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Back Injuries from Car Accidents

The National Safety Council (NSC) reported nearly 2.5 million non-fatal injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents in 2021. Fortunately, many of those involved in car accidents quickly recover from their injuries and continue to go about their normal lives. This is sadly not the case for everyone. What seems like a minor accident can often result in a lifetime of pain, suffering, and disability.

One of the primary contributing factors to injuries from car accidents is the simple fact that accidents are not expected. Our bodies do not expect the trauma and therefore are not prepared for the trauma. Unfathomable force is transferred through the involved vehicles and into the bodies of their occupants. This unexpected motion and force can cause any number of injuries, even fatal ones.

The use of seatbelts, airbags, and the progress in automobile design have saved countless lives and prevented more serious injuries. Sadly, even with these advancements, distracted driving, hefty vehicles, and excessive speeds can produce lethal circumstances during a collision. Having said that, driver distraction, heavier motor vehicles, and excessive speed can cause injuries even when every possible safety device is available in your car.

Types of Back Injuries Caused by Car Accidents

The back spans much of the body and is composed of discs, ligaments, muscles, tissues, tendons, and bones that Can be permanently and irreversibly injured when excessive force is exerted on the body during an accident. Many factors contribute to the type and severity of back injury that a vehicle passenger may suffer during a car accident, such as:

  • Vehicle characteristics, such as speed and weight
  • Where the passenger is seated in the car
  • Whether or not they are wearing a seatbelt
  • The point of impact on the vehicle (front, side, or rear)
  • Whether or not the passenger anticipated the collision and had time to prepare for the impact

Back injuries range in severity and may not be immediately obvious after an accident. If you were involved in an accident, it is important to undergo a medical examination as soon as possible. A medical professional may perform tests like an x-ray, MRI, CT scan, or myelogram to determine if you have sustained a back injury. Each of these imaging measures can help diagnose a back injury. However, a diagnostic study never tells the full story of the victim who was injured. Keeping meticulous records of your pain and progress, along with any symptoms that may arise, is of utmost importance during recovery. Relaying every detail to each and every medical professional you visit may seem like a tedious task. Still, it is necessary if you intend to recover fully and file a personal injury claim. Now is not the time to minimize, assume, or skim over.

What may seem like a simple headache, mood swings, bout of confusion, or ringing in the ears often progresses into a much more serious issue later. Not only will this lead to difficulty in treating your symptoms as they worsen, but you may also be penalized during the settlement or trial process if you do not identify every symptom as it arises. Now is the time to advocate for yourself and secure your health and financial future.

While many different types of injuries can occur, common back injuries resulting from car accidents include:

Herniated Disc

The vertebrae (the big bones or “building blocks”) in your spine are cushioned by discs that consist of a tough outer layer (annulus fibrosis) that encapsulates a soft interior (nucleus pulposus). A herniated disc occurs when a force is applied to the back, such as the force of a car accident; the rough, sudden movement can cause a disc’s outer layer to rupture, allowing the soft interior to leak into the spinal canal.

When that soft interior material leaves the more rigid outside layer, it is known as a disc herniation. A disc herniation is like any other hernia; it simply means that something, in this case the disc, is not where it is supposed to be. Pain occurs when the contents of the disc press against nerves in the spinal canal. Nerve roots in our spine control movement and sensation. When disc material touches or compresses nerve roots, that causes irritation which can feel like numbness, produce weakness, and cause searing, burning, and electrical pain.

The nerve roots in the lower spine (also called the “lumbar spine”) control movement and sensation in buttocks, legs, and through toes to the bottom of our feet. This means that a car accident victim can experience pain in any of these areas when an injury occurs to their lower spine or back. The lower spine also controls the ability to go to the bathroom and perform sexually. If you experience any of the above symptoms after a car accident, it is very important that you report them to a medical doctor to get the treatment that you need and the compensation that you deserve if the symptoms do not go away.

While most herniated discs can heal with conservative treatments, severe cases may require surgery to repair. Even with invasive treatment like surgery, some back injuries can still last a lifetime.

Spinal Fracture

Spinal fractures occur when one or more vertebrae in the spine are broken, usually caused by a high-velocity impact such as an auto accident. Minor fractures can heal with rest, but severe injuries may require surgery. Fractures to the vertebral bodies themselves often do not require any treatment but will heal in place. Fractures in the upper spine and the neck area can be far more serious and even result in paralysis. Those suffering from a spinal fracture should seek medical treatment as soon as possible as fractures left untreated can lead to permanent spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, or even paralysis. In the aftermath of an automobile accident, it is very important to move as little as possible and wait for ambulance personnel to assess your injuries. Movement has the potential to severely worsen spinal injuries.

Types of spinal fractures include:

  • Compression fracture: Occurs when bones in the spine weaken and crumble, usually as a result of loss of bone mass, tumors, or other abnormalities
  • Burst fracture: A fracture that occurs when major trauma compresses the vertebrae, causing the vertebral body of the bone to break in multiple directions
  • Chance fracture: Horizontal fracture caused by the pulling apart of the vertebrae from a violent force, usually a car accident

Symptoms of spinal fractures include neck or back pain, tingling, numbness, muscle spasms, muscle weakness, and loss of bladder or bowel control.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Motor vehicle accidents account for almost half of all new spinal cord injuries each year in the U.S. Any damage to the spinal cord or nerves in the spinal canal is considered a spinal cord injury (SCI). Spinal cord injuries are very serious as they commonly cause permanent damage to strength, sensation, and other bodily functions below the point of injury. These injuries can drastically affect your physical, mental, and social health. The attorneys at Block O’Toole and Murphy have represented clients who have experienced paraplegia, quadriplegia, and other serious spinal injuries. In our decades of experience, we have obtained landmark, record recoveries for them.

