Updated August 3, 2021


Back Injury Settlement & Strategy


Back Injury Settlement GuideEven a car accident that may not initially appear to be serious can cause serious, permanent back injuries.  This is true even at low speeds, and even when there is little to no damage to the car.  Our firm has folders full of scientific medical journals to back that up.  This is information that helps you prove your case, and squeeze out larger back injury settlement amounts from insurance companies.

To help you fully understand the value, and flaws, of your back injury claim, we will teach the following topics in this article:

   Different insurance adjuster arguments for back injuries

   Anatomy of a back injury

   Factors that go into a back injury settlement

   Sample back injury verdicts and settlements

If you still have questions after reading this article, or you need a lawyer, fill out the contact form on this page, call or email us.  We are happy to help.

 


Anatomy of a Back Injury


Back Injury Liability

Allowing our bodies to bend and stretch, the spine has three natural curves that help to keep us balanced.  While our spines are undoubtedly flexible and strong, they can easily become damaged when facing sudden traumatic force.  This can happen even with, and sometimes because of, seat belts.

Although seat belts save lives, they also result in terrible back injuries.  They pin the spine down on two points while the rest of the spine bends and twists during a car accident.  This results in flexion and extension muscle tears, ruptured spinal discs, and can cause sudden fractures.

These injuries are identified with medical terminology which references the different parts of the spine, discussed below.

Spine 101spine

The spine is referred to by its grouped parts, which are:

♦   Cervical (neck)

♦   Thoracic (upper neck)

♦   Lumbar (lower back)

♦   Sacral (sacrum, found in the pelvis)

♦   Coccygeal (coccyx, found in the pelvis)

When we talk about back injuries, we are usually talking about injuries to the thoracic and lumbar spine.  In a typical car accident, it is very rare for someone to injure their sacrum or coccyx.

If the injury is to one of the vertebrae or to a spinal disc, then the diagnostic films, medical records, doctors and lawyers will refer to the specific level of the spine (as referenced by the vertebrae number) where the injury occurred.  Those levels are:

♦   Cervical vertebrae (C1-C7) – neck

♦   Thoracic vertebrae (T1-T12) – middle/upper back

♦   Lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5) – lower back

♦   Sacral vertebrae (S1-S5) – pelvis

The spinal discs are in between these vertebrae.  This is why an injured disc is never called, for example, a “C3 disc injury.”  It would be called a “C3-C4 disc injury”, because that identifies the two vertebrae between which lies the injured disc.


Back Sprain & Strain Injuries
a/k/a Soft Tissue Back Injuries


What is a Sprain or Strain Back Injury?

During a car accident, damage to soft tissue ligaments and tendons in the muscles surrounding the vertebrae may happen.  This may be called a back strain or sprain in your medical records. It is estimated that as much as 80% of all back pain is from some form of soft tissue injury.

During a car accident, the impact between the vehicles involved can cause the back muscles to stretch or tear, and in some cases, to cause damage to the nerve endings.  The average back injury settlement is often linked to this kind of information.

If a muscle, ligament or tendon is torn, then there has been a partial or complete rupture of the soft tissue.  This could be where your back pain is coming from after an accident; knowing this can help you, or more likely your lawyer, determine accurate soft tissue back injury settlement amounts for your claim.

soft tissue of the back

How Serious is a Sprain or Strain Back Injury?

Symptoms of sprains and strains and their damage to the back range from very mild, right up to severe and debilitating.

As discussed below, these injuries can recover with a few weeks, a few years, or never which is why you should be careful negotiating any back injury compensation claim amounts without a lawyer’s help.

Can Sprain or Strain Back Injuries be Permanent?

 Yes, a sprain or strain can be permanent.  How severe the injury is can vary greatly depending upon the severity of the crash and the force of impact.

While it may be true that many sprain and strain injuries are minor and will gradually heal, the same cannot be said for all such injuries, some of which can have a direct, negative impact upon an individual’s everyday life, and for the rest of their life, too.

A settlement for a lower back injury should therefore take this reality into account.  If an adjuster argues this is too speculative, it may be appropriate to wait several months and continue getting your recommended medical treatments before accepting any settlement.

