The repercussions of an auto accident resulting in back injuries can be long-lasting and severe. Victims often face financial, physical and emotional consequences. When the cause is a negligent driver, Arizona tort law says the at-fault party is liable for all resulting damages, including emotional losses. If you have a back injury related car accident claim, use this guide to learn more about the legal avenues available in Arizona and how a Phoenix car accident lawyer could be beneficial.
What Are Common Back Injuries After a Car Accident?
Back injuries are debilitating even in their most minor forms. Several factors can affect the severity of a back injury, including whether the victim suffered from a preexisting condition. Still, some common back injuries from auto accidents include the following:
- Fractures. Compression fractures occur when the force of impact compresses the vertebrae, causing them to crack. Violently whipping forward can cause a flexion fracture, and twisting can cause a transverse process fracture.
- Soft tissue damage. Back muscles, tendons and ligaments can tear or stretch from the impact. These are undetectable by X-ray but cause excruciating pain and have a lengthy recovery period.
- Dislocation. Dislocated bones in the spinal column are the most common back injury from car accidents. They occur when the force of impact causes ligaments and discs between vertebrae to stretch or tear.
- Herniated discs. Herniation occurs when a cracked vertebra leaks the bone’s soft center, affecting the nerves and causing various symptoms, including weakness, tingling and severe pain.
- Spinal cord injuries. Among the most severe back injuries include damage to the spinal cord. The level of pain and symptoms can vary depending on what area of the cord suffers damage. Our Phoenix spinal cord injury lawyers have handled severe cases which have resulted in permanent paralysis.
This list is not comprehensive. Back injury car accident claims can result from endless unique circumstances, affecting the damages available and who is liable for them. Consider how your accident impacts your current and future quality of life.
What Can You Do To Protect Your Post-Accident Claim?
Arizona is an at-fault state. Therefore, when you file a civil claim with Maricopa County court, you are responsible for proving the other party’s negligence and your damages. Some ways you can help build a solid claim include:
- Reporting the accident to the police, even if your injury seems minor
- Seeking a complete medical evaluation after the accident to document your injuries
- Gathering evidence at the scene, if possible
- Avoiding discussions about the accident with anyone other than the police or your attorney, including posting on social media
- Contacting a Phoenix car accident attorney as soon as possible to avoid making any mistakes that could damage your claim
Gathering evidence at the scene is not always possible. Back injuries can have an immediate effect, requiring emergency medical services, or manifest through latent symptoms in the hours or days following the crash. Try to collect evidence at the scene and take photographs of the vehicles, your visible injuries and the area surrounding the crash. Most importantly, see a doctor immediately to support your health and your back injury car accident claim.
The Importance of Seeking Medical Attention
The rush of adrenaline that surges through your body when a car crash occurs can mask the pain receptors that would otherwise alert you to an injury. The effect can sometimes last for hours or even days after the collision, and because back injuries are internal, you may not feel the full impact of injuries until well after the incident. For this reason, seeking immediate medical care is critical to your health, but it can also be a determining piece of evidence for your claim.
Many insurance companies suggest auto accident victims see a doctor within 72 hours after the collision. You can visit the emergency department at a local Maricopa County hospital or an urgent care clinic to request a medical examination. Emergency doctors see auto accident victims daily and understand the importance of documenting your injuries and statements to validate your claim.
If you wait too long after the accident to see a doctor, the insurance company could discredit your claim or undervalue your losses. To recover the maximum available damages, see a doctor immediately, save all your medical bills and remain vigilant about going to follow-up visits. Ongoing care, including rehabilitative treatment, is standard for back injuries and a recoverable expense in civil court.
What Damages Can You Recover From a Back Injury Car Accident Claim?
The unique circumstances surrounding every auto accident case will determine the damages available. However, Arizona personal injury law defines your recoverable losses as compensatory damages, including economic and non-economic losses. Economic losses include the ways your accident and injuries directly impacted you financially. Non-economic losses reflect changes in your mental and emotional state post-accident. In rare cases, the court may also award punitive damages.
Recoverable Financial Losses
Economic, or financial, losses include your medical expenses, lost income, property damage and all other out-of-pocket expenses necessary to your recovery. For example, the at-fault party in your case may be liable for repairing or replacing your vehicle, transportation to and from medical visits, childcare if you are the primary caregiver in the household and hired help with daily tasks you can no longer do on your own.
Proving these expenses can be tedious but is relatively straightforward. Medical records can link the accident to your injuries, and bills provide calculable evidence. Pay stubs and recent income tax returns support your claim for lost income, including lost promotional opportunities or loss of earning capacity.
