Last Update: 11/4/18
In the context of personal injury law, a herniated disk, or slipped disc, occurs when there is trauma and injury to a disk in an accident victim’s spinal column. They are known to occur in “minor” car accidents like slow speed rear-end collisions and in grocery store slip and falls.
These disks are located between the bones of the spine (vertebrae) and they act as a protective cushion when the spine moves.
A healthy disc acts as a round, flat “shock absorber” for the bones in the spine. The discs are formed by an outer layer called the annulus, which is filled with a jellylike material known as the nucleus.
As mentioned, it doesn’t necessarily take a great force to harm a spinal disc. In fact, a slipped disc can occur when a disc is pushed slightly. Many times it can even rupture, allowing some of its cushioning nucleus to escape the disk. This is known as a “ruptured disk.”
What are the Symptoms of a Herniated Disk?
Herniated disks can range in severity. Some will irritate spinal cord nerves, which can be very painful and can be life-altering. Others can block nervous system transmissions to the brain, causing numbness in an arm, hand, leg, or foot. Sometimes, herniated disks can even exist without any resulting symptoms.
When a medical provider is considering an accident victim’s injuries and the possibility of a herniated disk injury, he or she will consider the following signs & symptoms (as described by the Mayo Clinic):
- Arm pain
- Leg pain
- Neck pain
- Pain in foot or leg when you cough, sneeze, or move your spine into certain positions
- Numbness in arms, hands, legs, or feet
- Tingling in arms, hands, legs, or feet
- Weakness in the ability to walk (stumbling, etc.)
- Weakness in the ability to lift things
- Weakness in the ability of the hands or fingers to hold things.
The severity of the injury depends on whether or not the nerves of the spinal column are involved. For example, if the herniated disc is putting pressure on a nerve, then there may be pain, numbness, or weakness in the use of a hand or foot.
A specific type of pain known as Sciatica can result from a herniated disc. Here, the victim will suffer from pain, burning, or numbness from their buttocks down their leg and into their foot. This will usually impact only one side of the body.
Treatment for Victims of a Herniated Disk
- Bed Rest (for first few days)
- Low Activity (to allow spinal nerve inflammation to decrease)
- Epidural Steroid Injections for severe pain
- Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medication for moderate pain
- Opioid Pain Relievers for severe pain
- Muscle Relaxants
- Physical Therapy (including stretching, gentle massage, ice and heat therapy, ultrasound, electrical muscle stimulation).
There are a variety of surgeries that may be required to resolve a herniated disk. These include:
- Artificial Disc Surgery ( replacement of herniated disc with a manufactured disc)
- Discectomy (removal or partial removal of disc)
- Laminectomy (removal of most of the bony arch, or lamina of the vertebra)
- Laminotomy (opening made to relieve pressure on the nerve roots)
- Spinal Fusion (bone graft to form union between two or more vertebrae).
Filing a Claim for Herniated Disk Damages
Every accident victim who suffers a herniated disk should know that the at-fault party is liable to compensate the victim for their damages, which can include the victim’s pain and suffering, present and future medical expenses, lost wages and other economic and non-economic losses.
However, the injured victim must be proactive. A claim for those damages will have to be timely filed with the person(s) responsible for the crash or fall (or their insurance company).
Time Limit on Filing Injury Claim for Herniated Disk
As with all personal injury claims, there is a time deadline on filing a claim for damages in Florida. The statute of limitations states that the deadline is 4 years from the date the herniated disc injury happened. Florida Statute 95.11.
If you don’t file the claim by this date, then it is “time barred” and you cannot pursue the claim.
For more, watch: “How do statute of limitations work?”
The victim of a herniated disc will have to prove his or her damages, in addition to proving the defendant’s liability for the accident.
Proving damages can be done using various forms of evidence, including witness statements, medical records from the hospital, a doctor’s written prognosis, interrogatories, video surveillance, etc.
However, a herniated disk victim should know that insurance carriers, and their defense lawyers, are biased against herniated disk claims.
Case of the Slip and Fall Herniated Disk Back Injury
In the case of Ramey v. Winn-Dixie Montgomery, Inc., 710 So. 2d 191 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1998). Mr. Ramey slipped and fell while shopping at a Florida Winn-Dixie supermarket.