Do Permanent Lower Back Injuries Help My Settlement?

When a lower back sprain or strain is permanent, it will have a substantial impact on your settlement payout and should be considered in your back injury settlement calculator variables.

However, most insurance companies will see your case as just another soft tissue injury case, and will not make an honest settlement offer without a lawsuit being filed.  This is why often the average settlement for car accident back injury is lower than it should be for those without an attorney.

Catastrophic and/or permanent damage to the soft tissue in a person’s back will usually result in them having to find ways to manage their condition on a daily basis, with some forced to adapt their entire lifestyles in order to experience some quality of life.  A lawyer can help you prove these losses – by developing client stories, using demonstrative evidence, and utilizing third-party witnesses – to the insurance company to get a fairer settlement offer for you.

How Can Permanent Lower Back Sprains Increase My Settlement?

In some cases, injuries to soft tissue in the back may be catastrophic, with permanent consequences such as chronic numbness, chronic pain, limited mobility, loss of function and limited muscle strength.

These symptoms help increase payouts, assuming they can be corroborated.  If you have permanently restricted mobility, or range of motion, you should be entitled to a larger payout for the negative impact that will have on your life.  Proving those losses in a recoverable fashion goes well beyond simply telling the insurance company that these are your symptoms.

Lower Back Sprain and Strain Recovery

There are 3 phases of recovery for back sprains and strains.

   Acute – In the initial hours and days following a car accident in which you suffer a lower back sprain or strain, the injury is referred to as acute.

  Sub-Acute – As the body transitions from protecting the damaged tissue to repairing it, the injury enters the sub-acute phase, often lasting around six weeks.

♦   Remodeling – Finally, the injury enters the remodeling phase in which the body continues to stimulate new tissue growth to meet the injured individual’s mobility needs; this may take as little as six weeks, or as long as three months.

Should pain persist, the condition will likely be diagnosed as chronic by a medical professional, who will adapt a treatment and therapeutic schedule to help you recover, or learn to live better with your injury.

Treatment Lower Back Sprains & Strains

The treatment you get is in some way related to the settlement payout you get, and vice versa.

There are substantial limits to this, but generally speaking, more treatment results in more medical bills which results in more settlement money and is often therefore linked to how much of an insurance settlement for your back injury you will get. Again, that general statement has substantial limitations.

Back pain treatment for lower back strains and sprains caused by a car accident often includes:

♦   Physical therapy

♦   Exercise and movement

♦   Injection therapy

♦   Medication

♦   Dry needling

♦   Massage

♦   Acupuncture

Some of these treatments may help increase your settlement more than others, and some of them are oftentimes overdone by medical facilities which results in unrecoverable medical expenses.

It is important to speak with a lawyer right after your car accident so she or he can keep an eye on your progressing treatment and provide up to date advice on how your treatment will help or hurt your settlement payout.


Other Back Injuries


 Although sprains and strains are the most common type of lower back and middle back injuries, these are other common back injuries you may see noted in your medical records or hear a doctor say you have:

♦   Herniated disc – This results when the supportive discs in the spine slip out of place, crack or rupture. Extreme force can cause a herniated disc.

♦   Fractures – compression fractures to the spine can be sustained in a car accident when the vertebrae are damaged. Less common, but very serious and can result in the need for surgical hardware.

♦   Spinal cord injuries The spinal cord may become bruised, lacerated or damaged from the extreme pressure of a collision.  A spinal cord injury is not common following a typical car accident. What is much more common is spinal cord irritation from the other types of back injuries, such as a herniated disc.  Substantial spinal cord rehabilitation is often needed for these injuries.

Amongst these, spinal cord injuries are likely to result in the largest settlements on average.

The other two injuries are fairly equally balanced in their ability to get you a large settlement.  This is because a substantial herniation resulting in surgery is likely more than a non-displaced, non-surgical spinal fracture.  A lot of variables go into the mix and the valuation changes on a case by case basis.


Different Vehicle Impacts & Related Back Injuries


The type of accident you were involved in (meaning the type of impact, such as rear-end, head-on, and t-bone) can cause different types of injuries.

