A back injury claim allows you to
get compensation from the person or business that is legally responsible for
causing your injuries, or the underlying accident that led to your injuries.
Since back injuries can range from strains and sprains to spinal cord injuries
and paralysis, the settlement value of any given claim must be determined on a
case-by-case basis. However, there are some general guidelines that apply when
assessing the settlement value of a back injury claim, and this article offers some tips to
keep in mind.
is Based on Compensable Damages
Typical compensation for a back
injury claim includes both economic and non-economic damages (which are usually
grouped together as a single award of “compensatory damages”). Let’s take
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 (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.
For a herniated disc, a surgery costs about $6,000 on average (this
according to a 2006 report in USA Today, so current costs are
likely a little higher). X-rays, which are often required even for
minor strains and sprains, can cost from around $100 to more than $1,000,
while physical therapy will likely cost at least $100 per session. 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. Lost wage 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 (or loss of
earning capacity) is calculated under a complex formula that includes
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
(sometimes called general damages) provide compensation for non-monetary losses
associated with the effects of your back injuries -- losses that aren’t always
easy to put a dollar value on. Non-economic compensatory damages typically
- Pain and suffering:
multiplier is often used to assess pain and suffering damages. That
means your economic compensatory damages (i.e. medical expenses and lost
wages) will be multiplied by a set number (between 1.5 and 5, for example)
although in cases of serious injury, the multiplier may be significantly
higher (10, for example).
- Emotional distress: When
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 (as in cases of partial or total
paralysis, for example) 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
of consortium damages may be awarded. In some states, these damages
are included as part of a back injury victim's compensatory damages award.
Elsewhere, affected family members must sue separately for loss of
In rare circumstances, punitive
damages may be awarded in a back injury case. But there must be proof that the
defendant’s action or inaction in causing the accident amounted to more
than just run-of-the-mill negligence, and even then, punitive damages are
usually only awarded after the case has gone through a full civil trial and a
jury has decide that punitive damages are appropriate. The defendant’s conduct
must be considered so outrageous or egregious that payment of additional
damages is justified -- not in order to compensate the back injury victim, but
the defendant’s behavior.
Factors That May Affect the Value of Your Back Injury Claim
While the severity of injuries is
the major determining factor in the value of a back injury claim, two other
considerations can also affect the amount of compensation received in a settlement or jury verdict. These
- Comparative/contributory negligence: In a small minority of "contributory
negligence" states, you recover nothing at all if you were partially
at fault for causing the incident that resulted in your injuries. In the
majority of states, a different rule called “comparative negligence”
applies, and you may be able to recover as long as the other party was at
least 50 percent or 51 percent responsible (states have different rules on
the required fault percentage). Your damages award will be reduced by the
amount of responsibility that you bear (so if you’re deemed 20% at fault,
you’ll only collect 80% of your total damages). See
this page to find your state’s law.
- Failure to Mitigate Damages: After an accident, you are required to take reasonable
steps to mitigate your damages. For instance, let’s say you suffer a back
sprain and your doctor prescribes a compression brace for you to wear for
up to 12 hours a day. But you don’t wear the brace at all (in fact, the
defendant can prove you never even picked it up from the pharmacy), and
your injuries become worse. Since you could have taken reasonable steps to
treat your injuries, but chose not to, the defendant will almost certainly
be off the hook for at least a portion of your damages.
To help you understand how compensatory
damages and the multiplier work to estimate an insurance settlement, check out AllLaw’s