Spinal fusion surgery significantly increases the potential value of any back injury claim. Our Maryland personal injury lawyers see a lot of back injuries and we have seen first-hand how spinal fusion surgery can double or triple the settlement value of these cases.
This post looks at the settlement value of back injury cases in which the plaintiff was required to undergo spinal fusion surgery.
About Back Injury Cases
The term “back injury” is an umbrella term that refers to any and all injuries involving the bones, discs, and nerves in the spinal cord. Some of the most common back injuries we see in personal injury cases include:
- Whiplash: Whiplash is a type of neck injury that is often suffered in auto accidents, particularly rear-end auto accidents. Whiplash occurs when the sudden impact of a collision causes the neck to whip forward, injuring tissue in the cervical area of the spine.
- Herniated Disc: Between each of the vertebrae bones in the spine are soft, doughnut-shaped discs that act as cushions. A herniated disc injury occurs when the outer casing of a spinal disc ruptures causing the soft, jelly-like tissue to push out of the disc. This can be very painful, especially when the protruding tissue compresses a nerve.
- Fractured or Dislocated Vertebrae: fracture or dislocation of the spinal bones (vertebrae) is a very serious back injury. These types of back injuries usually occur in very high impact accidents involving significant force.
- Pinched Nerve: the spinal column is surrounded by many nerve attachments that connect various parts of the body to the brain. A pinched nerve results when a herniated or bulging spinal disc compresses or pinches down on a nerve root in the spine. This can cause severe pain and numbness.
The potential settlement value of back injuries in tort cases is highly dependent on the type and level of treatment that the plaintiff undergoes. Minor back injuries that only require pain medications and physical therapy have a relatively low value. The next level of treatment in most back-injury cases is epidural steroid injections. The third and highest level of treatment in back cases is usually spinal fusion surgery.
About Spinal Fusion Surgery
Spinal fusion is a surgical technique that is commonly used to treat back injuries resulting in chronic pain. In spinal fusion surgery, two or more vertebrae bones in the spine are essentially welded or “fused” together into a single bone. This fusing process is designed to eliminate chronic pain caused when the bones move and independently.
Spinal fusion works by reducing the motion between two vertebrae bones that can be the source of chronic pain. Fusion on the spine bones also prevents stretching and pinching of adjacent ligaments and nerves. The idea is that if the vertebrae are immobilized through fusion, they will no longer cause chronic pain. Spinal fusion surgery is only an effective treatment option when motion is the source of pain and the location of the pain in the back is known. Spinal fusion surgery is used to treat many accident-related back injuries, including:
- Herniated discs
- Fractured vertebrae
- Pinched nerves
- Spinal stenosis
How Does Spinal Fusion Surgery Impacts Settlement Value?
As a general rule, in personal injury cases, all surgery greatly increases the potential settlement value of the plaintiff’s injuries. Whenever a plaintiff’s injuries require surgery, their tort case is going to have a higher potential settlement value. This is very true in back injury cases involving spinal fusion surgery.
The factor with the biggest impact on the potential settlement value of back injury cases is the level of treatment that the plaintiff undergoes. For most types of back injuries, there are three escalating levels of potential medical treatment that might be required:
|LEVEL 1: Meds & Therapy||Level 1 treatment for back injuries usually involves some combination of anti-inflammatory pain medication (e.g., ibuprofen) AND physical therapy.|
|LEVEL 2: Steroid Injections||If pain meds and physical therapy are not effective at eliminating chronic pain from a back injury, the next level of treatment involves epidural steroid injections. This involves injecting anti-inflammatory steroid medications directly into the epidural space in the spine. These injections (which can last several months) eliminate back pain by reducing inflammation and nerve irritation.|
|LEVEL 3: Spinal Fusion Surgery||If Level 1 (meds & physical therapy) and Level 2 (steroid injections) are not effective at eliminating chronic back injury pain, the third and final level of treatment is usually spinal fusion surgery.|
The average settlement value of a back-injury claim will increase based on the level of treatment that the plaintiff underwent. Whenever a back injury requires spinal fusion surgery, it can easily double or triple the potential value of the case.
There are two reasons for this. First, it entitles part of the damages that a plaintiff to receive in personal injury cases includes medical expenses. More treatment equals more damages. The medical expenses associated with spinal fusion surgery are going to be much higher than the expenses associated with Level 1 treatment.