When an injury occurs on the spinal cord, it will generally impact the area of the body below the site of injury. If the injury occurs high up on the spine (the cervical spine), it is possible that paralysis or even death may occur. Symptoms of spinal cord injury include but are not limited to loss or weakened sensation, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness or loss of motion, muscle spasms, numbness, and digestive problems.

Back Sprains/ Strains

In the back, muscle tendons connect muscle to bone while ligaments serve to connect bones to joints or bones to each other. A back strain is a twist, tear, or pull to a muscle or tendon in the back while a sprain is an injury to a ligament.

Excessive stress on back muscles can lead to a strain. Sprains often result from falls, sudden twists, or blows to the body that force joints out of their normal positions, stretching ligaments beyond their normal range of motion. The sudden force of a car accident can cause these injuries. Symptoms include pain that worsens with movement, muscle cramping or spasms, and decreased range of motion.


Spondylolysis is a stress fracture or break in a small bone in the vertebrae called the pars interarticularis. The pars interarticularis connects the facet joint to the main part of the vertebra. Spondylolysis is the term used to describe the condition that occurs when a vertebra slips out of place due to the pars interarticularis weakening or breaking. This condition usually occurs as a result of trauma.

Most people with spondylolysis do not experience any symptoms and can unknowingly live with the condition for years. In other cases, patients experience persistent aching in the lower back that worsens with movement. Other symptoms include tightness and muscle spasms in the hamstrings.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of space in the spine usually caused by wear and tear on the spine over time. Most people experiencing spinal stenosis may be asymptomatic, but it is possible to experience numbness, tingling, muscle weakness, and pain in the back. Car accidents do not directly give victims spinal stenosis, but the impact from the accident can cause them to start feeling symptoms that they previously did not. This condition can happen because of the natural aging process. Unfortunately, car accidents often take this normal condition and create something much more severe.

The insurance company that serves the defendant will likely argue that this pre-existing condition should not be compensated, but we believe that it is unacceptable to not compensate the victim of a vehicular accident whose condition has worsened in the process. All of us age naturally over the course of our life, and we don’t seek compensation for normal aging. We seek compensation for the changes that the accident caused in that process. Injuries take away our freedom. At Block O’Toole and Murphy, we value freedom and fight for justice.

The Law Firm of Block O’Toole & Murphy is known for landmark results, including a $110 million verdict for a cyclist paralyzed from the waist down and a $32 million verdict for a pedestrian struck by a drug-impaired driver. Our attorneys offer free legal consultations to accident victims. Please call 212-736-5300 to speak with a Block O’Toole & Murphy lawyer today.

Filing an Auto Injury Lawsuit

Back injuries caused by car accidents may require costly medical treatments and long recovery times. These injuries can be completely life-altering, leaving victims unable to return to the same quality of life they experienced prior to their accident. If you have suffered a back injury in an auto accident that was caused by the negligent behavior of another party, it may be in your best interest to pursue legal action to obtain compensation for your losses.

If you are interested in pursuing legal action after being involved in a car accident, it is important to know that the statute of limitations, which is the amount of time you have to file a claim, varies from state to state. For example, in New York State you have three years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit against other drivers, in most cases. If you are filing a lawsuit against a public entity such as a municipality or a public authority such as the MTA, you have to provide a notice of claim within 90 days of the accident. After providing notice, you have one year and 90 days to file a lawsuit for an injury. An experienced lawyer will be able to guide you through this process.

To help your case, it is important that you have evidence from your accident such as a copy of the police report, photographs from the accident scene, as well as any medical records documenting your injury. The more evidence you have, the easier it will be to support your case.

Reach Out to an Experienced Auto Injury Lawyer

It is crucial that you contact a car accident attorney who is well versed in the medical information that is involved in your case. A skilled attorney will be able to understand the details of your accident and help guide you to the receiving the compensation you deserve. The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have extensive experience working with clients who have suffered severe back injuries in car accidents. They understand the difficulties involved in coping with a severe injury and are dedicated to helping accident victims seek justice for their losses.

Notable auto accident results for clients who suffered back injuries include:

  • $32,756,156 Jury Verdict for a pedestrian who sustained back injuries and brain injury
  • $9,263,326 Jury Verdict for a NYC taxi passenger who suffered nerve damage to his lumbar spine requiring surgery after the cab he was riding in was involved in a multi-vehicle rear-end collision
  • $6,000,000 Settlement for a city bus passenger who sustained back injuries requiring surgery after the bus he was riding in collided with another vehicle at a Brooklyn intersection
  • $5,500,000 Settlement for a 43-year-old driver who sustained serious spinal injuries requiring surgery after his vehicle was sideswiped by a semi-truck
  • $5,160,916 Verdict for a 38-year-old vehicle passenger who sustained injuries that required two spinal fusion surgeries after his vehicle was hit by another vehicle that ran a stop sign
  • $4,250,000 Settlement for a 42-year-old man who suffered severe back pain following a rear-end accident in Westchester County
  • $4,100,000 Verdict for an accident victim who sustained herniated discs when the vehicle he was riding in was rear-ended on the Triborough Bridge
  • $4,000,000 Settlement ($19,394,595 anticipated payout) for a 12-year-old student who sustained severe back injuries after she was struck by a vehicle in a Brooklyn crosswalk
  • $4,000,000 Settlement for a client who suffered multiple herniated discs when her vehicle was struck by another car making a left turn
  • $3,400,000 Settlement for a 49-year-old man who sustained multiple back injuries when he was struck by a New York City Parks Department vehicle in Central Park

If you have suffered injuries as a result of another party’s negligent actions, please call our office at 212-736-5300 or contact us online to receive a FREE legal consultation. We serve New York and New Jersey

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