If your treating physician recommends spinal fusion surgery for your cervical or lumbar spine injury, you may be wondering what impact this back surgery will have on the value of your personal injury lawsuit. Cervical or lumbar fusion surgery dramatically increase what an injury lawsuit may be worth.
After all, when people have surgery, medical complications often occur and there may be a lengthy period of rehabilitation. Patients must also cope with considerable pain due to these operations, even when their doctors say they were successful. And injured parties can also lose significant earnings while completing all recommended forms of treatment.
Besides noting other reasons why insurance companies may increase settlement offers after injured victims undergo spinal fusion surgeries, this article will briefly review the types of accidents that often lead to cervical (neck) or lumbar (back) spinal fusion operations. It will also reference some of the difficulties that can arise during these surgeries.
A herniated disc is a common injury suffered after a car crash, slip & fall, or other trauma. In simple terms it means the jelly inside the center or nucleus of one spinal disc that makes up your spinal cord is now leaking outside the disc walls impinging or touching upon nerve roots. This impingement causes radiating pain known as radiculopathy. This can lead to a nerve injury in addition to the disc injury.
A herniation in the cervical spine leads to neck pain radiating pain down the arms. A herniated disc in the lumbar spine results in low back pain radiating or traveling pain down the legs. A herniated disc usually decreases your range of motion. A normal disc has a number of rings or walls so for the jelly to break through all of the walls and leak outside the disc, a serious traumatic force must occur. The types of herniated discs are illustrated below:
The lawsuit value of a herniated disc ranges from $10,000 on the low end to many millions of dollars going well into the eight figures on the high end. A major factor in determining value is the extent of medical or health care and ultimate effect the injury has had on an individual’s life.
A spinal fusion is a type of surgery that brings together or fuses two or more bones in the spine known as vertebrae. Your spine has vertebrae separated by discs. If a disc is seriously injured because it herniated, that disc is no longer able of supporting the regular movement of the spine as well as the normal weights, loads, and stress put on the human body on a daily basis.
Usually a spinal fusion surgery significantly increases the personal injury claim value. Most often an accident victim will have either a cervical (neck) fusion or a lumbar (lower back) fusion surgery after a traumatic event such as a motor vehicle crash, slip trip and fall, premises liability, construction accident, medical malpractice, product liability, or other incident.
A spinal fusion can also less frequently be to the thoracic vertebrae which is the middle part of the spinal column. A spine fusion surgery is a very serious and permanent procedure that will carries lifelong back pain and symptoms, requires prolonged recovery time, and future medical treatment. Missing time from work coupled with additional medical costs of future treatment are damages items that you can recover from the at fault party.
Most importantly a spine fusion surgery changes your quality of life and involves pain and suffering for which significant compensation can be obtained.
A spinal fusion surgery settlement is usually significant because the surgery itself is an invasive life changing procedure. The overall value depends on a number of factors including
1. Whether you can prove the defendant(s) you are suing are at fault or liable
2. The damages suffered by the victim and the extent of all medical treatment
3. Economic damages such as past and future lost wages, vocational rehabilitation, union benefits, overtime, value of household services, and medical expenses
4. Non-economic damages. How has this person’s life changed ? Do they tell a compelling human story that a juror will allow compensation for ?
5. The amount of liability insurance also known as bodily injury insurance coverage the defendant has available. Some policies are minimal. In New York the lowest auto policy is only $25,000 while other policies can be $1,000,000 with umbrella insurance policies above the primary million in large amounts such as $5 million, $25 million, or even $100 million.
6. The venue or location of the lawsuit. In the New York City area, some venues are more friendly or favorable for a plaintiff bringing a lawsuit while others are known to favor the defense. For example, Westchester County is known as a fairly conservative venue while neighboring Bronx County is more friendly toward plaintiffs. Some cases also cannot be resolved via a jury trial either because they are legally limited to an arbitration award such as a UM (uninsured motorist) claim. Not being able to present the case before a jury usually lowers the value.
7. Is the spinal fusion the only injury ? often serious accidents can cause a number of injuries such as need for other surgeries, open reduction internal fixation, knee replacement, etc. Aside from other procedures, the spinal fusion can also accompany other medical diagnoses such as complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), traumatic brain injury, closed head injury, skull fracture, carpal tunnel syndrome, and many others. Increasing the damages increases the final cash value amount the injury victim will receive.
If you were involved in an incident that caused a spinal cord injury that required you to undergo a spine fusion surgery you should schedule a consultation with a personal injury lawyer to explore your legal options.
