“No matter how much you think you’re in control, you’re not in control.” That was the statement from comedian Kevin Hart nearly two months after suffering a back injury in a motor vehicle accident. Hart noted that his world was forever changed by the accident, which resulted in hospitalization followed by painful rehabilitation at home.
Each day in Florida, individuals suffer through the same situation: trying to recover from a life-altering accident and the injuries they sustained in it. Just as every accident is unique, everyone’s injuries and recoveries are unique. One of the challenges of being a car accident attorney is helping clients develop a claim for damages that fairly represents all of the issues they face, both economically and emotionally
. To do that, plaintiffs must present evidence as to the physical suffering incurred and the impact that the injuries have, or will have, on one’s life. If you’ve been injured in an accident that wasn’t your fault, you should seek compensation for your injuries. An experienced car accident lawyer can help you understand your legal options.
After the Car Accident
After you’ve been in a car accident, you may feel immediate pain, or you may feel fine. Either way, it is important to have a medical exam to determine whether your injuries are serious and the course of treatment they require. Some injuries require immediate intervention to avoid a worsening situation. Some injuries—even serious ones—also present with delayed symptoms, meaning you may not be aware of how hurt you are. Common car accident injuries that may have delayed symptoms include:
- Head and brain injuries: A person may remain conscious after an accident and yet still have a traumatic brain injury. Some of the symptoms of a concussion—which is a mild traumatic brain injury—include a headache that may worsen as time passes; nausea; blurred vision; sensitivity to light or noise; and changes in mood, appetite, and sleep. While concussions are considered “mild” injuries, they can result in chronic pain and other long-term effects.
- Whiplash: Like concussions, whiplash can produce delayed symptoms that include dizziness; fatigue; blurred vision; pain in the head, neck, or shoulder; or a restricted range of motion that may not present itself until the injured individual is attempting to perform everyday tasks.
- Internal injuries: It may be an upset stomach due to the stress of the accident, or it may be internal injuries. Either way, you need a medical evaluation if you begin experiencing abdominal pain after an accident to rule out internal bleeding that may worsen without careful monitoring or appropriate treatment. Other symptoms of internal injuries include headaches, deep bruising, dizziness, or fainting.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder: Although it is commonly associated with combat veterans, this condition may present itself after any sort of traumatic event, including a car accident. Some of the symptoms that may appear over time and indicate post-traumatic stress disorder include flashbacks or nightmares of the event; mood, appetite, or sleep changes; increased anxiety over situations that remind one of the event; anxiety; or depression.
Some serious injuries pose long-term or even life-altering impacts on a person’s life. Below we discuss some of the most catastrophic injuries that a person can face, as well as the medical treatments that may be necessary for those facing them:
Spinal Cord Injuries
According to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, a spinal cord injury is more than a single event. There is the initial injury, which damages or kills spinal nerves. This initial event is followed over the next hours or days by secondary events, including loss of oxygen and toxic chemicals released at the site of the injury, which cause further damage. Those suffering from spinal cord injuries may face surgery to repair herniated discs or remove blood clots.
Once the swelling of the injury goes down, medical professionals are then able to see the extent of damage and begin having a glimpse of the potential for recovery, particularly in incomplete injuries in which the individual retains some function and sensation below the site of the injury. The most meaningful recovery is generally made within the first six months to a year after the injury, though some people have regained function years after their injuries. Some of the secondary conditions commonly experienced by those who have spinal cord injuries and that can diminish your overall quality of life or even reduce life expectancy include:
- High blood pressure
- Deep vein thrombosis, which is blood clots that develop in the deep veins of the leg and may travel to the heart or lung and cause a potentially fatal embolism
- Chronic pain
- Respiratory issues, which are one of the most common causes of death following a spinal cord injury
- Pressure sores
- Arm, shoulder, or wrist pain from using a wheelchair
- Urinary tract infections
- An increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures
Over 1.2 million Americans are currently living with spinal cord injuries, the Reeve Foundation notes. Many of these individuals undergo intensive rehabilitation to regain as much function as possible, as well as to learn to master tasks with the function that remains. As explained by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, rehabilitation may include services provided by psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language specialists, and social workers.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
As reported by the Brain Injury Association of America, traumatic brain injuries also produce a cascade of secondary events after the initial injury takes place. Some of those events include brain tissue reacting to the injury through biochemical and physiological responses that cause further damage and destruction to the brain cells. Depending on the severity of the injury, other conditions may arise, including loss of consciousness, coma, breathing problems, or damaged motor functions.
The brain has a limited ability to heal itself, meaning that often the deficits that result from the initial injury are permanent. Depending on the severity of the injury and the location within the brain that suffered the injury, these potential difficulties can arise:
- Frontal lobe injuries frequently cause an individual to have trouble controlling emotions, impulses, and behavior and affect the ability to speak or to recall events.
