If you’ve suffered a herniated disc from a car accident, you’re not alone. Aside from abrasions and bruises, neck and back pain are the most common injuries sustained during a wreck. The majority of these injuries are caused by damage to your spinal discs, such as a disc herniation.

In this article, we’ll be sharing everything you need to know about herniated discs and herniated disc personal injury cases—from how long recovery may take to the damages you can claim in your final settlement value. Let’s get started.

What is a Disc Injury?

Intervertebral discs, also known as spinal discs, work as cushioning for your vertebrae.. They prevent your spinal bones from painfully rubbing together, making it possible for your spine to bend and twist and helping to keep your body upright. Spinal discs also absorb the shock your spine receives from everyday activities, like walking or sitting.

When you’re involved in a traumatic event, such as a car crash, the tough outer layer of your spinal disc can crack and release its soft, gel-like center—almost like when you squish a jelly donut. This is called a disc injury. Other back and neck injuries, such as whiplash, can tear the outer layer of your spinal disc as well. 

There are several types of disc injuries, but the most common are bulging disc injuries and herniated disc injuries. Note that both conditions must be diagnosed by specific medical imaging, as trauma to intervertebral discs will not show on x-rays

A Bulging Disc Injury

Spinal discs, sometimes spelled spinal disks, have a tough outer layer of cartilage called an annulus fibrosus and a soft, gel-like center called a nucleus pulposus. A bulging disc injury occurs when the outer layer cracks, revealing the soft center. This type of injury is more likely to only affect the outside cartilage rather than the disc’s entire perimeter. 

A bulging disc injury can be caused by normal, age-related wear and tear. However, a car accident can exacerbate the injury and create a disc herniation. When this happens, the gel-like center fully leaks out of the disc.

Side view of artificial human lumbar spine model and herniated disc. on white background A blue stethoscope and a reflex hammer on table in medical office.

A Disc Herniation Injury

A disc herniation injury occurs when a crack in the outer cartilage allows the gel-like nucleus to fully protrude out of the disc and leak into the canal that houses your spinal cord. When this happens, it’s called a ruptured disc. Because the fluid-filled center has fully oozed outside of the disc, it is more likely to cause radiculopathy

Radiculopathy is an irritation of surrounding nerve roots, also known as a pinched nerve. When a ruptured disc causes a pinched nerve, it can create burning, tingling, or chronic pain. And, because your spine is home to so many different nerves, pain can radiate into the buttocks, legs, shoulders, or neck. A disc herniation is commonly caused by direct trauma to the spine. 

How Can You Get a Herniated Disc from a Car Accident?

There are many dangerous side effects of a serious car accident. In fact, an auto accident is one of the most traumatic events you can put your body through. Slamming between your steering wheel or dashboard and your seat can severely damage the delicate tissues of your spine. The force and velocity of impact can completely rupture the outer shell of your spinal disc. 

Remember that the center of your disc is much softer than the outside. Once the protective outer layer has been damaged by an auto collision or accident-related injury, the inner layer is left unprotected and can protrude from the disc. This results in a painful disc herniation

How Long Does it Take to Heal from a Herniated Disc Injury?

There is no guaranteed timeline for healing from a herniated disc injury. On average, damage can resolve within four to six weeks. However, the severity of the herniation, any pre-existing conditions, and your age can all impact how long it takes to heal. Not to mention, healing time relies on where in the spine the injury occurred.

The spine is classified into three sections:

  1. The cervical spine or neck, which moves the most
  2. The thoracic spine or middle back, which moves the least 
  3. The lumbar spine or lower back, which absorbs the most shock from movement

Because your neck and lower back move more and carry more weight than your middle back, injuries to these sections typically take longer to heal. It’s recommended you restrict activity as much as possible to encourage the healing process. Though, limiting your physical activity can keep you out of work for much longer than anticipated. 

Portrait of a senior therapist during the medical consultation showing anatomical model of vertebras in the office

What Damages Can You Claim in Herniated Disc Personal Injury Cases?

After sustaining a herniated disk in an auto accident, your body requires as much rest as possible to heal. If your job requires you to be on your feet for an extended period, bend frequently, or lift heavy objects, you will likely be unable to work in your normal capacity for several weeks. When you factor in lost wages, medical treatments, and the emotional pain injuries cause, a disc herniation can quickly become costly. However, you can fight for compensation for almost all damages.

The damages you can claim in herniated disc personal injury case include: 

  • Lost Wages: Money you would’ve earned from the time of the injury to the date of settlement
  • Medical Expenses: Past and future medical treatment, including surgery or physical therapy
  • Pain and Suffering: Compensation for physical and emotional stress 
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life: Compensation for how the injury has affected your life, such as the inability to participate in normal activities 
  • Impairment of Earning Capacity: Future missed income caused by the injury 

What is a Herniated Disc Personal Injury Case Worth?

If you sustain a herniated disk from a car crash, you can file a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver. Though, the settlement amount you receive varies greatly depending on multiple factors. An average car accident back injury settlement amount is calculated using the severity of the injury as well as the different expenses associated with the crash, such as medical bills.

For a simple injury that has limited medical expenses or minimal lost wages, a herniated personal injury case could result in a $20,000 to $100,000 settlement. A more serious injury that involves surgical discectomy, steep medical bills, or impairment of earning capacity could exceed $500,000. Bear in mind that each case is different, and you should consult with a personal injury attorney to better understand what your herniated disc injury case is worth.

Factors that Influence Herniated Disc Settlement Value

Several factors influence settlement value for herniated disc cases. Pre-existing spinal injuries, such as an existing bulging disc, as well as the severity of the injury itself, can potentially decrease your settlement amount. Likewise, liability and negligence involved in the accident can alter a settlement value. For instance, if you shared a percentage of responsibility with the at-fault driver, that percentage can be taken from your settlement amount. 

Other factors that can influence a jury verdict on a herniated disk settlement value include:

  • When the injury manifested—was pain present immediately or did it develop later?
  • What medical imaging or exams support the injury—have you had a CT scan or MRI?
  • What medical care was necessary—did your injury require invasive surgery, such as a discectomy or an artificial disc replacement

Lastly, having an experienced personal injury lawyer to fight your case can dramatically impact the chances of receiving a fair settlement for your claim. Utilize the attorney-client relationship to speak openly with your attorney about the accident and how it’s negatively impacted your life. 

Cervical spondylosis with disc herniation ( MRI of cervical spine : show cervical spondylosis with disc herniation compress spinal cord ( Myelopathy ) )

Let a Personal Injury Lawyer Deal with the Insurance Company

The insurance company is notorious for offering accident victims far less than their case is worth. When it comes to a herniated disc from a car accident, the insurance company can argue the injury was pre-existing or not as severe as it actually is. An insurance adjuster may insist that an injury made worse from trauma is not deserving of full compensation, especially in the case of a bulging disc from a car accident.

Understanding how to deal with an auto insurance claims adjuster can be challenging, especially when they discredit the injury that’s been impacting your life. At the law firm of Skousen, Gulbrandsen, & Patience, we believe that when a collision turns a dormant condition into an injury that affects your wellbeing, you deserve a fair settlement. Before confronting the insurance company alone, consider having us, a trusted law firm, provide a case evaluation.

Seek a Free Consultation for Your Pain Today

A disc herniation injury can put you out of work and restrict you from participating in the activities you love. If you suffered a herniated disc as a result of an accident, it’s time to explore your legal options. Request a free consultation today for legal advice to start planning your case.