-view window was shattered.
The victim sustained serious injuries to his neck and lower back, including herniated discs. Required medical expenses included spinal fusion surgery as well as future medical attention, including epidural injections in his cervical spine. The resulting damage caused the victim to be unable to return to work and created intense feelings of stress, depression, and chronic anxiety.
Minor Cervical Spine Neck Injury Settlement Amounts
Bear in mind, the average settlement amount for minor neck and back injuries are generally much smaller, such as $10,000 to $100,000. For instance, an injury that requires minimal treatment and recovery time will average roughly $25,000. The only way to get an accurate idea of the value of your injury claim is through a consultation with an attorney.
8 Factors That Affect Cervical Spine Injury Settlement Amounts
While the settlement amounts above may seem promising, that’s not to say there’s a fixed settlement sum for neck injuries sustained during a car accident. It’s important to understand each car accident has varying factors (such as total damages or liability) that impact its overall settlement value.
Your personal injury settlement will be directly impacted by your injury type and the medical treatment necessary. In fact, there are eight factors that influence the average settlement for cervical spine injuries. We discuss them below.
1. The Severity of the Neck Injury
The severity of the injury refers to the extent of the injury itself as well as the healing time. A minor sprain can heal within a few weeks. A fracture can heal in a few months. Paralysis is forever.
The timeline for healing, as well as the amount of medical treatment required during the healing process, directly impacts your potential settlement amount.
Consider it this way: The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center reports that the average lifetime cost of a spinal cord injury is $5 million for a 25-year-old victim. The average first-year cost for a quadriplegic is $1.5 million. In comparison, a minor injury that requires weekly chiropractic treatment may only cost $10,000 a year, depending on insurance.
2. The Need for Ongoing Medical Treatment
After a car accident, you may need to visit cervical spine specialists, doctors, surgeons, and physical therapists. In many cases, you may require ongoing medical treatment to regain range of motion, decrease pain, and improve strength.
Ongoing medical care for cervical spine injuries includes:
- MRIs, CT scans, X-rays, EMGs
- Neck braces
- Physical therapy
- Home assistance
- Surgeries, such as discectomies, fusions, and laminectomies
- Steroid and/or pain injections to reduce pain and swelling
- Pain management and medication
3. The Need for Spinal Fusion Surgery
Surgeries are a massive investment—not just financially, but emotionally and physically. Surgeries involve lengthy hospital visits and require rehabilitation. Having a surgery also means you endure the risk of infection and complications. Not to mention, additional doctors and surgeons may be required to care for you.
Generally speaking, spinal fusion surgery can increase the overall price of a settlement. Unlike minor injuries, an injury that requires spinal fusion surgery averages more than $200,000. This is evidenced by the multi-million examples above in which all victims required surgery.
4. The Amount of Pain and Suffering
Car accidents are traumatic in and of themselves, but suffering cervical spine injuries can create severe emotional duress. From heightened emotions to feeling generally overwhelmed, car accident victims can experience high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and even PTSD. The constant wave of emotions and fatigue is collectively referred to as pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering are non-economic damage that can significantly increase your accident settlement. For example, a victim with serious injuries may experience a significantly decreased quality of life. In turn, this factor increases its overall settlement amount. While no amount of money can erase the accident, it can help a victim resume a normal lifestyle as best as possible.
5. The Ability to Return to Work
Accident victims with serious injuries often struggle to find or return to work. A neck injury could keep you out of a job for months or longer, so your settlement must include lost income. For instance, a bulging disk can make standing or sitting pure agony. If your job requires you to stand for hours on end or sit for long periods of time, you may not be able to return to work at all. Not to mention, a spinal cord injury can make lifting, reaching, bending, or twisting impossible.
Plus, pain medications can cause drowsiness or dizziness, making returning to certain positions dangerous.
It’s key to work alongside a car accident lawyer to determine how your neck injury affects your lifetime income.
Remember, you can only file one claim for your injuries—you can’t follow up in ten years seeking more compensation because of an inability to work. A strong attorney-client relationship can help you properly price lost wages and determine your accident’s impact on future income, so you can receive the compensation you deserve.
6. The Amount of Available Insurance Coverage
In the state of Arizona, you need to file an insurance claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to seek compensation for your damages. If the at-fault driver was working when the accident occurred, such as in the UPS example above, you might be able to file a claim against their employer as well. Having two avenues for filing could increase your settlement amount.
