As Florida’s population grows, so does your likelihood of being in a car accident. With over 17 million registered vehicles in our state and nearly as many licensed drivers, the chances of you being in a car accident on Florida roads are certainly real. Each year, there are over 400,000 accidents in Florida, resulting in more than 250,000 injuries and 3,000 deaths, and there’s no reason to think that these numbers will decrease in the future.
Some car accidents, of course, are fender-benders—mere inconveniences for drivers who then have to go without their wheels for a few weeks while their cars are repaired, but which have no real consequences in their lives beyond that. However, other accident victims wish they had only suffered property damage in their accidents. Victims may suffer neck and back injuries that have lifelong effects, both in terms of physical pain and ongoing financial costs.
Even victims with health insurance may be left with a mountain of bills that they can’t pay due to copays, high deductibles, and coinsurance requirements. Those without insurance are sure to suffer financial catastrophe after serious accidents. In fact, medical debt is the main reason people have to resort to filing bankruptcy—fully two-thirds of all bankruptcy filers cite medical bills as a factor in their decision to file.
That doesn’t have to be your story, though. Florida law recognizes that people who are injured by the negligence of others can be saddled with an extreme financial burden, and the law allows these individuals to seek damages (monetary compensation) from and hold accountable the person who hurt them in court.
Don’t put off filing your lawsuit. The law generally requires that you file your car accident injury lawsuit within four years from the date of the accident. This is called the statute of limitations and is a hard and fast deadline. If you file after four years has passed, the court will most likely dismiss (toss out) your lawsuit, in which case you will be left with no legal avenue to seek compensation for your injuries, no matter how good your legal claims are or how seriously the other driver injured you.
Of course, the sooner you file, the sooner you may receive damages from the other driver. You can bet that bill collectors aren’t going to give you a pass on paying your bills until the statute of limitations runs and you have resolved your case. Rather, they will continue to harass you and take all the steps that they legally can to force you to pay, likely wrecking your credit score in the meantime. Furthermore, filing your suit is just the beginning of the process. Car accident lawsuits are complicated and can take a while to resolve, so you could be looking at literal years of the financial mess caused by your accident if you put off filing.
Save yourself the stress and reach out to an experienced Florida car accident neck and back injury attorney as soon as you can.
Neck and Back Injuries
Neck and back injuries are common car accident injuries and range in severity from sore muscles to total paralysis.
Your spine is made up of vertebrae and discs that cushion them. Herniated discs form when sudden back-and-forth motions displace them. The herniated disc applies pressure to the vertebrae and surrounding nerves. People who have herniated discs often experience sharp and sudden pain in the lower back or pain and numbness in their arms and legs.
Fractured or Dislocated Vertebrae
Herniated discs can also affect the vertebrae by pulling them apart. This kind of dislocation causes the ligaments that hold the vertebrae together to tear, which allows the bone to move. In some cases, the disc breaks the vertebrae. Fractured vertebrae can be extremely dangerous, as pieces can pierce the spinal canal and lead to either temporary or permanent paralysis.
A common injury sustained in rear-end collisions, particularly when they occur at high rates of speed, is whiplash, which is a soft tissue neck injury. It’s caused when the neck experiences a forceful back-and-forth motion, like that of a whip. Even when wearing a seat belt, car accident victims can still suffer whiplash. While other injuries improve over time, whiplash can get worse before it gets better. Those with whiplash may experience extreme fatigue, pain and stiffness in the neck, dizziness, limited mobility of the neck, or numbness and tingling in the arms.
Spinal Cord Injuries
The most serious back injuries are those involving the spinal cord, not only because of the damage caused by the injuries themselves, but because they also leave victims at risk for other types of medical issues. The spinal cord can be permanently damaged, causing total or partial paralysis, loss of function and reflex, or loss of feeling in different parts of the body. Other medical problems, such as blood clots or bleeding, spinal fluid leaks, and pneumonia, can occur once the spinal cord has been injured.
How Much Are Your Neck and Back Injuries Worth?
If you’ve been injured in a car accident and are now facing both physical and financial challenges due to neck or back injuries, one of the biggest unknowns in your life is probably how much your neck or back injury is worth. The value of a case depends heavily on the individual facts of that case. That said, Florida law sets forth three different types of monetary damages that car accident victims may seek from the driver who caused their injuries: (1) economic, (2) non-economic, and (3) punitive.
The intent of economic damages is essentially to allow victims to recover actual costs that they incur to diagnose, treat, and recover from their injuries. These damages are relatively easy to calculate and have a tangible dollar amount associated with them.
