Why Should You Take Neck Injuries Seriously?Personal Injuries
Popular culture tends to portray neck injuries as non-serious. More times than we can count, we’ve seen characters in television comedies get laughs by wearing a foam collar that limits mobility and looks silly. Neck braces also show up in courtroom shows as the hallmark of accident victims trying to squeeze a few dollars out of a fender bender. Neck injuries, these images tell us, are just one big joke.
The problem is that neck injuries are serious. Neck injuries represent an extremely painful and debilitating class of trauma, as doctors, attorneys, insurance companies, and anyone who has suffered one understand.
The following article helps to debunk the myth of the un-serious neck injury by exploring what neck injuries are, how they occur, the toll they can take on victims, and how an attorney can help secure compensation for an individual who has suffered a neck injury caused by the negligent actions of another party.
Basic Neck Anatomy
It’s difficult to overstate the complexity of the neck or the importance of its systems and structures to human life. The neck connects the head to the body and serves as a conduit for numerous life-sustaining functions. Structures and systems in the neck enable speech, breathing, swallowing, and the communication of signals from the brain to the body.
The neck contains:
- Muscles, ligaments, and tendons that support the neck and allow its movement and the movements of its various structures;
- The cervical spine, consisting of seven stacked bones (vertebrae) cushioned by fibrous sacs (discs), which houses and protects the spinal cord;
- Blood vessels (veins and arteries) that carry blood to and from the brain;
- The pharynx (throat), trachea (windpipe), and larynx (voice box); and
- Numerous lymph nodes, glands, and nerves.
The above list is basic and incomplete and solely intended to provide a general overview of the neck. The article linked above contains a thorough discussion of neck anatomy that communicates in greater detail the intricate inner workings of this vital part of the human body.
For our purposes, however, the quick review above suffices to establish that the neck is an extremely important and complicated part of the body, with numerous structures and systems that, if injured, could cause a victim significant difficulties and health complications.
Overview of Traumatic Neck Injuries and Their Causes
Any part of the neck can sustain an injury. In this article, we focus on traumatic injuries to the neck, meaning those resulting from an external force that is inflicted on the victim’s body. (For that reason, this article does not discuss, for example, damage to the trachea from smoking or to blood vessels from an unhealthy diet.)
Common traumatic injuries to the neck include:
- Damage to muscles, ligaments, and tendons (collectively referred to as soft tissue), including sprains, strains, partial and total tears, and inflammation;
- Damage to the cervical spine, which can include fractured or dislocated vertebrae, ruptured disks, and damage to the spinal cord resulting in a loss of sensation and paralysis;
- Lacerations or penetrating injuries that cause soft tissue trauma, damage to nerves, or severed blood vessels (which can lead to life-threatening blood loss and disruption of blood supply to the brain); and
- Damage to the structures at the front of the neck, like the throat, windpipe, or voice box, that impairs breathing, swallowing, or speech.
Any violent blow or jolt to the body can cause a neck injury.
Frequent sources of this kind of trauma include:
- Motor vehicle accidents, especially rear-end collisions;
- Assaults and other violent crime; and
- Playing high-contact or high-impact sports.
Selected Neck Injuries in Detail
Attorneys for victims of personal injuries frequently encounter potential clients who have suffered neck injuries. Sometimes, because of the popular misconceptions about these injuries described above, those individuals question whether they have suffered an injury worth a lawyer’s attention.
Make no mistake: experienced personal injury lawyers understand that any neck injury can cause extreme physical, emotional, and financial pain for victims. In particular, lawyers frequently represent clients in legal actions seeking compensation for the following type of neck trauma:
Cervical Spinal Damage
Perhaps no neck injury holds the potential for inflicting utter devastation in a person’s life more than damage to the cervical spine. The vertebrae and discs of the top-part of the spinal column give the neck its unique combination of stability and flexibility. These important body parts also protect the spinal cord, that delicate, vital bundle of nerves that sustains life by communicating the brain’s messages to the body.
Damage to the cervical spine can rob a victim of movement of the head and neck or, even more devastatingly, of the entire body. A fracture or dislocation of a cervical vertebra, or rupture of a cervical disc, can impair the neck’s ability to bend and flex and may leave an individual suffering from severe, chronic pain. Victims may also need expensive, and potentially risky, surgeries to fuse portions of the cervical spinal column to stabilize it and prevent further, more severe damage.
Worse, injuries to cervical vertebrae and discs can result in damage to the spinal cord itself. At the level of the neck, damage to or impingement of the spinal cord can, and often does, result in tetraplegia (also known as quadriplegia), which is characterized by paralysis of all four limbs and loss of sensation and control of bodily functions below the neck. Unlike some other neck injuries, cervical spinal cord damage rarely heals, meaning that victims of those injuries face a (shortened) lifetime of severe disability and health complications.