- Occipital lobe injuries may cause an individual to have trouble seeing or perceiving the size and shape of objects.
- Cerebellum injuries may impact an individual’s balance, movement, and coordination.
- Parietal lobe injuries may produce impacts on an individual’s five senses: touch, smell, taste, sound, and/ or sight.
- Temporal lobe injuries often cause difficulty with an individual’s memory or ability to communicate.
- Brain stem injuries impact the functions that an individual needs for survival, including breathing and heart rate.
A brain injury can alter every aspect of a person’s life, including their ability to work, to complete daily tasks, and to maintain relationships with those around them. Severe brain injuries may result in the need for assistive devices around the home, including wheelchair ramps, ceiling lifts to aid caretakers in moving the injured individual, roll-in showers that enable a wheelchair-bound individual to enter a shower stall, automatic door openers, and widened doors to accommodate a wheelchair.
Secondary conditions frequently arise following a brain injury. Brain injuries have been associated with:
- Endocrine disorders
- Cognitive decline
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Chronic headaches
Brain injuries account for about 50,000 deaths each year, with half of those deaths occurring within two hours of the injury. Direct and indirect societal costs of treating brain-injured individuals are $48 to $56 billion per year. 50 to 70 percent of brain injuries are the result of motor vehicle accidents.
A traumatic amputation is the loss of a limb—such as an arm, leg, or finger—either in the course of a traumatic event, such as a car accident, or for medical purposes meant to save a person’s life or preserve his or her quality of life. The most common amputation surgery performed in the United States, according to WebMD, is a leg amputation above or below the knee.
Many individuals who have suffered a traumatic amputation as the result of an accident are hospitalized for up to 14 days or more, depending on the severity of the injury, other injuries the individual may have, the individual’s overall health, and the extremity that was amputated. Often, the patient may begin practicing with an artificial limb within 14 days, and the wound is generally healed in about four to eight weeks. However, the emotional toll and the impacts on an individual’s life can last far longer. Some of those impacts include:
- Loss of mobility and independence
- The need for assistive devices, such as wheelchairs or modified vehicles
- Phantom pain, which is a neurological condition in which the patient “feels” pain in the missing limb
- Grief over the lost limb and a new body image
- The inability to perform work-related tasks, hobbies, or household chores due to the lost limb
Long-term care following a traumatic amputation includes physical therapy and rehabilitation to regain as much independence as possible, the provision of artificial limbs and adaptive devices, and emotional support.
How Florida Handles Car Accident Injuries
In Florida in 2017, there were more than 400,000 car accidents. 166,612 of these accidents featured injuries. More than 16,500 of these injuries were considered incapacitating. Florida is a “no-fault” state when it comes to car accidents. What this means is that—regardless of who causes an accident—Florida residents who become injured in a car accident are expected to turn first to the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) policy that they were required to purchase before registering their vehicle in the state.
This policy is required to reduce the number of personal injury lawsuits filed on behalf of injured individuals, while also providing these individuals with a faster process for obtaining compensation. PIP insurance covers a portion of the medical expenses and lost wages incurred after the injury. However, because the state only requires a policy limit of $10,000, many injured individuals find that their coverage is not enough to pay all of the expenses that they face.
If an individual’s accident was the fault of someone else, and his or her injuries meet the state’s serious injury threshold, he or she may file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party.
What Is a Serious Injury?
Florida defines a serious injury, which allows for a personal lawsuit to be filed and pain and suffering-type damages to be sought, as any of the following:
- Significant permanent loss of a bodily function
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability
- Significant and permanent scarring and disfigurement
An injured individual only needs to meet one of the above standards to file a personal injury lawsuit. There are no hard-set criteria beyond these standards used to determine if an injury is permanent, so frequently, expert medical witnesses guide a court regarding the seriousness of an individual’s injuries.
In addition to economic expenses, such as lost wages and the cost of medical treatments, those experiencing car accident injuries often also experience a toll on their emotional well-being. While Florida’s no-fault insurance scheme doesn’t provide for pain and suffering-type damages, filing a personal injury lawsuit against an at-fault party due to a serious injury will. Some of the types of non-economic damages that one might seek include compensation for:
- Both physical and emotional pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of sexual function and loss of companionship, which both fall under the umbrella of the term “loss of consortium”
- Physical disfigurement that may cause embarrassment or anxiety when going out in public
- Loss of enjoyment of life, which may be experienced due to a loss of independence or the inability to do things that the individual enjoyed before suffering the injury
Were you injured in an accident? Let a car accident lawyer evaluate your case and help you determine how much compensation you should seek.