For example, a neck disc injury is more likely with a side-swipe or lane change, whereas certain lower back disc injuries are more common with a head-on or side-swipe accident.  This is powerful evidence that can be used to establish causation in your case.

For example, if you are over the age of 30, you have some amount of degeneration that is taking place in the discs in spine in your lower back.  The insurance company will argue that degeneration is to blame for your post-accident lower back pain.  But pain from degeneration does not occur spontaneously.

With the right attorney and literature supporting your case, you can make sure that your settlement is not lessened because of any bogus insurance company arguments like this.

Moreover, with supporting medical literature, your lawyer has evidence which helps bolster the strength of the relationship between your accident type and injury type.  That specific causation can sometimes get the insurance company to make a more serious settlement offer.


Insurance Arguments for Back Injuries


Insurance Companies Do Not Want To Pay

One thing to remember as you work on dealing with your injuries is that no matter the pain you feel you are in, or the amount you feel you may be entitled to, insurance companies to not want to pay out on these injuries.

Because of this, you must be crafty in your positioning.  Most people not represented by a lawyer end up giving too much information, and the wrong information, and it compromises the value of their back injury settlement amount.  The key is to give the adjuster only those things that will help your claim, then working past their objections with substantive evidence.

The 3 Parts of Your Back & the Insurance Company’s Approach to Attacking Your Injury to Each

In non-legal and non-medical settings, you can have three areas of back injury:

♦   Upper back injury

♦   Middle back injury

♦   Lower back injury

In the medical and legal world, we often refer to your spine to associate the different areas of your back injury.  Your spine has 2 areas of potential back injury that are shown in this graphic:

3 parts of back spine - Cop

♦   Thoracic spine

♦   Lumbar spine

Despite touting their ethics, insurance companies and adjusters do not behave fairly or ethically in investigating what body part was injured and how.  Their goal is to pay you as little as possible, not pay you what is fair.

Keep reading to learn how they try to do that in back injury cases.

Upper Back Injury
Insurance Arguments

Are you sure you injured your upper back in your accident? Maybe it was your shoulder or your neck which, coincidentally, had other pre-existing back problems or injuries.

If you have an upper back injury, expect the insurance company to muddy the waters by blending your upper back, shoulder, and neck into one group.  Then, the adjuster and defense lawyer can argue your car accident is not the source of your current symptoms.

Sometimes they are right and most of the time they are wrong.  You need a medically savvy injury lawyer to dig into your medical records and find out the truth.

Middle Back (Thoracic) Injury
Insurance Arguments

You need some background to understand this argument.  You have nerves that travel from your spine to the rest of your body.  From your neck, many of those nerves go to your arms.  From your lumbar spine, many of those nerves go to your legs.

The common result: cervical spine injuries can limit your normal use of your arms, and lumbar spine injuries can do the same for your legs.

What about thoracic back pain and injuries?  The nerves in your middle back, thankfully, do not travel outside of your middle back.  Thus, the insurance company may argue your thoracic back injury could be worse or is not as bad in comparison to other back injuries.  It is a terrible argument, but it is grounded in reality.

There are ways to beat this argument, but it requires a lot of case workup, and your case almost always has to get filed before you get a full and fair settlement.

Lower Back (Lumbar) Injury
Insurance Arguments

On average, 85% of people suffer from some episode of back pain.  Almost every normal life activity can cause lower back pain, depending on how hard you pushed yourself.

The result is that most people will have references of back pain in their prior medical records.  This raises doubts as to how much of your back pain is related to the car accident versus related to prior health issues.

There is a formula for this, which I came up with:

A bucket, full of water to the brim, is the full value of your settlement.
Every drop of water represents money.
Every drop of doubt that goes into that bucket makes space by pushing out a drop of water, thereby reducing your settlement payout.

For the insurance company, it is not about proving whether your back pain was or was not from the prior issues.  Their goal is simply to create doubt.  That is their weapon, and it is a powerful one that works.

Thankfully, for injury lawyers in the know, there are several plaintiff only strategy guides that teach how to overcome that doubt.  Yes, we have those guides.  We use them every day to maximize our clients’ settlements.