Injured individuals also face the potential for extremely high, recurring medical and out-of-pocket costs. According to the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, it can cost upwards of one million dollars to treat and adapt one’s life to a tetraplegia injury in the first year after injury, and hundreds of thousands of dollars per year thereafter. Over a lifetime, victims of these injuries will likely incur millions of dollars of unplanned expenses. Few victims can manage these expenses without significant financial or charitable assistance.
Neck and Shoulder Soft Tissue Injuries
Individuals may feel lucky to escape a violent accident without suffering damage to the cervical spine, but that does not mean that they will necessarily avoid severe pain and disability. Soft tissue injuries—sprains, strains, tears, and inflammation of muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the neck and shoulders—can take a heavy toll on a person’s physical health, emotional wellbeing, and financial stability.
Neck and shoulder soft tissue injuries often occur when a violent force throws an individual forward, backward, or side-to-side. Rear-end car accidents frequently cause these injuries to drivers and passengers in the vehicle struck from behind. The force of impact contorts a victim’s spine similarly to how a bow travels up a bullwhip, causing the head to snap forward and back and putting an extreme and damaging strain on the soft tissues in the neck and shoulders.
The resulting injury, sometimes referred to as whiplash, is characterized by chronic stiffness and pain in the affected tissue. This is more than just a sore neck, however. Soft tissue injuries in the neck and shoulders can drastically limit victims’ mobility. Such injuries can cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and even nausea, and frequently inflict a profound psychological toll. Victims worry about re-injury, live in constant fear of the sudden, stabbing pain that might accompany even the most simple movement of their necks, and struggle to get a comfortable night’s sleep.
Soft tissue injuries can heal with proper care and rest. However, that’s often easier said than done. It’s difficult to limit neck movements, many of which are reflexive. Small re-injuries of affective muscles, ligaments, or tendons can lead to major setbacks and months of additional pain, which in turn can cause agonizing impacts on victims’ wellbeing.
A soft tissue neck injury can also keep individuals out of work or limit their productivity, which often puts a dent in victims’ incomes. It does not help that popular opinion downplays the severity of neck injuries, which can make it difficult for victims to secure disability benefits or accommodations from employers.
Securing Fair Compensation for Neck Injuries
If you suffered a neck injury because of someone else’s careless or reckless conduct, then you likely qualify to seek compensation to help pay for medical care, living expenses, and the overall harm that you have endured.
Obtaining this compensation, however, can prove challenging. For some victims, it requires overcoming popular misconceptions about the severity and impact of neck injuries. For others, it feels like adding additional complication and stress to an already overwhelming situation.
That is why neck injury victims should always seek out the legal services of an attorney who possesses detailed knowledge of neck injuries, who takes them seriously, and who can explain their severity to others. A lawyer who is well-versed in the challenges of neck injuries can identify the parties liable to you for your neck injuries, and can pursue maximum compensation for those injuries on your behalf.
Neck Injury Liability
Someone may owe you damages for causing your neck injury, but who?
The answer to that question depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular neck injury involved. Lawyers who represent neck injury victims dig into those facts, looking for anyone whose poor decisions or dangerous actions played a role in the accident or incident that led to the neck injury, or who has a legal obligation to answer for those decisions and actions.
Through that process, an attorney may identify as a liable party, for example:
- A driver who made mistakes behind the wheel that led to a crash that caused a neck injury;
- A property owner who failed to warn a neck injury victim about a hazardous property condition that caused the victim to fall and get hurt;
- A school administrator or athletic director who failed to enforce safety protocols for student-athletes, leading to a violent on-field incident that caused a player’s neck injury; or
- A hotel operator that knew about, and failed to prevent, the potential for violent crime against guests on its premises, which resulted in an assault that caused a neck injury.
These are just a few examples of parties that could face legal liability to neck injury victims. The most reliable way to determine whether someone owes you damages for a neck injury is to speak with a skilled attorney as soon as possible after your accident.
Neck Injury Damages
If someone owes you financial compensation for the harm you suffered from a neck injury, then the scope of compensation you might receive could include:
- Payment of your medical expenses connected to treating the neck injury and any health complications that flow from it;
- Payment of other out-of-pocket expenses you incurred because of the neck injury, such as the cost of hiring someone to help you with day-to-day chores while you recuperate;
- Reimbursement of wages you missed-out on earning while recovering from your neck injury;
- Payment of income you will not earn in the future because of disabilities inflicted by your neck injury;
- Money aimed at compensating you for the non-monetary harms you suffered from a neck injury, such as physical pain, emotional suffering, and a diminished quality of life; and
- Punitive damages, which courts may award if someone caused your neck injury by engaging in extreme or outrageous misconduct.
The amount of money you might receive for a neck injury can vary widely, based on these factors.
- First, the severity of your neck injury and its impact on your life will tend to influence the size of each category of damages listed above.
- Second, the strength of your case for liability and damages plays a role in how much money you ultimately receive.
- Third, the sources of money available to pay you—such as an insurance policy or a liable party’s assets—can affect the practical value of your neck injury claim.
To learn more about your eligibility to receive damages for a neck injury that you have suffered, contact a skilled neck injury lawyer today.