The second reason spinal fusion surgery significantly increases the value of a back-injury case is that it validates the plaintiff’s injury and pain & suffering claim. If a back injury only requires level 1 treatment, insurance adjusters (and jurors) tend to take it less seriously. They will be more likely to discredit any alleged pain & suffering and devalue the claim. By contrast, whenever a back injury requires spinal fusion surgery (level 3 treatment) claims adjusters are forced to take it seriously and are less likely to dispute the plaintiff’s pain & suffering claims.
Remember that all these statistics are flawed. Any statistician who pulled the methodology of how these numbers are calculated would have grave reservations about relying on any of these estimates as a true average spinal surgery settlement value. Does that make these statistics useless? I would not say that. But keep in mind this is not like looking at the average price of West Texas crude oil. Ultimately, you can dig and find information to help you better estimate the settlement value of your claim. But every case really is different, and the average settlement has no real bearing on the true settlement value of your claim.
What Is the Average Settlement Value for Spinal Fusion Surgery?
The average settlement value for a back-injury case involving spinal fusion surgery is between $150,000 and $200,000. One of the factors which limit the value in spinal fusion auto tort cases is the limits of applicable insurance coverage. These cases can have a much higher settlement value, depending on the available insurance coverage limits.
Is Spinal Fusion Surgery Painful?
Spinal fusion surgery, like all types of surgery, can involve some temporary pain and discomfort associated with the procedure. Compared to other procedures, however, spinal fusion surgery does not involve a significant amount of post-surgical pain or difficult recovery.
Is Spinal Fusion Major Surgery?
Yes. Spinal fusion surgery is a major surgical procedure requiring general anesthesia and takes several hours to complete. Bone grafts and artificial hardware such as rods and screws are used to fuse and stabilize the spine.
Does Insurance Cover Spinal Fusion Surgery?
Yes. Spinal fusion surgery is generally a valid treatment for an actual medical condition and, therefore, it should be covered by health insurance.
How Much Does Spinal Fusion Surgery Cost?
The typical cost of spinal fusion surgery can range from $16,000 to $30,000 depending on various factors such as the type of fusion surgery, the location on the spine, and the location where the procedure is done.
Spinal Fusion Back Injury Verdicts and Settlements
YEAR / STATE
CASE / INJURY SUMMARY
2020 – Washington
A 44-year-old woman was involved in a chain-reaction collision. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, a neck injury, and a disc herniation. The woman sustained cognitive loss and chronic migraines. She underwent a two-level cervical fusion and discectomy. The woman could no longer work. She alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused permanent injuries. The woman also made a vicarious liability claim against the at-fault driver’s employer. A jury awarded $1,135,346.
$1,135,346 – Verdict
2020 – California
A 51-year-old passenger was T-boned. She suffered rib fractures and C5-6 and C6-7 disc protrusions with stenosis, radiculopathy, and paresthesia. The woman underwent chiropractic care, massage therapy, and spinal injections. She then underwent a two-level cervical fusion. Despite the surgery, the woman’s C5-6 symptoms lingered. She alleged that the at-fault driver’s failure to yield to a stop sign caused her injuries. The defense disputed the woman’s injury claims. This case settled for $700,000.
$700,000 – Settlement
2020 – California
$1,250,000 – Settlement
2020 – Georgia
A woman was rear-ended on an exit ramp. She injured her head, neck, and back. The woman underwent a cervical discectomy and fusion. She alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligent tailgating caused her injuries. The at-fault driver denied liability. She argued that the woman’s abrupt stop made the collision unavoidable. The jury found the at-fault driver 100 percent liable. They awarded the woman $1,051,800.
$1,051,800 – Verdict
2020 – Louisiana
A man was rear-ended by a truck. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a right shoulder tear, rotator cuff injuries, left knee injuries, and cervical and lumbar injuries. The man underwent multiple procedures. They included fusion surgery, a subacromial decompression with distal clavicle resection, and a left knee arthroscopy with ACL reconstruction. The man alleged that the truck driver’s negligence caused his injuries. He claimed he failed to slow down, maintain a proper lookout, and avoid the collision. The man also made a vicarious liability claim against the truck driver’s employer, Landstar Ranger. The defense admitted liability but disputed the injuries. A jury awarded the man $4,375,018.
$4,375,018 – Verdict
2019 – Florida
A 52-year-old man was rear-ended. He injured his neck, lower back, and right leg. The man underwent cervical and lumbar fusions. He subsequently underwent three lumbar procedures. They included a revision fusion, a decompression, and a laminectomy. The man could no longer work as a painter. He alleged that the at-fault driver’s negligence caused his permanent injuries. The defense admitted liability but disputed the injuries. This case settled for $2,300,000.
$2,300,000 – Settlement