It’s helpful to think of them in general as things you get a bill for, including the following:
- Medical treatment: This includes any ambulance transportation, the cost of your initial hospital stay—including surgeries, X-rays, lab tests, diagnostic testing. Once you’re released, you may still have ongoing costs associated with follow-up appointments, prescriptions, or various types of therapy such as physical, speech, or occupational. Some serious injuries require victims to engage in rehabilitative therapy, either residential or outpatient.
- Medical equipment: Victims may recover the cost of different types of medical equipment needed due to their injuries—things like wheelchairs and walkers, oxygen machines and tanks, or prosthetic devices.
- Lost wages: Even when injuries are relatively minor, victims often still miss work to treat them. Severe injuries can cause long absences from work, making financial hardship even worse than simply the medical bills that pile up.
- Future wages: In some cases, victims may permanently lose the ability to work. In others, an injured person may work, but cannot return to his or her previous job and thus forced to take one that pays less due to physical or mental disabilities that resulted from their injuries. These individuals deserve compensation for this difference in wages. While certainly not as easy to calculate as wages you have already lost, if you are facing a long-term loss of wages in the future, an actuary can calculate that amount, and you may recover from the person who injured you. Future wage loss is calculated by taking into consideration such factors as your pre-accident wage, professional training, education, potential for advancement, age, and life expectancy.
- Services: If your injuries have prevented you from performing services for yourself or your household, and you are now required to hire someone to do them for you, you may recover that cost in a car accident lawsuit. This may include the cost of childcare or transportation, house cleaning and maintenance, or lawn care.
Because economic damages compensate victims for actual losses, carefully track all of these expenses. That means opening all bills, even though it can be stressful. You also need to keep receipts and invoices for things like medication, equipment, and services. As you document your lost wages, make sure that you track not only any base salary you lose, but also any tips, retirement contributions, or commissions you could not earn. When in doubt about whether or not to keep a piece of paper, keep it; tuck it into a file. That way, there will never come a time during the course of your case where you think “I really wish I knew less about how much my injuries cost me.”
Non-economic damages are those losses that are intangible, but still very real. You may have suffered a physical impairment or disfigurement in your accident. Victims may recover damages for physical and mental pain and suffering or inconvenience. Those who suffer neck and back injuries may face paralysis and thus should seek compensation for the loss of use of their bodies.
Although non-economic damages are more difficult to prove, since they don’t come with a physical price tag, experts can review your circumstances and assign a number to these very real damages. Medical experts can testify as to the level of pain that patients with your condition typically experience and how long it usually lasts. Therapists and psychiatrists can attest to the level of mental anguish you have demonstrated to them. It may be appropriate for family members to provide their perceptions surrounding how you have changed since the accident.
Even though you don’t have to provide physical documentation, keeping a journal with entries about your pain and mental state can be helpful to shore up your claim for non-economic damages.
Rarely awarded in Florida, punitive damages are based, not on the theory of compensating victims, but on punishing the person who caused the injury and deterring similar behavior from others in the future. These damages are generally reserved for cases involving especially egregious conduct—typically cases that involve an intentional infliction of harm. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may ask for punitive damages.
Unlike economic and non-economic damages, punitive damages are capped by law in Florida at three times the amount of combined economic and non-economic damages or $500,000, whichever is greater.
Punitive damages also differ from other types of damages in that punitive damages are only awarded by a jury, rather than negotiated out of court with the other party. A judge may also use his or her discretion to lower a punitive damages award from a jury if the judge finds the amount to be excessive.
How a Car Accident Attorney Can Help
Never file a car accident lawsuit on your own. The other driver and his or her insurance company will without a doubt bring a team of attorneys whose responsibility is to ensure that their employer pays you as little as possible. These complicated suits can require hours of painstaking records review and interviews with witnesses and professionals, not to mention a thorough understanding of personal injury law.
Most car accident suits settle out of court, making strong negotiating skills a must for anyone who is fighting for you. If your case doesn’t settle because you do not receive an offer that satisfies you, then you can choose to take your case to a jury trial, an undertaking that requires a certain set of skills that not every attorney possesses.
Don’t go it alone. Let an experienced neck and back injury attorney fight to maximize your compensation.
Can a Car Accident Attorney Help You?
Yes. Neck and back injuries from car accidents can have catastrophic consequences for victims. These injuries are costly to treat, painful, and can take a long time from which to recover. While you are doing the hard work of physical recovery, trust your financial recovery to a team of caring lawyers who have the experience and knowledge necessary to handle your case from start to finish.
Orlando, FL 32814