Choosing to pursue a personal injury lawsuit is a big decision, and you shouldn’t take it lightly.
But how do you actually make the decision? No attorney can tell you whether or not you have a viable lawsuit until thoroughly reviewing the particular facts at play in your crash. That’s why you should contact an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.
In the meantime, you can visit our page on the most common causes of motor vehicle accidents, and learn more about the legal theory of “negligence,” which governs most personal injury claims. Proving that someone else’s negligence contributed to your accident is the first step in winning a civil lawsuit.
Are My Injuries Grounds For A Lawsuit?
But the second step relates to your injuries. You’ll have to prove that you suffered serious injuries, with demonstrable effects, because of the crash.
Under New York’s no-fault insurance system, the viability of a personal injury claim directly relates to how severe a victim’s injuries are. In essence, you’ll have to prove that you lost a significant amount of money, opportunity and / or contentment because of the accident.
Losses (or “damages”) can be financial, like medical bills, or non-financial, like “pain and suffering,” a category that includes physical pain and psychological trauma.
Generally, the more you’ve lost, the stronger your claim will be. While health care costs can vary widely by state, and even within the same city, New York’s are some of the highest in the country. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation reports that New York State ranks 7th in the nation for highest health care expenditures per person.
How Much Is My Injury Worth?
Along with an attorney, you’ll have to judge whether or not your injuries are serious enough, and will require enough treatment, to make filing a lawsuit practical in the first place. For minor injuries, a successful insurance claim may be sufficient. Learn more about the common obstacles to securing fair compensation here.
Again, we can’t truly answer any of these questions without speaking to you. But we can give you a sense of which common crash-related injuries usually result in personal injury lawsuits.
Three Causes, Multiple Injuries
According to researchers at the Johannesburg Hospital in South Africa, car accident victims usually suffer polytrauma. Rather than a single, isolated traumatic injury, most crash survivors withstand multiple wounds.
During a car crash, you’re body is usually subjected to three forms of trauma at the same time:
- Blunt Force Trauma – The impact of an accident throws your body into parts of the car, like a steering wheel or dashboard.
- Sharp Force Trauma – Surrounded by shattering glass and splintered metal, shards of foreign objects pierce the skin.
- Internal Trauma – Obviously, vehicles stop abruptly during a crash. This sudden deceleration jostles your internal organs, which can become damaged in multiple ways.
These multiple factors explain why injuries usually range from external wounds, like burns or punctures, to internal ones, like organ damage, but rarely come separately.
Injuries also vary widely depending on type of accident. Pedestrians, who are often struck by an oncoming bumper, regularly suffer leg fractures, and then sustain head trauma as their bodies are thrown onto the windshield. Truck accidents are more likely to cause catastrophic, permanent disabilities than passenger vehicle crashes.
To find more information specific to various types of car crashes, click here.
Psychological & Physical Trauma
It’s crucial to note that motor vehicle accidents can cause both physical injuries and psychological trauma.
At least 25% of all severe crash victims suffer from psychological effects in addition to their bodily injuries. And these mental symptoms can be just as painful and debilitating as any spinal cord injury or bone fracture.
Some of these psychological conditions are truly “psychological”; the mind “produces” symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an example of a mental health condition that can arise after an awful accident, but does not require any damage to your physical body to occur. Other forms of psychological trauma are related to actual, physical damage sustained by the brain.
Both are real, and juries almost unanimously recognize the severity of mental anguish. Researchers at the Duke University School of Law found that 85% of auto accident victims who file successful civil lawsuits are awarded damages for “pain and suffering,” a category that often includes “emotional distress.”
5 Most Common Crash Injuries
1. Traumatic Brain Injury
According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 2.5 million Americans were admitted to emergency rooms in 2010 with symptoms of a Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI. The condition, which can be caused by any trauma to the head that disrupts brain function, leads to around 50,000 deaths each year.
Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of TBI, contributing to about 14.3% of all cases in the US.
What Is TBI?