Recoverable Psychological Losses
The non-economic losses in a severe back injury car accident claim are often substantial. For example, you can recover:
- Pain and suffering you incurred from your physical injuries and necessary medical care
- Emotional distress and mental anguish, usually reflected in a diagnosis of anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress
- The loss of your ability to enjoy life as you once did
- The loss of an intimate relationship with your spouse
Claiming non-economic damages has the added step of assigning a calculable value to your psychological losses. The most common tactic is to use the multiplier method. The process entails calculating the current and future medical expenses related to your injuries and multiplying the total by a number between 1.5 and 5. The greater the number, the more severe the injuries and the less likely you will recover fully. Adequately valuing these damages is critical to ensuring you receive fair compensation.
Arizona tort law states that personal injury victims can only recover punitive damages when they can prove the defendant acted with an “evil hand and mind.” This means you must show the at-fault driver either intended to injure you or engaged in conduct they knew was dangerous and likely to result in injury.
Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages do not replace something lost to you because of the accident. Instead, the court may order the defendant to pay punitive damages as punishment for their gross negligence or egregious behavior. Here are some examples that may warrant punitive damages for a back injury car accident claim:
- The defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol while driving and caused an accident.
- The defendant participated in illegal street racing, resulting in an accident that injured a pedestrian or other driver.
- The defendant intentionally caused the accident that resulted in injuries.
- The defendant knowingly drove a hazardous vehicle, such as a car with no braking system, and caused an accident.
If you believe the at-fault driver’s actions in your case may warrant punitive damages, you would likely benefit from speaking with an experienced car accident lawyer. Under certain circumstances, punitive damages can be substantial. For example, if your accident involved a commercial truck, you may need to get help from a truck accident attorney in Phoenix to file a claim against the truck driver’s employer, sometimes a large trucking company. In that case, a punitive damages award could be significant.
What Do You Need To Prove a Fault-Based Civil Claim for Back Injury in Arizona?
What does it mean to prove a negligence claim in Arizona civil court? Every state is responsible for developing the laws that govern personal injury claims, but most require evidence to support the three components of a fault-based accusation.
Components of a Negligence Claim
To show the other driver is directly liable for your losses, you or your Phoenix personal injury lawyer must provide evidence to support the following three elements of a negligence claim:
- The driver owed you a duty of care. Duty of care refers to a driver’s responsibility to ensure their actions are reasonably safe to protect others on the road from harm. This means they should follow traffic laws, such as obeying speed limits and road signals.
- The driver breached that duty of care. A breach of duty typically means they violated one or more traffic laws.
- The driver’s actions caused the accident and your injuries. There must be a direct correlation between the accident and the driver’s actions. For example, speeding is a common cause of auto accident cases.
Finally, your accident must result in damages to be a valid claim. Without damages, there is nothing to recover. If you suffered a back injury, you almost certainly have damages to claim.
Can You Still Recover Damages if You Are Partially Liable for the Accident?
A common misconception about back injury car accident claims is that you cannot recover damages if you share some fault for the accident. In reality, most states, including Arizona, follow one of the two forms of the comparative negligence rule. In general, comparative negligence requires the court to calculate an absolute value of your total losses and assign a percentage of fault to each party involved in the crash.
For example, if the court determines you are 40% at fault for the accident and values your damages at $100,000, you would be liable for 40% of your losses. That means you could still recover $60,000, which is a significant number.
Additionally, Arizona follows the pure comparative negligence rule, meaning you are still eligible for damages even if you are more liable than the defendant. This differs from states that follow the modified comparative negligence rule, which only allows the plaintiff to recover damages if they are less than 50% responsible.
How Can a Back Injury Car Accident Lawyer Help You?
As you evaluate the complexities of an auto accident claim and understand how Arizona tort laws may apply to your case, you likely have questions about the benefits of hiring an attorney to handle your claim. As you face the potentially devastating financial, physical and emotional consequences of someone else’s actions, it helps to have someone on your side to handle the sometimes overwhelming demands of a car accident claim. Your specialized Phoenix spinal cord injury attorney will:
- Represent you in all conversations with the insurance company so you can avoid their common tactics, such as denying claims without reason, delaying claims investigations, dodging attempts to communicate and significantly undervaluing valid claims
- Investigate your accident to gather the evidence needed to prove negligence
- Identify all the recoverable damages available and adequately value your non-economic losses
- Handle all administrative tasks, such as completing and filing paperwork for your claim or lawsuit
- Walk you through the legal process and protect your rights
Auto accident attorneys see victims with severe injuries and losses daily. They understand the financial toll these cases can have on their clients, so most work on contingency. Therefore, you can get the necessary representation without worrying about paying upfront legal fees.
When Should You Schedule a Consultation With a Back Injury Car Accident Lawyer?
An attorney can answer any questions you have about your case and the process of recovering damages. The first step is to schedule your free consultation. Sargon Law Group helps victims of negligent drivers access the compensation they need to rebuild their lives or adapt to new circumstances. We understand the challenges you face and the importance of having legal representation with experience in back injury car accident claims. Contact Sargon Law Group at (623) 225-5635 or complete an online form today to schedule your free case evaluation.