When you are injured in an automobile accident, Louisiana law provides that you are entitled to recover damages, which may include physical pain and suffering, mental or emotional stress, loss of enjoyment of life, disability, disfigurement, inconvenience, embarrassment, lost wages, loss of wage earning capacity, medical expenses, property damage, and expenses incurred for a substitute or rental vehicle.
Most of the damages listed above may be owed to you as of the time you receive the money and for the future. For example, you may incur a certain amount of medical expenses as of the date you settle your claim, and you may also be entitled to additional future medical expenses if they will probably be incurred by you. Some of the damages listed above can be determined precisely, such as the amount of your past medical expenses. These damages are referred to by lawyers as "special damages". Other damages cannot be exactly determined, such as physical pain and suffering, and these damages are referred to by lawyers as "general damages".
It is often difficult for an injured person to know what amount of money will fairly compensate him or her for general damages for personal injuries. However, the insurance companies have extensive knowledge and information regarding settlement with others and awards that have been made by judges and juries to individuals with similar injuries. For this reason, it is usually prudent for an injured individual to seek advice from an attorney with experience handling personal injury claims.
The amount of money an injured person should accept from an insurance company to settle a personal injury claim should be the amount that same person could except to receive from a judge or jury if a trial was held. While it is impossible to know precisely what any judge or jury might award to any given individual, an experienced attorney will know what judges and juries have given to numerous other injured people in previous trials. The earlier awards will take into account the part of the body injured, the diagnosis, the extent of treatment received and needed in the future, future need for medications, the invasive nature and/or pain experienced by the client both as a result of the injury and while undergoing treatment, the effects the injuries had and may have in the future on the client's earnings, employment, any changes in employment, job duties, scarring or disfigurement, disability, changes in lifestyle, functional restrictions, and other issues.
Most personal injury claims can be settled because both the injured person's attorney and the insurance company's attorney or claim representative can estimate the approximate amount the client would receive if a trial took place. When a jury trial does take place, after all of the evidence is admitted for consideration by the jury, the judge instructs the jury to determine the award of general damages, based upon the jury's life experience and common sense. The law does not allow the judge to suggest any amount, high or low, to the jury. Because juries made up of different people decide injury claims continuously, they arrive at different awards in various cases even though the injuries may be nearly identical. However, the awards made by juries for specific bodily injuries do tend to fall within a range, which allows attorneys and insurance companies to predict to some extent the approximate award an injured person might receive if their evidence was presented at trial. If the trial is to a judge, with no jury, then the trial judge uses his or her own knowledge and experience, often taking into account what juries in that jurisdiction have awarded for similar injuries, in reaching a dollar figure to be awarded.
Although almost any part of the body, including the brain, shoulders, and knees can be injured in an automobile accident, the most frequently injured parts of the body are the neck and lower back. Healthcare providers treating spinal injuries typically refer to the neck as the "cervical spine", the mid-back as the "thoracic spine", and the lower back as the "lumbar spine". Common injuries to the spine include sprains, strains, fractures to vertebrae, pinched or compromised nerves, and injuries to intervertebral discs. An injured disc, which is generally described as a ligament between each of the vertebrae or bones of the spine, may be described by doctors as bulging discs, protruding discs, ruptured discs, or herniated discs. Sometimes the herniation or rupture of a disc is described as "contained", and sometimes the testing may reveal extruded fragments or other significant damage to the disc. Many radiologists interpreting diagnostic tests such as MRI studies use these terms interchangeably or with varied definitions, and the treatment recommended by the doctor is thus more important to the patient than the medical description of the injury. Injuries to the spine can occur at any level of the neck or back. Common areas of injury to the neck are often described as C4-5, C5-6, or C6-7. The C indicates the cervical spine, and the numbers identify which bones or vertebrae of the neck are above and below a particular disc. A patient may have one level of injury or multiple levels. A patient may also have injuries to all areas of the spine, the neck, mid-back, and lower back. Thoracic or mid-back disc injuries are not nearly as common as injuries to the cervical and lumber discs. Frequent areas at which the lumbar or low back discs may be injured are referred to as L4-5 and L5-S1. The L designates the lumbar spine, while S means the lowest lumbar vertebrae above the sacrum.
Spine injuries can cause pain in the neck or back, and the pain may also radiate or burn into the shoulders, arms, buttocks, and legs. Interference with the nerves from the spine may also cause numbness and tingling in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. Cervical injuries frequently also cause headaches.
These injuries may be treated by a chiropractor or family doctor, or if they are more serious and lasting, they may require treatment by physical therapists, pain management specialists, orthopedic surgeons, or neurosurgeons. Testing which may be ordered to diagnose spinal injuries may include x-rays, bone scans, thermograms, MRI studies, CAT or CT scan studies, EMG and NCV nerve studies, myelograms, discograms, and other tests. The results of these diagnostic tests frequently assist the physician in diagnosing and treating the injuries caused by a vehicular collision. In some cases, the physician can actually show an image of the injury to the patient after performing diagnostic imaging tests.
Treatment for spine injuries will often include oral medications, such as pain medications, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatory drugs. Treatment may also require physical therapy, traction, injections of medications by the treating physician, or epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks, and other surgical procedures performed by pain management physicians. In the worst cases, spine surgery may become necessary.
If spine surgery is performed in the neck or cervical region, a common procedure is referred to as "ACDF", meaning anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. This means that the surgeon operates from the front of the neck, removes disc material, places bone material between the vertebrae to stabilize the neck, and allows it to fuse together. Surgery to the lower back is frequently referred to as a laminectomy, with or without a fusion. The laminectomy procedure is typically performed with an incision through the back of the patient, and damaged disc material is then surgically removed. Sometimes the physician will place bone material between the vertebrae involved to stabilize the spine. In extreme cases, and especially if multiple levels of the spine are operated on, the physician may place rods, a cage, or other man-made device into the spine for the purpose of providing stability.
Gary P. Koederitz has represented injured individuals for almost 30 years, and he has extensive experience in evaluating personal injury claims, particularly injuries to the neck, mid-back, and low back. Mr. Koederitz has deposed or obtained trial testimony from chiropractors, dentists, oral surgeons, vascular surgeons, cardiologists, plastic and reconstructive surgeons, hospitalists, radiologists, nurses, gastroenterologists, dermatologists, ear, nose and throat specialists, gerontologists, emergency room physicians, pediatricians, OB/GYN doctors, family doctors, orthopedists, physical therapists, pain management specialists, physical medicine specialists, neurologists, neurosurgeons, and other healthcare providers on over 1,000 occasions. Mr. Koederitz is very familiar with medical terminology, and with the testing and treatment provided by physicians for all types of spinal injuries.
Meet Louisiana Car Accident Attorney Gary Koederitz