A spinal fusion personal injury lawsuit average settlement should range from a lump sum pay out of $250,000 on the low end to over $5,000,000 on the higher end of the spectrum. This is because a spinal fusion is a serious permanent procedure that is often life changing and results in chronic pain. The average settlement will fluctuate depending on how much insurance coverage is carried by the defendant and the venue for your lawsuit.
We generally discuss the New York City area but these averages may also be relevant for other parts of the United States. Spinal fusion injury settlements are also higher than other lawsuits because the plaintiff is entitled to past and future pain and suffering, lost wages and other economic damages, as well as past and future medical expenses. Just the lost wages and medical costs can run into the millions of dollars if someone is unable to work in the future and diagnosed to need physical therapy, pain management, orthopedic and neurological follow ups. For example, just the cost of one additional spinal fusion surgery can be upwards of $75,000 – $100,000.00
If the insurance policy limits for the policyholder defendant also known as the insured is $1 million or more, the insurance company may very well pay $1 million. Insurance companies evaluate risk and try to save their money as much as possible. However, if the injury is clearly worth $1 million when considering liability, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and economic damages the insurance company should pay $1 million and sometimes much more.
In New York and most states, an insurance company has to place the interests of its policyholder on an equal footing with its own interests. This means an insurance company is not allowed to gamble or risk exposing their insured to a large verdict and judgment when the facts clearly show the lawsuit has significant value.
In fact, refusing to pay a demand within the policy can be bad faith which can then expose the insurance company to a lawsuit beyond the policy limits. Some bad faith lawsuits can even expose the insurance company to punitive damages also known as exemplary damages which are meant to punish defendants for willful conduct.
$3,000,000 for a man who had a spinal fusion as well as a mild traumatic brain injury in a work related accident
$2,800,000.00 for a man who was injured in a construction site and required a spinal fusion after pain management injections did not alleviate his pain
$1,700,000.00 for a woman who needed a spinal fusion after suffering herniated discs and a compression fracture in an apartment ceiling collapse
$1,400,000.00 for a woman who was involved in a car crash and needed a cervical fusion as well as a shoulder surgery for a torn rotator cuff known as an arthroscopic procedure. This case was settled on the record in the trial court.
$1,400,000.00 for a woman who slipped and fell on a puddle in an elementary school staircase. She required a lumbar spinal fusion with a spinal cord stimulator implanted. Usually the injuries sustained would be worth even more but the liability was extremely difficult since it was a slip & fall due to tracked in water from the rain near an exit door so we felt this was fair value considering all the circumstances.
Spinal fusion lawsuit verdict & settlement results in New York City usually run within a range of $250,000 on the low end to many millions on the upper echelon of the spectrum.
When filing a lawsuit to recover fair and reasonable compensation for a spinal fusion personal injury case, a lawyer has to overcome certain difficulties or obstacles. A major difficulty is what to do when there is insufficient insurance ? For example, in New York, the minimal insurance limits are a miserly $25,000 per person limit. If a patient requires a spinal fusion usually the insurance company will tender the $25,000.
However with some insurance companies we have seen refusal to tender small policy limits of $100,000 in a spinal fusion case citing issues of liability, causation, and other defenses. Most often the insurance company will say the surgery was NOT caused by this crash but rather was degenerative meaning it came from the normal aging process.
An experienced plaintiff’s personal injury trial lawyer will call treating doctors to testify that your injuries were caused by the crash and are not a coincidental result of degenerative disc disease that everyone eventually gets just from living their lives.
When an insurance company refuses to tender small policy limits of $25,000 or $100,000 given overwhelming evidence of clear liability and damages that justify well above these limits, a lawyer can “open” the policy in a subsequent bad faith lawsuit. In New York, bad faith law is weak compared to other states like Washington, California, and Oregon who have better bad faith laws for plaintiffs.
In New York personal injury lawsuits, an injured victim needs to prove a serious or permanent injury to obtain substantial compensation. In fact, in car crash cases injury victims must overcome a threshold of serious injury or else you would be entitled to nothing. The intent of this law is to weed out frivolous litigation such as minor fender benders. Since no fault benefits pay for all of your medical treatment up to $50,000 and take the place of health insurance, the law says that because you are getting this benefit you cannot also file a lawsuit to recover financial compensation unless the injury was serious.
A spinal fusion is usually a permanent injury since the herniated disc must be removed and replaced with an artificial implant followed by hardware to fuse the two adjoining vertebrae. This results in a prolonged recovery and permanent limitation of motion, nerve damage, possible side effects, need for revision surgeries, and lifelong pain and suffering.
