When most people think about the types of injuries caused in an auto accident, they think about things like whiplash, herniated discs, or broken bones. However, nerve damage is another type of common injury that can result from an auto accident. Although nerve injuries are often overlooked and the pain is invisible to the naked eye, they are often permanent and can have serious, life-altering consequences.About Nerve Injuries
Nerves are like the communication network for the human body. The complex network of nerves is what the brain uses to communicate and control various parts of the body. Nerves are used to transmit electrical signals from the brain to direct muscle movements and other functions. Nerves also send signals back to the brain about things like pain or other sensory alerts.
Nerves themselves are like small little wires that run throughout the body. The outer casing of the nerve is a protective shield that insulates the inner fibers. Inside the protective outer sheath are tiny bundles of individual nerve fibers. These nerve fiber bundles are the pathways for the transmission of signals to and from the brain.
Just like ligaments and muscles, nerves can be damaged by excessive stretching, pressure or actual laceration. Damage to a nerve can disrupt its ability to send transmit signals to the brain. The more severe the damage to the nerve, the more extensive this signal disruption will be.
Your peripheral nerves are the links between your brain and your spinal cord and the rest of your body. The most commonly reported peripheral nerve injuries are the radial nerve, followed by the ulnar nerve and median nerves. A co-traveler with these injuries is often broken bones and shooting pain.Nerve Damage in Auto Accidents
Nerves are commonly injured in car accidents. More than 25% of nerve injury cases are from car and truck accidents. Our lawyers see the injuries even more commonly in motorcycle accidents which account for 32.5% of peripheral nerve injury cases. Damage to a nerve in an auto accident can occur in pretty much the same way as damage to bones, ligaments, muscles and everything else. Nerves typically get damaged in a vehicle collision because the nerve is subjected to acute pressure or gets overstretched as the body suddenly and violently moves.
Nerve injury is often a secondary result of whiplash. Whiplash happens in a car accident when the head and neck get jerked (or whipped) forward and then back in response to the impact of the collision. When this occurs the nerve pathways that run up the spinal column and through the shoulders and neck can easily get overstretched causing the nerve tissue to tear. Nerves can also get injured by blunt force trauma in a car accident. If the body impacts part of the car (e.g., steering wheel, door, etc.) during the collision, this impact can cause acute compression and damage or possibly even cut a nerve. Many car accident lawyers like to say that the damage to the vehicle has nothing to do with the injuries to the occupants. This is sometimes true but not in nerve injury cases. The more significant the property damage the more likely the crash victim is to have suffered nerve damage.Symptoms of Auto Accident Nerve Injury
The physical symptoms and signs of nerve damage will vary depending on what specific nerve was injured. The symptoms will also tend to vary based on the severity of the injury. Some general symptoms of nerve injury include:
- Numbness: certain nerves primarily serve to transmit sensation signals to the brain. When one of these sensory nerves is damaged in an auto accident it will typically cause some degree of numbness in the affected area of the body.
- Immobility: the brain uses nerves to direct and coordinate voluntary movements of all muscles in the body. If one of these nerves is damaged by trauma it may disrupt these signals from the brain resulting in a loss of movement ability.
- Pain: chronic and unexplained pain in the area of a damaged nerve is another very common symptom of a nerve injury.
Treatment options for nerve injuries depend largely on the type of damage and how severe it is. If the damage to the nerve is relatively minor (e.g., slight overstretching) the nerve will usually repair itself without little or no medical treatment. When the nerve suffers more significant levels of damage, it is still capable of repairing itself but this process make takes months or longer. Supportive medical care and sometimes surgery will usually be necessary to facilitate the restoration of the nerve. Even when fully healed, however, brain signal transmissions may be permanently impaired.
For the most severe level of damage, where the nerve is actually severed or ruptured, surgical repair is the only treatment option. Surgery to repair severed or severely damaged nerves involves sewing the nerve fibers back together and allowing them to heal. The process is very similar to getting stitches for a cut but much more complex. The recovery time after surgical repair can be very long as the repaired nerve tissue regenerates very slowly. Physical therapy is usually necessary during this recovery period and patients may often suffer from chronic pain.Value of Auto Accident Nerve Injuries
Estimating the value of an auto accident nerve injury in a personal injury case is somewhat difficult. The reason for this is that nerve damage in a car accident almost always occurs in combination with some other type of physical injury (e.g., disc herniation, whiplash, back sprain, etc.) As a result, it is difficult to find examples of settlements or verdicts in which the nerve damage was the only injury or the primary injury. It is safe to say, however, that permanent nerve injuries can significantly increase the potential value of an auto accident claim.
Below are summaries of recent verdicts and publicly reported settlements from actual auto tort cases in which nerve damage was one of the primary injuries alleged by the plaintiff.
- Berg v Knott (New York 2018) $520,000: A 47-year-old plaintiff was jogging on the roadside facing traffic when he was struck by a pick-up truck driven by the defendant as the defendant turned to enter a driveway leading to a strip mall. The plaintiff suffered a broken right arm, lumbar herniation and permanent damage to his sensory nerves causing pain and numbness. The defendant contested the extent of the alleged injuries, pointing out that the plaintiff was back to competitive running only 2 years after the accident. A jury in upstate New York sided definitively with the plaintiff and awarded $520k.
- Danberry v Merringer (Minnesota 2018) $24,070: A young female plaintiff in her mid-20s got t-boned on the passenger side by the defendant while crossing a busy intersection. As a result of the accident the plaintiff allegedly suffered permanent cervical spinal nerve damage causing chronic radiating pain. The defendant disputed the nature and extent of the alleged nerve injury. The jury awarded almost $25k in damages. But when you are talking about permanent nerve injuries you would expect a lot more money if the jury completely bought into the plaintiff's claims.
- Motorcyclist v Defendant (Massachusetts 2016) $1.2 million: A 50-year-old male plaintiff was riding his motorcycle when the defendant made a negligent left turn in front of him causing a collision. Again, so many of these nerve injury cases that our attorneys see are motorcycle accidents, usually from drivers who are not paying attention to the motorcyclist. As a result of the accident, the plaintiff suffered a broken pelvis and a permanent nerve injury impairing the movement of his left foot. Liability was admitted and parties eventually agreed to settle the case for policy limits of $1.2 million.
- Smith v Ross (Indiana 2015) $150,000: Plaintiff, 62-year-old female, slowed down to turn into a driveway when the defendant slammed into her from behind at a high rate of speed. As a result of the accident plaintiff reportedly suffered facial lacerations and a left lateral femoral cutaneous nerve injury. The defendant admitted liability but disputed the alleged injuries and whether they were in fact caused by the accident. The jury awarded $150k in damages.
- Morrisey v Wilder (Florida 2014) $50,000 Verdict: Plaintiff, a male in his mid-60s, was stopped at a red light when he was struck from behind by the defendant's vehicle. In addition to cervical disc herniation, the plaintiff alleged that the accident caused injury to his ulnar nerve which required nerve transposition surgery to repair. The defendant admitted liability but disputed the extent of the alleged injuries pointing out that the accident did minimal damage to the plaintiff's vehicle and he did not seek medical treatment until a week later. The jury found that the plaintiff sustained permanent injury from the accident and awarded policy limits of $50k.
If you suffered a nerve injury in a motor vehicle accident that was not your fault, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Contact the auto accident lawyers at Miller & Zois for a free consultation. Call us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.