A sudden blow to the head can cause considerable damage to the protective tissues that surround the brain. This can result in bleeding or swelling that pushes against brain cells and impedes their functioning.
In many cases, blood vessels within the brain, along with brain cells, are directly damaged. This can block the brain’s flow of blood, and lead to further damage as brain cells die without the oxygen and nutrients they need.
Even abrupt “twisting” motions, like those that often cause whiplash-type injuries to the neck, can tear cells within the brain apart.
How Serious Is My TBI?
Because a Traumatic Brain Injury is usually an emergency situation, medical professionals need to diagnose the condition and assess its severity immediately.
Directly after an accident, some people with TBI go unconscious. Most experience at least cognitive impairment.
Using the Glasgow Coma Scale, emergency responders can determine how serious the injury is by assessing a victim’s level of unconsciousness. The test involves asking victims to open their eyes, respond to questions and move their limbs.
At the hospital, various brain scans, including MRI and CT, are used to visualize a patient’s brain and assess the extent of damage.
When a Traumatic Brain Injury is considered “mild,” its symptoms can include:
- Unconsciousness that lasts a few minutes
- Confusion and disorientation
- Fatigue, a feeling of tiredness
- Loss of balance
- Sleep disturbances, either too much or not enough
- Sensory disturbances, like double vision, tinnitus (a ringing in the ears), or unprovoked tastes
- Trouble remembering events
- Difficulty focusing attention
- Drastic mood swings
- Depression or anxiety
The symptoms of a severe brain injury can be long-term and debilitating:
- Unconsciousness longer than a few minutes, including coma
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- Chronic headaches
- Numbness in limbs
- Inability to wake up
- Loss of coordination
- Extreme confusion
- Dysarthria, slurred speech
- Extreme agitation and other inexplicable behaviors
- Severe depression
Many people with TBI experience alternations in their cognitive ability. Memory, reasoning and decision-making may all be adversely affected. Social situations may become difficult, or impossible, to navigate. They may have trouble communicating clearly, or at all.
How Is A Brain Injury Treated?
Effectively treating Traumatic Brain Injury usually requires a litany of prescriptions, along with surgical procedures and on-going rehabilitation.
If the brain has swollen, diuretics, which increase urination and decrease the body’s fluids, may be immediately administered to reduce the pressure. A surgical operation in which the skull is opened to release fluids may also be considered.
Severe brain injuries often involve the loss of basic skills. With the help of specialized therapists, patients with TBI can begin relearning how to walk and communicate.
According to Research America, the “average lifetime health care costs for TBI are roughly $85,000 but can exceed $3 million.”
2. Back & Neck Injuries
Your spine, which runs from the base of your skull to your tail bone, is extremely delicate. It’s also essential to almost every movement you make.
Extremely common after car crashes, back and neck pain are usually caused either by:
- Sprains, in which the ligaments that support your spinal column, are torn.
- Fractures, in which vertebrae (the individual bones of which your spinal column is made) are broken.
Either trauma can cause chronic, debilitating pain. According to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, 40% of all missed work days are due to spinal pain.
Back pain is usually felt in the low back, near your lumbar spine. But more often than not, it “radiates” outward, affecting arms and legs as well.
The bones in your spinal column are separated and protected by soft, gel-filled cushions called “spinal discs.”
During the trauma of a car crash, these discs can break or deform, leading to a condition variously called a “herniated,” “ruptured,” or “slipped” disc. If fluid spills out of the disc, it can push on surrounding nerves, causing considerable pain. In any event, the disc will no longer be able to cushion your vertebrae properly.
Herniated discs in the lower back can press on your sciatic nerve, which runs through your buttocks down each leg. This condition, called “sciatica,” can cause severe pain and numbness.
What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a soft-tissue injury, caused by the sudden acceleration-deceleration of a motor vehicle accident. When the neck whips quickly forward and then backward, tendons and nerves can all be damaged.
The symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck pain
- Stiffness in the neck and shoulders
- Impaired range of motion in the neck
- Numbness in arms
- Dizziness and loss of coordination
With lower average muscle mass and narrower neck circumference, females are twice as likely to suffer a whiplash injury than males.