Sometime after his fall, he sought medical treatment and was told that he would suffer with back pain for the remainder of his life. Unfortunately, Mr. Ramey did not have insurance coverage (treatment of a herniated disc can be costly) which is why he delayed seeking medical treatment.
At trial, both the general practitioner and the neurosurgeon provided testimony that his fall at the grocery store caused a herniated disc. They also joined in his prognosis and stated that the slip and fall accident resulted in permanent harm to Mr. Ramey.
As a result, he would need periodic medical care for this spinal injury for the rest of his life. Meaning, his pain and suffering was permanent.
Winn-Dixie did not dispute this medical testimony. Moreover, the grocery store did not provide evidence that the injury wasn’t permanent, nor did they refute that the back pain existed and would need treatment for the rest of Mr. Ramey’s life.
They argued against Mr. Ramey being compensated solely because he delayed getting medical treatment. They defended this by arguing that mysteriously, the passage of time had impacted his injury and increased its severity.
This was disproved by the victim’s medical experts. Mr. Ramey’s doctor explained that since Mr. Ramey had no medical insurance, and no surplus funds, he was forced to get treatment when and how best he could do so.
Winn Dixie failed to provide any medical evidence that Mr. Ramey’s herniated disc was exacerbated by the delay in getting treatment. The defense’s argument that he should be denied damages for his herniated disk failed.
Filing a Lawsuit for Herniated Disk Injury
If an accident victim cannot satisfactorily resolve their claim for herniated disk damages, then a lawsuit is the only real option to get justice from the person(s) responsible for the accident. See, “3 Reasons Why an Injury Claim Becomes a Lawsuit.”
In Florida, most personal injury lawsuits settle before going to trial. However, some injury claims will go to trial which can take years to conclude.
Case of the Doctor’s Rear End Collision and Herniated Disk: The Expert Fight
This is particularly true when experts question the cause of a spinal injury.
For instance, consider the case of Nathanson v. Houss, 717 So. 2d 114 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1998), Here, Dr. Houss was involved in a rear end collision. The accident was considered a minor crash, with the cars traveling at a very slow speed.
Dr. Houss was stopped in a right-hand turn lane. The defendant was also stopped in the same lane, and admitted that he allowed the front of his car to collide with the rear of Dr. Houss’ car.
The doctor was hurt in the accident and suffered a back injury. It was determined that Dr. Houss’s herniated disk was caused by the rear-end accident.
No one disputed that the driver of the rear car was at fault. However, there was a huge controversy over the injuries sustained by Dr. Houss.
This was confirmed by medical tests and various medical experts. These medical experts diagnosed and treated him, and also provided testimony at trial.
Regardless of the scoffing of the adjusters and the defense lawyers, Dr. Houss was seriously hurt. So much so, that preliminary treatment was unsuccessful. He had to have surgery on his spinal cord.
However, the defense team refused to respect the doctor’s claim even after he was forced to have surgery in order to alleviate his pain and restore his mobility.
First, they argued that he had suffered from a preexisting condition: a degenerative disk.
They also argued that even if it was a herniated disk, that can be caused by everyday activities and not necessarily from the rear-end collision.
They brought forward several medical experts to refute the experts testifying for the victim. These included an orthopedic surgeon; a neurosurgeon; and a radiologist. It became a fight between the experts.
Nevertheless, Dr. Houss won his case. It was found that the evidence he presented supported a reasonable conclusion that the herniated disk existed, and that it was caused by the car accident.
What Should You Do?
If you have back pain after a slip and fall accident or a car crash in Florida, then you may be suffering from a herniated disk caused by your accident. If so, then those who caused that accident may be liable to you for your damages.
This is true regardless of the resistance you may have received from their insurance adjuster. Claims adjusters are notorious for discounting spinal disk injuries, particularly when they are the result of a minor accident such as a rear end collision or a slip and fall.
If your doctor believes that you have sustained a back injury, then you need to take steps to protect your legal rights and to assert your claim for damages against those who are responsible for your injury.
A good piece of advice if you have been injured in a car accident or in a slip and fall and have a herniated disc, is to speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the common disputes that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and to learn how most insurance companies respond to these claims. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
We have also provided additional information for those interested in learning more about accident liability.
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Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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