The reasoning behind this is the amount of available insurance coverage. When you can file against multiple insurance policies, you have more of a chance of receiving full compensation for your damages. Cervical spine neck injuries can be physically, emotionally, and financially devastating.
They involve medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and more. A personal injury lawyer will pinpoint every insurance policy that could pay for your injuries. For example, if the liable driver’s insurance policy limit is not adequate, your lawyer may consider tapping your own policy’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or uninsured/underinsured coverage before filing a lawsuit.
7. The Strength of Your Personal Injury Case
When discussing cervical spine injury settlement amounts, you must bear in mind the strength of your personal injury case. Not every neck injury case is black and white, and the at-fault driver could blame you for the accident. Likewise, auto insurance companies like to blame injured parties by citing comparative fault laws, which can slash your settlement amount.
For instance, a no-fault state like Florida may handle a case differently than a fault state, like Arizona or Texas. To counter aggressive insurance companies and defense attorneys, you need a strong case and a skilled personal injury attorney.
8. The Statute of Limitations for Your Claim
Every state has a statute of limitations on filing personal injury claims. A statute of limitations is a time limit placed by courts that determines how long a victim has to file a civil lawsuit or take action against the individual who harmed them. Arizona has a two-year statute of limitations for a car accident personal injury claim.
If you proceed with legal action immediately after sustaining cervical spine damage in a car accident, you likely won’t have to worry about your statute of limitations expiring. However, if you received delayed injuries and were not aware of their extent for several months, you should confirm your case still falls under the statute of limitations in your state.
Who Pays a Neck Injury Settlement?
Neck injury lawsuits are typically filed when car accident victims do not receive enough from an insurance claim to cover medical costs, lost wages, property damage, and other expenses. Filing an injury claim allows you to sue the responsible party and/or their insurance company to recoup your damages. The party that pays your neck injury settlement depends on which avenue you and your attorney chose to take: an insurance claim or a lawsuit.
Receiving an Average Settlement from the Insurance Company
Before diving into a lawsuit, your car accident attorney will first attempt to work with the at-fault driver’s insurance company to recoup damages. Your attorney will investigate all aspects of the collision and document each detail of the case before submitting a demand letter to the other party’s insurer.
If the insurance company rejects your claim or offers a counterclaim, your attorney will negotiate with the insurance adjuster to obtain a fair settlement offer. If you’re pleased with the settlement offer, the timeline is expedited, and a check can be released to your attorney.
In many cases, however, the insurance company doesn’t make a satisfactory offer. If this occurs, your lawyer will advise you about moving forward with a civil lawsuit against the other motorist and their insurance company.
Filing a Lawsuit to Collect Damages
If negotiating with the insurance company doesn’t work, you might need to file a lawsuit to recoup your damages. A lawsuit for a motor vehicle accident begins with a complaint—a legal document typically prepared by your lawyer that details your version of events and what you expect for your suffering.
Whether your car accident attorney can prove negligence in your case—and how negligent the at-fault driver was—will affect your neck injury payout and if a judge or jury rules in your favor. If the jury verdict finds the other driver at-fault, the driver or their insurance company must release a check to your attorney which will then be dispersed to you.
Do You Need an Attorney for a Neck Injury Settlement?
Many cervical spine injury victims question whether they need an attorney from a reputable law firm to guide them through the settlement process. But achieving a neck injury car accident settlement is not as cut-and-dry as you may think. Throughout the insurance claim or lawsuit process, you must provide a plethora of evidence, give a detailed breakdown of all damages (special and general), and establish liability. Not to mention, your goal is likely to maximize your potential compensation.
If you’ve experienced a neck injury from a car, truck, or motorcycle accident, err on the side of caution and contact a reputable car accident lawyer in your area. Building a strong attorney-client relationship with a knowledgeable attorney is essential to your case. An attorney is versed in negotiations with the insurance company and trial law, and they can effectively represent you in court. Plus, they can handle the claims or lawsuit process so that you can focus on healing.
Seek a Free Consultation Today
Cervical spine injuries can range widely, from strains and sprains to paralysis. So, the settlement amount for any one motor vehicle accident must be decided on a case-by-case basis. The only way to know if you’re receiving fair compensation is to ask the opinion of a trained personal injury lawyer. Seek a free case evaluation today to learn how much your neck injury settlement amount may be worth.