Ultimately this is a decision each patient has to make with their doctor. Usually an individual tries conservative treatment first including chiropractic adjustments, physical therapy, acupuncture, and other non-invasive methods. If that fails and the pain is unbearable, a patient can consider pain management including epidural steroid injections, percutaneous discectomy surgery, and other minimally invasive procedures. If that also fails and a permanent injury with symptoms that persist for a long time, a patient should consultation with an orthopedic or neuro-surgeon for a spinal fusion.
A spinal fusion is often medically recommended if the range of motion in the spine is severely decreased or if a vertebrae is fractured such as a burst fracture or a compression fracture. Other reasons a doctor may recommend spinal fusion surgery is to repair a herniated disc that leads to cauda equina syndrome, spinal stenosis, spondylosis, lordosis, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis or other degenerative changes that have become unbearable for the patient. A spinal fusion can also be a follow up or revision surgery for a failed back surgery.
Here is an example of a cervical spinal fusion surgery
Operative Report terms and Illustrations
Cervical Hemi Vertebrectomy C6, C7
Cervical discectomy C6/7
Anterior Instrumentation C6/7
Surgery Step by Step as per Operative Report
Incision carried down through subcutaneous tissue identifying the platysma muscle
Subcutaneous tissue, which is also known as the hypodermis, is the innermost layer of skin. It’s made up of fat and connective tissues that house larger blood vessels and nerves, and it acts as an insulator to help regulate body temperature.
The platysma muscle is a broad sheet of muscle arising from the pectoral (chest) and deltoid (shoulder) muscles and rises over the collarbone (clavicle), proceeding upward in a slanting manner along the sides of the neck.
Platysma muscle incised using a bovie cautery knife
Medial border of STERNOCLEIDOMASTOID muscle was identified & palpated with my index finger
The sternocleidomastoid muscle is one of the largest and most superficial cervical muscles. The primary actions of the muscle are rotation of the head to the opposite side and flexion of the neck. The sternocleidomastoid is innervated by the accessory nerve.
Blunt manner – interval between carotid sheath & esophagus dissected
Jugular vein & carotid artery within carotid sheath
Whats else is inside carotid sheath:
Interval held apart after being cut open by Army Navy retractors
Longus Coli Muscles identified
Prevertebral Fascia was incised using bovie cautery knife. Disc space Identified
the part of the cervical fascia that covers the bodies of the cervical vertebrae and the muscles attaching to them and to the anterior parts of their transverse processes
The prevertebral fascia is a thin layer of fibrous tissue that surrounds the spine.
Needle with ball tip inserted into this disc space
Elevate the longus coli with bovie knife. Casper type distractors placed
15 blade incision through the anterior longitudinal ligament – excising the annulus
C6 and C7 levels: Complete discectomy performed (removal of the disc including part pressing on nerves). All disc material as far to the side as joints of luschka and as fas back as the posterior longitudinal ligament was removed.
1mm Kerrison and Carlin currettes the PLL was removed exposing the dura
DURA: Dura mater is a thick membrane made of dense irregular connective tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. It is the outermost of the three layers of membrane called the meninges that protect the central nervous system
Posterior Longitudinal Ligament (PLL) is behind the disc toward the back of the spine:
Bilateral and medial foraminotomies were performed using the 1 and 2mm Kerrisons
A foraminotomy is a decompression surgery that is performed to enlarge the passageway where a spinal nerve root exits the spinal canal in the spinal column. The term foraminotomy is derived from the medical term for a hollow passageway—foramen. The latter half of the term foraminotomy—otomy—means to open.
High Speed Burr DRILL at 60,000 RPM to remove bone until it was visualized that there is no more nerve compression
Surgery is From the Front
A corpectomy or vertebrectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing all or part of the vertebral body (Latin: corpus vertebrae, hence the name corpectomy), usually as a way to decompress the spinal cord and nerves. Corpectomy is often performed in association with some form of discectomy.
The most important thing to do is follow up with your doctor and medical professionals. A legal consultation with a trial lawyer experienced in spinal fusion lawsuits is also highly recommended. The consult is free of charge and even hiring a lawyer is free with no costs of any kind. The legal fee is a percentage of the recovery the lawyer obtains for you at the end of the case usually 1/3rd of the final recovery.
Further, having a personal injury lawyer in your corner not only allows you to obtain the maximum amount of financial compensation at the end of your lawsuit but also gives you the benefit of a counselor during the process. An injury lawyer experienced with spinal fusion can help coordinate a client’s medical care to ensure the medical records, providers, diagnostic testing, and other medical care and treatment is best in class. This is vital both for the result in the case but more importantly for your health and well being.
FREE CONSULTATION · NO FEE PROMISE · OVER $900 MILLION RECOVERED
FREE CONSULTATION · NO FEE PROMISE · OVER $900 MILLION RECOVERED