IBP - LB

Back Injury
Settlements & Verdicts
From Vehicle Accidents


$2,760,000
Rear end truck accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$2,500,000
T-bone car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$1,941,000
Rear end car accident verdict with lumbar disc injury

$1,850,000
Lane change tractor-trailer accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$1,600,000
T-bone car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$1,410,000
Rear end car accident settlement with lumbar and thoracic disc injury

$1,220,000
T-bone construction truck accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$1,200,000
T-bone car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$1,175,000
Rear end vehicle accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$618,000
Rear end truck accident verdict with lumbar disc injury

$600,000
T-bone car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$550,000
Side-swipe car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$500,000
Rear end truck accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$490,000
Rear end car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$370,000
Vehicle accident settlement with thoracic fracture injury

$300,000
Rear end car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$250,000
Left turn motorcycle accident settlement with lumbar back injury

$190,000
Side-swipe car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$112,000
T-bone car accident settlement with thoracic disc injury

$110,000
Left-turn car accident settlement with lumbar back injury

$100,000
Rear end car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$100,000 
T-bone car accident settlement with lumbar disc injury

$98,000
Rear-end car accident settlement with lumbar back injury


Average Back Injury Settlements


Surgery Case 

If surgery to repair a back injury is necessary, then the total cost of treating a back injury can exceed $100,000 depending on where you, geographically.  In a city like Los Angeles, a lower back surgery can cost twice as much as it would in a rural country town.

For back surgery cases, the average settlement is over $100,000.  In the Los Angeles area, the average settlement for a lower back injury claim with a surgery is over $300,000.

The average lower back injury settlement for an accident involving a truck is over $250,000.  That average settlement number balloons to over $500,000 in Los Angeles based on the average back injury settlements we have researched and recovered for our clients.

Lower Back Sprain & Strain Settlements

For lower back injury settlements for sprains and strains, the average settlement is between $10,000 and $50,000.  The larger settlements are the result of better lawyering and specific facts which can change the value of your case.  You can read more about that on our page devoted to busting the settlement calculator myth.

Elements of a Back Injury Settlement

A fair settlement for a back injury sustained in a car accident should take into account your medical bills, loss of earnings and pain and suffering.  The medical bills and  lost wages should include past and future losses.

There are ways to document those claims to increase the likelihood of recovering settlement money for them.  You should speak with your lawyer about ensuring your doctors are documenting your injuries in sufficient detail.

Treatment often includes an MRI, CT scan or X-Ray. Other tests may also be necessary to determine the extent of the injury.  These treatments and diagnostics quickly add up, and help increase the amount of your settlement.

This is also why it is important to follow the doctors orders and not miss any doctor appointments.  Every doctors appointment you miss will not only hurt your recovery, but it can also affect your settlement amount.

Factors That Can Lower a Back Injury Settlement

Below are some of the factors that can have an impact on your back injury settlement claim.

Liability

No back injury claim is going to be successful if the insurance company believes that the victim is partially (or fully) to blame for causing the car accident.

Gather as much evidence as possible from police reports and medical assessments to help back up the claim, and be prepared to fight to prove your innocence.  If liability can be definitively shown to the insurance company, it will help ensure you get the highest settlement possible.

Seriousness of Injury

For the maximum settlement from an insurance company, you must prove the extent to which you were injured, and how the injury has affected (and continues to affect) your life.

If it can be shown the injury is permanent, this will also help increase the settlement.  For sprains and strains, this generally cannot be done unless the symptoms persist for more than six to twenty-four months.

100+ Factors

There are over a hundred factors than can negatively or positively impact your back injury settlement.  The above are just a few.  An experienced lawyer who knows all of these factors should assess your case.  This will help ensure no money is left on the table when negotiating with the insurance company.


Back Injury Settlement Timeline

How Long Will it Take to Settle a Back Injury Case?


Simple Cases Resolve in Under 18 months

In many cases, accident victims involved in a car accident in which they sustained a back injury are able to resolve their cases in 12-18 months.

However, if the injury is serious or treatment takes more than a few months, it can take years before you have a settlement check in hand.

