Your neck is a complex and delicate composition of bones, muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. Damage to any of these constituent parts could cause neck problems after an accident. Additionally, injuries to your jaw, shoulders, upper arms, and head could cause neck pain. There are many ways to sustain neck injury, from whiplash in a car accident to the impact of a fall. A common cause of neck pain is muscle strain. For example, if someone hits you and your neck snaps in any direction, you could damage the muscles, joints, tendons, bones, ligaments, or nerves in your neck.
Common Neck Injuries Caused by Car Accidents
Car accidents are one of the most common causes of neck injuries. When you suffer a neck injury in a car accident, it makes it difficult to do anything, even getting a good night’s sleep. It becomes dangerous to drive if you can’t turn your head far enough to see. Lifting objects and even simple housework become major chores.
Common neck injuries from car accidents include:
- Stiff tendons and muscles. These are what you often refer to as a crick in your neck. These often happen after you keep your neck in an awkward position for a long time. However, you can get stiff tendons and muscles after awkward and sudden movements, such as in car accidents.
- Sprains and strains. A sprain tears the ligaments in your neck. A strain tears a tendon or a muscle. Because a car accident hits suddenly, it is easy to suffer a strained or sprained neck.
- Pinched nerve. If any of the bones, tendons, and other tissue in your neck presses on the nerves, you have a pinched nerve. Muscle strains and sprains could cause a pinched nerve.
- Herniated discs. When you tear a spinal disc, the soft tissue inside leaks out of the disc. The tissue is a jelly-like substance that protects the spinal cord that rides inside the disc. Usually, herniated discs happen because of age. However, sudden injuries, such as a car accident or a slip or trip and fall accident, could cause a herniated disc.
- Fractured cervical spine or a broken neck. Breaking a neck is a less common injury, but it could happen, especially in a high-speed car accident. If you do fracture your cervical spine, it is an emergency, and you need immediate medical attention.
Neck Injury Symptoms
There are many potential symptoms of neck injury, ranging from minor to major.
Depending on the severity of the injury, you could have:
- A hard time turning your neck. If the injuries are minor, you might not have the full range of motion and can still turn your neck with minimal pain. If the injuries are more severe, you might not have the ability to turn your neck at all.
- Headaches that could range from minor to migraines.
- Neck pain could range from zero to 10 on the pain scale.
- Muscle spasms in your shoulders and neck.
- A stiff neck.
- Weakness in your extremities, including fingers, hands, legs, and arms.
Recovering Damages for Neck Injuries
After sustaining a neck injury in an accident, you could recover damages in the form of compensatory and punitive damages for neck and other injuries. The court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make you whole again. You could collect two types of compensatory damages. Economic damages have a set monetary value. Non-economic damages do not have a fixed monetary value.
Sometimes referred to as special damages, economic damages in a neck injury case may include:
- Past medical expenses, for injuries sustained in an accident and incurred before a settlement or a court award
- Future medical expenses, for injuries sustained in an accident and which you expect to incur after a settlement or court award
- Past lost wages, for wages you lose before a settlement or court award while recovering from your neck injuries and can’t work
- Future lost wages, for wages you can expect to lose due to long-term or permanent disabilities from your neck injuries
- Replacement or repair of destroyed or damaged personal property
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages in neck injury cases may include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress, if the accident causing the injury was particularly traumatic
- Loss of quality of life
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Inconvenience, if you have to hire someone to do the chores you normally do
If a court orders punitive damages in a neck injury case, it will hold a bifurcated (two-part) trial. The first stage will determine liability and the second stage will determine damages. If the court finds that the defendant’s actions or inactions were grossly negligent or intentional, it may order punitive damages. A court does not order punitive damages to compensate you for injuries and expenses you incurred in the accident. Instead, punitive damages are a civil punishment against the defendant for grossly negligent or intentional behavior.
To Settle or Litigate?
It’s hard to say from the outset whether you will settle or litigate your neck injury case. While most neck injury victims start with hopes of settling, and most do, some insurance companies just won’t offer a fair and reasonable settlement. If you accept a low amount, you might not have enough to cover your medical expenses, especially if you suffered particularly traumatic neck injuries, such as in a car wreck, causing long-term or permanent disability.
Either way, insurance companies will tend to do whatever they can to minimize or deny your claim. For this reason, you should only give the insurance company your name, date and location of the wreck, and your attorney’s contact information, and then let your attorney discuss the accident with the insurance company. If you can’t settle, you and your auto accident attorney can discuss taking your neck injury case to a trial to recover damages by court award.