Severe cases that require long-term treatment can cost up to $65,000 in specialized rehabilitation and prescription costs.
How Are Back & Neck Injuries Treated?
Most cases of spinal pain are actually caused by inflammation. Tissues around the spine swell, pushing against nerves and causing pain.
Treatment usually involves reducing the pain itself, rather than searching for an underlying cause. Muscle relaxants and opiate painkillers are common, but controversial, medications used to treat back pain.
Pain usually subsides within several weeks, but can last up to three months. Patients who do not recover within that time usually require specialized therapies.
3. Spinal Cord Injuries
Buried deep within the vertebrae of your spinal column is the spinal cord. This long bundle of nerves transports messages from your brain to every part of your body, and it’s largely responsible for everything you feel and do, including “autonomic” functions like breathing.
When the spinal cord itself is damaged, victims of a car accident may experience total or partial loss of their most basic physical abilities. Breathing may be difficult, and movement impossible.
Motor vehicle crashes are the country’s leading cause of spinal cord injury (SCI).
Quadriplegia & Paraplegia
Generally, the effects of a spinal cord injury are felt where the cord is damaged and everywhere below that.
Spinal cord injuries that occur in the neck area usually lead to quadriplegia, or tetraplegia, a paralysis that incapacitates all four limbs, along with the body’s trunk. In many people with quadriplegia, the body’s autonomic functions are partially or totally incapacitated. Digestion, breathing, sexual function, bowel and bladder control may all be impaired.
When an SCI occurs lower down the spine, the injury may result in paraplegia, a paralysis that affects the lower extremities.
Can Spinal Cord Injuries Be Treated?
Directly after suffering a spinal cord injury, surgery is almost always necessary. Procedures may seek to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, remove fragments of bone from the cord or stabilize the spine, which may no longer be able to support the body’s weight.
SCI almost always results in permanent disability. Treating patients is a matter not of curing the condition, but of rehabilitating as much as possible.
According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, a 25-year-old who sustains a disabling injury to the upper cervical spine may have to pay $4,265,752 in hospital and rehabilitation costs over the course of their lifetime. Someone disabled at the age of 50 could pay up to $2,627,804 (estimates adjusted for inflation to 2014 dollars).
4. Bone Fractures
Fractures, or broken bones, are not “minor” injuries. They always require medical treatment, and often result in a considerable period of recovery.
In frontal collisions, fractures of the ankle, knee, hip and leg are common. The impact of the crash can throw passengers into the dashboard of their vehicle, which usually comes into contact with lower extremities.
When struck from the side, victims often sustain hip and pelvic fractures.
In a compound (or “open”) fracture, broken bones pierce the skin and exit the body completely. Open fractures are particularly traumatic; shards of bone can damage surrounding nerves and tissues. Infection also becomes more likely.
After a compound fracture, most crash victims require surgery, first to set the bone in proper alignment, and then to implant screws that will hold the bone in place while it heals.
Treatments for a broken leg that does not require surgery can cost up to $2,500. Surgical procedures to fix fractures can cost as much as $35,000.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, New York State’s roads, streets and highways saw 1,188 people die in fatal motor vehicle accidents in 2013. Nationwide, crashes are a leading cause of death.
If your loved one was fatally injured in a car accident, you may be able to file a “wrongful death” lawsuit against any negligent parties.
According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the average American funeral cost $7,045 in 2012.
Contact LIPSIG’s Car Crash Attorneys
Were you seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident?
The personal injury attorneys at Lipsig, Shapey, Manus & Moverman, P.C. are here to help. Our only goal is to see that your rights are respected, and our mission is to secure the maximum compensation to which you are entitled. For examples of our recent successful cases, click here.
You don’t have to go it alone. Call 212-285-3300 of fill out our online contact form. Schedule a free consultation and you’ll begin reviewing your situation with an experienced lawyer immediately.
Our car accident attorneys offer their services on a contingency-fee basis: you pay nothing unless we win your case.