The timeline of each specific case will vary depending on a number of factors.  Two of those factors are below.

The severity of the injury

Ranging from a relatively straightforward (but no less painful and debilitating) muscle strain right through to a fractured spine, treatments for back injuries caused by car accidents vary greatly.

This means that the treatments will differ vastly, too. When the treatment takes longer, so too does the settlement.  If the injury is permanent and treatment ongoing, the case will often take 3 or more years to resolve.

The litigation process and jury trial

Cases that have any wrinkles or anything the insurance company can hang its hat on to argue your case is worth less usually take longer to resolve.  Bad offers result in prolonged litigation, unless you accept the lowball offer.

With most sprain and strain injury cases, you will be forced to litigate the case before you get a fair settlement.


Back Injury Q&A


Will my back injury be permanent?

Not all back injuries will be permanent, but there is a chance that yours may be. This all depends on the severity and circumstances of your accident.  If your injuries are soft tissue and they persist for more than 12 months, there is a high likelihood your injury is permanent.

What is the average payout for a back injury claim?

The average payout will depend on your specific situation, but back injury cases can go as high as $200,000-$300,000 in some cases.  If it’s a soft tissue injury, it will generally be under $25,000.

If it is a spinal disc injured in your back, your case will be worth between $50,000 to $400,000 on average, depending primarily on (a) whether you get surgery and the result of that surgery, and (b) where you are located geographically.

Can a seat belt cause a back injury?

Seat belts help to save lives but unfortunately they can also cause accidents and damage to your back in an accident.  This is because the seat belt pins you down at the hip and shoulder, allowing your back to flex unnaturally due to the momentum of impact.

How will I know if my back pain is serious?

Back injuries need the input of a medical professional and the best way to know how serious your pain is would be to see a doctor.  You want to get treatment before it progresses and you learn that your injury got worse due to you trying to “tough it out” while you recovered.

Can a minor car accident damage my back?

Yes, absolutely.  Even minor car accidents can cause serious back injuries. The back is a sensitive part of the body and it can be affected negatively even if the accident seems minor.  We have represented numerous clients who suffered terrible back injuries in minor impact accidents.

Which part of my back will hurt after an accident?

While any part of your back may hurt after an accident, the lower back is the most common part that will hurt in the period right after an accident.  This is also the area most likely to show degenerative disc disease, and is vulnerable to many insurance company arguments.  You need careful planning to maximize the value of these claims.

How long will it take for my back pain to go away?

Back pain can take a few weeks or can take a few months to heal and start to go away. For some people, back pain can be permanent and chronic.  You should NOT WAIT for it to go away before taking action.  By then, you will have failed to “mitigate your damages,” meaning the insurance company can blame you for not getting better, and argue that you should have gone to a doctor sooner.

It sounds like a terrible argument, but it is not.  It is the law, and the insurance company will win if you use a “wait and see” approach to getting medical treatment after your accident.

What is the treatment for a herniated disc?

A herniated disc can sometimes heal on its own. In some cases, surgery, medication and physical therapy will also be needed.  Pain management, in the form of different types of surgical injections, are also commonly used to treat the symptoms of a herniated disc.

Can I fracture my back in a car accident?

In a high impact car accident, it is possible to fracture your back and have long-term damage which will require surgery and stabilization of your back.  Although not common in a run-of-the-mill accident, back fractures are more likely to occur in those accidents if the victim is older or has pre-existing injuries which make her or him susceptible to those injuries.

Is nerve damage a common effect of a back injury?

Many lawyers get this answer wrong, because there is a major difference between nerve damage and nerve irritation.  No, nerve damage is not a common effect of a back injury.  Nerve irritation, however, is a common symptom of a back injury.  Nerve irritation can result from a variety of structural changes caused by a back injury in a car accident.  Those changes can impinge or irritate the nerve, without actually damaging it.


30 Minute Free Consultation with
Los Angeles Back Injury Lawyers


Car accident claims involving back injuries are difficult to settle favorably if the injuries are lower back strains or sprains.  These are injuries that insurance companies are notorious for lowballing.  The adjuster will lowball you to the moon without a lawyer to defend your claim.

