Understanding Back Injuries

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 What Are Back Injuries?

Back injuries can range from minor muscle strain to serious injury that threatens a person’s mobility. The term covers any injury to the upper, middle, or lower areas of the back. Pain and problems with mobility are common symptoms of a back injury. Temporary incapacitation, and even paralysis, can result from serious spinal cord injuries.

What Are Some Common Causes of Back Injuries?

Back injuries can be caused in any number of ways. Many back injuries result from a physical blow or trauma to the back. The kinds of accidents that may cause this type of trauma include:

  • Automobile Accidents: Sadly, car accidents are a common cause of the full range of back injuries, from minor to catastrophic;
  • Slip and Fall Accidents: Simple slipping and falling can cause a range of back injuries;
  • Sports Injuries: Sports injuries cause back injury;
  • Failed Back Surgery: Sometimes an effort to correct a back problem with surgery fails and may even make a back problem worse;
  • Criminal Acts: Physical blows from a criminal battery or other violent crimes can cause back injuries to the victim.

It is also possible to incur a back injury from doing some activity repetitively, such as weight lifting, picking-up heavy items, picking-up items and twisting, and sitting or standing in one position for long periods of time. Certain occupations, especially those that involve moving and lifting heavy objects, can lead to significant back injury.

What Legal Theories Can Support a Back Injury Claim?

There are many ways in which a person can sustain a serious back injury. Some of them give rise to a claim for compensation. If a person has suffered a back injury, compensation may be available to to them in circumstances such as the following:

  • Workers Compensation: If a back injury or condition has been sustained in the course of a person’s employment, they may make a claim under their state’s workers compensation system. Under a state workers’ compensation system, if a worker can show that they were injured in the course of their employment, they are entitled to benefits paid directly by the workers’ compensation system;
  • Negligence: The negligence of another person can be responsible for a person’s back injury. For example, a person may slip and fall on a wet floor in the grocery store in a spot where a grocery store employee spilled water and did not clean it up or post a hazard warning. Or, if a surgeon attempts surgery to correct a back problem and it makes the injury worse, this would be the basis for a claim of medical malpractice based on a theory of negligence;
  • Criminal Activity: If a person has been the victim of a criminal act such as a criminal battery or a shooting, it is possible to file a civil claim for tort liability against the perpetrator of the crime. It is important to remember, however, that the perpetrator would have to have money to pay a civil judgment. The victim can only recover if the perpetrator has insurance or personal assets from which a judgment could be paid. If the perpetrator has no assets or insurance, then filing a lawsuit against them would be pointless;
  • Civil Liability for Tort Claims: There are a number of torts other than negligence that can lead one person to be civilly liable for causing injury to another person. There are intentional torts such as false imprisonment or invasion of property. If a person suffers injury in the course of an incident that involved one or more of these torts, they have a claim for compensation for their injuries;
  • Strict Product Liability: Under a theory of strict product liability, the victim who is injured by a defective product does not have to prove that the manufacturer or distributor of a product has been negligent. Instead, to recover damages, an injured party must only prove that a product was in some manner defective and caused their back injury;
  • Social Security Disability: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are the two largest federal programs that may provide financial support to people who are unable to work because of a disability. So, if a person’s back injury is caused by an illness, e.g. arthritis, or an injury not caused by the actions of another person or entity who can be sued for compensation, a person may need to file a claim for SSDI.

A person can file an initial claim for disability benefits online, over the phone or in person at their local Social Security Field Office. However, it is important to note that more than 60% of initial claims are denied. So, if a person files on their own and is denied, they would want to consult an experienced social security disability lawyer who can help them appeal the denial and hopefully find success with their claim.

The federal SSI program is much more limited. It is available only to people who are disabled, blind or at least 65 years old and have very limited financial resources. SSI would not be available to people who have worked for 10 years or more and have retired. It is exclusively for those who, for whatever, reason, have very limited personal financial resources. For example, a person who has never worked for whatever reason and is not entitled to retirement social security benefits might qualify for SSI.

In 2022, the maximum monthly benefit available from the SSI program is $841 a month for an individual and $1,261 for a couple, if both of the members of the couple are eligible for the program. Social Security subtracts “countable income” from the benefit amount, so if a person’s “countable income” is more than the amounts stated, the person is not eligible for SSI.

Can I Recover Costs Associated with a Back Injury?

The treatment of back injuries can be quite expensive. If some person or entity is legally responsible for causing a person’s back injury, costs that may be recovered include the following:

  • Lost Wages: A person can recover for wages lost if they are unable to work or must miss work for treatment and recovery;
  • Cost of Medical Care: Medical costs, including doctor and hospital bills, surgery physical therapy, rehabilitation and pain management, can be recovered. If the person’s injury causes permanent disability, this must be compensated as well;
  • Pain and suffering: Compensation for the pain and suffering a person experiences while injured and possibly on a continuing basis can be recovered;
  • Future Loss in Income: An amount for future loss of income can be recovered, if the injury will limit or prevent the person from earning wages in the future;
  • Punitive Damages: If the injury stemmed from criminal behavior where the defendant intended to harm the victim or from clearly purposeful actions, punitive damages may also be available. However punitive damages are awarded at the discretion of the court, and a person should never count on recovering punitive damages

In all cases, it is important to keep in mind that a person’s claim for compensation can only succeed if the person responsible for their injury has the funds available to pay any judgment.

Also, workers’ compensation programs are created by state law. While every state has a workers compensation program, each one offers different forms of compensation and in different amounts. Workers’ compensation programs are not uniform throughout the U.S.

Also, SSDI and SSI offer only a monthly sum of money and the amount is not based on the nature of a person’s injury or the costs they have incurred in treating it.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Suffer from a Back Injury?

If you have suffered a back injury from whatever cause, it is a good idea to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer in your area. Back injuries can be serious and can affect your quality of life for years, which is why speaking to an attorney is imperative. You may be able to recover the cost of treating your injury, and possibly more.

Your lawyer can review the facts of your case, and will pursue the best course of action suggested by the facts, whether that involves a lawsuit for negligence, a workers’ compensation claim or SSDI benefits. Your lawyer can represent in negotiations or in court, if necessary.

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