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Herniated Disc From a Car Accident

Herniated DiscOne of the most common injuries in a Florida car crash is a herniated disc. A herniated, protruding, or ruptured disc is sometimes mistakenly called a bulged or slipped disc, but these are other types of disc injuries which we will discuss in more detail later in this article. A herniation occurs when the nucleus (center, softer part) of the discs between the vertebrae in your spine push through a crack or rupture in the annulus (tough exterior that surrounds the nucleus). A herniated disc from a car accident can be a very painful condition because those discs, which are supposed to act as a shock absorber for the spinal bones, can become compressed or push on a nerve, sending shooting or radiating pain (as well as other possible symptoms) up and down the spine and into the limbs (this is referred to as radicular or radiating symptoms)

As noted in research published in the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, the most common injuries in motor vehicle accidents are the cervical spine (neck) injuries and lumbar spine (low back) injuries. Cervical disc injuries are more common in people involved in rear-end and t-bone crashes, while lumbar risk injuries occur more frequently in side-swipe and head-on collisions. Injuries to the cervical spine are often referred to as “whiplash” or a coup contrecoup injury; this can be made worse if you hit your head on the headrest or are bracing for an impact that you can see about to happen.

Our Fort Myers car accident lawyers have the experience necessary to prove that these injuries can either be caused by (or made worse from the particular facts of your case). Our lawyers understand that the severity and pains of a herniated disc can vary significantly depending on:

  • The angle of the crash
  • The speed of the vehicle(s) at the time of impact
  • The size of the vehicle(s) involved
  • The age, size, and overall health of the person injured (and whether he/she had any pre-existing conditions)

Fortunately, many herniated discs do not require surgery, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. For some, symptoms may improve within a couple of weeks with adequate rest from strenuous activities and some ibuprofen for pain. However, more severe herniated disc injuries can necessitate further evaluations and diagnostics by a spine specialist (such as a neurosurgeon). They might recommend pain or muscle-relaxing medication, epidural steroid injections, nerve ablation, physical therapy, and possibly surgery if more conservative methods are not effective.

Urgent evaluation and treatment will be necessary if the herniated disc is accompanied by symptoms like a significant arm or leg weakness, loss of feeling in the genital/rectal area, loss of bladder or bowel control, significant recent infection or fever. Without treatment, a severely herniated disc can result in:

  • Pain that limits regular activity or impairs the quality of life
  • Loss of bladder and bowel functions
  • Development of progressive neurological deficits, such as weakness or numbness in the legs, arms, hands, feet, and even fingers and toes
  • Cauda Equine Syndrome which requires immediate medical care

Car insurance companies have conditioned people to think that back and neck injury complaints are trivial and unworthy of compensation. The reality is crashes are the root cause of a significant percentage of serious back injuries – including herniated discs. Medical research has established that even low-impact crashes can cause spinal injuries.

Pre-existing back and neck injuries can complicate claims for crash-related herniated discs by allowing the defense to challenge causation. Still, violent crashes can result in massive disc herniation, usually leaving little dispute as to the cause. Experienced car accident lawyers prepare for challenges with a thorough investigation, review of medical records, and input from expert witnesses.

Herniated Discs and PIP Auto Insurance

What is tricky about herniated discs from a Florida injury lawyer perspective is the fact that they can often be asymptomatic, at least initially. You might not immediately know that the car accident you were just involved in caused a herniated disc, which can complicate your claims for PIP (personal injury protection) coverage under the 14-Day Rule and the Emergency Medical Condition Rule.

PIP is insurance you purchase under Florida's no-fault system of coverage that offers up to $10,000 in coverage for a portion of your medical bills and lost wages (the time you were forced to take off work). PIP covers this no matter who caused the crash. It is only for serious or “permanent” injuries (broken bones, head injuries, loss of bodily function, etc.) that you can step outside the no-fault system and pursue a claim for pain and suffering against the other driver for negligence that resulted in damages. 

Per F.S. 627.736: your $10,000 in PIP coverage may be limited to $2,500 if you do not have an "emergency medical condition," manifested by acute symptoms of sufficient severity, which can include severe pain, impairment of bodily function, or dysfunction of any body part or organ. This is the Emergency Medical Condition Rule.

However, the 14-Day Rule holds that you have just two weeks after a Florida car crash in which to seek medical treatment (medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or dentist), or else you forfeit your PIP coverage altogether.

That is why our South Florida car accident lawyers stress the importance of seeking a medical evaluation as soon as possible after a crash, even if you are not rushed to the hospital in an ambulance straight from the scene. The longer you wait to seek treatment, the higher chance that an inconspicuous injury may get overlooked, you forfeit your PIP coverage, or you will have a tougher time proving causation in an injury lawsuit.

Contact Our Experienced Lee County Car Accident Lawyers

Our team is committed to exhausting every avenue of compensation for our clients. Call or email Garvin Injury Law today for a free consultation, and we will evaluate your claim and determine the appropriate course of action. We have offices in Fort Myers, Naples, and Key West and have been handling accident cases in South Florida for more than 30 years.

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