Even with back disc injuries, insurance companies will almost always try and argue your injury is pre-existing.  We always advise people who call us to NOT sign a medical release for the insurance adjuster to try and prove them wrong.  That will do nothing to help and has a high risk of backfiring and hurting your settlement payout.

With years spent fighting insurance companies on these issues, we are prepared to cut through the bad offers and fight to get you a fair settlement for your back injury.  We offer a 30 minute free consultation to everyone hurt in a car accident.  Call, email, or message us using the contact form below, 24/7, for your free consultation.

Lawyer Experienced in Herniated Disc Injuries & Steroid Injection Settlements

The University of Alabama at Birmingham,  NSCISC, Frequently Asked Questions

Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Dept. of Neurology, Back & Neck Pain

Ofer M. Zikel, MD, The First Steps of Recovery After a Car Accident, Aurora Health Care, July 25, 2018

Hodges, P. W., James, G., Blomster, L., Hall, L., Schmid, A., Shu, C., … & Melrose, J. (2015). Multifidus muscle changes after back injury are characterized by structural remodeling of muscle, adipose and connective tissue, but not muscle atrophySpine40(14), 1057-1071.

Huecker MR, Chapman J., Seat Belt Injuries. [Updated 2020 Oct 15]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.

Nolet PS, Kristman VL, Côté P, Carroll LJ, Cassidy JD. The association between a lifetime history of low back injury in a motor vehicle collision and future low back pain: a population-based cohort study. Eur Spine J. 2018 Jan;27(1):136-144. doi: 10.1007/s00586-017-5090-y. Epub 2017 Apr 8. PMID: 28391385.

Mukasa D, Sung J. A prediction model of low back pain risk: a population based cohort study in Korea. Korean J Pain. 2020 Apr 1;33(2):153-165. doi: 10.3344/kjp.2020.33.2.153. PMID: 32235016; PMCID: PMC7136293.

Wallace, A. S., Freburger, J. K., Darter, J. D., Jackman, A. M., & Carey, T. S. (2009). Comfortably numb? Exploring satisfaction with chronic back pain visitsThe Spine Journal9(9), 721-728.

Iyer, S., Christiansen, B. A., Roberts, B. J., Valentine, M. J., Manoharan, R. K., & Bouxsein, M. L. (2010). A biomechanical model for estimating loads on thoracic and lumbar vertebraeClinical biomechanics25(9), 853-858.

Harrison, D. D., Harrison, S. O., Croft, A. C., Harrison, D. E., & Troyanovich, S. J. (2000). Sitting biomechanics, part II: optimal car driver’s seat and optimal driver’s spinal modelJournal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics23(1), 37-47.

About the Author

Article Author:  This law article was written by attorney Ray Benyamin, Esquire.  Mr. Benyamin received his Juris Doctor degree from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and his license to practice law from the State Bar of California.  His law license number is 277263.  He has been practicing law for 10 years.  Mr. Benyamin is a registered member of the following legal organizations: Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles (CAALA), the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA), the State Bar of California, the American Bar Association (ABA), and the American Association for Justice (AAJ).  Mr. Benyamin has personally helped his clients recover over $10,000,000 dollars in vehicle accident insurance claims in the State of California.

Our Lawyers Serve Clients in Los Angeles, California & Nationally

Serving all of Los Angeles, including Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Claremont, Canoga Park, Chino, Chino Hills, Covina, Diamond Bar, Downey, East Pasadena, El Monte, Encino, Highland Park, Inglewood, La Verne, Long Beach, Malibu, Montebello, Monterey Park, North Hollywood, Northridge, Pasadena, Pomona, Rancho Cucamonga, Reseda, Rosemead, San Gabriel, San Dimas, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, South Bay, South LA, South Pasadena, Sunland, Tarzana, Thousand Oaks, Torrance, Van Nuys, Venice, West Covina, West Hollywood, and Westlake Village.

Serving all of California, with a focus on Kern County, Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, San Diego County, Santa Barbara County, and Ventura County.

Serving nationwide in all 50 states on a case-by-case basis with a national network of relationships and on a Pro Hac Vice basis.