A torn meniscus is one of the most common types of knee injuries. Our lawyers have handled many car accident claims where the victim sought damages for a torn meniscus.
The meniscus is a normal anatomical structure that distributes weight-bearing stresses over wider surface areas. Humans have a meniscus and so do most animals that walk. The meniscus takes pressure off specific areas of bone and the cartilage. An even simpler explanation would be the meniscus acts as a shock absorber for the bone.
The knee has 2 menisci which are horseshoe-shaped pieces of cartilage. The menisci act as cushions between the thighbone and shinbone. Damage to this cartilage is referred to as a torn meniscus.
A meniscus injury can cause lifelong injuries. When the blood supply to the meniscus gets cut off, natural healing is a challenge and it leads to life-altering complications. Our car accident attorneys have also seen many patients that have a portion of their meniscus or all of their meniscus removed that later develop arthritis.
When lawyers calculate pain and suffering damages in a car or truck accident case, we also must factor in this increased risk for developing arthritis compared to a patient that doesn't have part of their meniscus removed.
Any type of excessively forceful rotation or twisting of the knee while it's under stress can result in a torn meniscus. This is why a torn meniscus is a very common injury suffered in car accidents.
At the moment of impact in a car accident, the knees are frequently twisted or pushed backward with a great deal of force. The older you get the easier it is to tear a meniscus. Sometimes a torn meniscus can result from deep kneeling to lift something heavy. It is also a common injury in certain sports such as football.
When the tear of the meniscus initially occurs you might experience a painful popping feeling in the knee. Swelling and stiffness in and around the injured knee will typically develop soon after the tear. When the meniscus is torn it will be difficult to fully straighten the knee and moving or rotating the knee will be very painful. Another common symptom is feeling as if the knee is locked in place.
The perception people have of meniscus tears is all wrong. In many ways, these tears are like having a cavity. How long do you have a cavity before you're aware of it? Because, like a cavity, you can have torn cartilage and not have symptoms. This is why a relatively minor car accident can cause of symptoms from a tear.
If you are a lawyer taking one of these cases to trial, you have to keep in mind that the jury does not understand the science of these cases and they need to be educated on the epidemiology or how these tears work beginning with the opening statement and through the expert witness testimony at trial.
A preliminary diagnosis of a torn meniscus can often be done based on a physical exam. The doctor will observe how the knee responds to various movements such as walking and squatting and the patient's reaction to different positions. A definitive diagnosis of a torn meniscus requires additional imaging testing or arthroscopy.
Meniscus tears involve damage to cartilage, not bone, so the tear will not be visible on an x-ray. X-rays of the knee are often used, however, to rule out other conditions that might present similar physical symptoms.
More advanced diagnostic imaging tools such as Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is required to actually see the cartilage damage and make a conclusive diagnosis of a torn meniscus. MRIs are expensive and many doctors and insurance companies are reluctant to order them so you may have to insist on an MRI if you want to know for sure.
An arthroscope is a diagnostic medical instrument with a very small light and a camera that can be inserted into the knee to allow doctors to visually examine bones and cartilage. A very small incision is made in the knee through which the arthroscope is inserted. Arthroscopy can be used not only to diagnose knee issues but also to repair damage inside the knee. In some cases, an arthroscopy will be used to diagnose a torn meniscus.
The McMurray test is a specific set of rotations and maneuvers of the knee that doctors use during a physical examination to identify a torn meniscus. If the maneuvers produce a painful click noise it means the meniscus is torn. The click is referred to as McMurray's Sign.
The Apley test for diagnosing meniscus tears has the patient lay in a prone position while the doctor holds down the thigh, bends the knee to 90 degrees and maneuvers it laterally. Pain or discomfort at certain points during the Apley test indicates a torn meniscus.
Clarke's Test is a method used to evaluate anterior knee injury and pain during physical examination. A positive Clarke's Test occurs when pain or discomfort is produced by the physical maneuvers. The value of Clarke's Test is somewhat disputed.
Pivot Shift is a type of test done during a physical exam to evaluate knee stability. A positive result from a Pivot Shift test can indicate an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament.
The Noble Compression test is a physical examination technique typically used to diagnose iliotibial band syndrome. Its diagnostic value is not fully accepted.
Ober's Test is a physical exam technique used to evaluate the tightness of the iliotibial band. A positive Ober's Test result is an indication of iliotibial band syndrome.
The Patellar Grind Test is a technique used during physical examination of the knee. The test is used to diagnose patellofemoral syndrome.
Treatment plans for a torn meniscus will vary depending on the type and severity of the tear and resulting cartilage damage. Meniscus tears the result from arthritis or other degenerative conditions tend to be very minor and require more conservative treatment.
By contrast, a torn meniscus resulting from car accidents or other acute trauma tends to be much more severe. A severely torn meniscus from a car accident will usually require more advanced forms of treatment. There are essentially 3 levels of treatment for a torn meniscus: (1) conservative; (2) therapy; and (3) surgery.
The ICD-9-CM code for a medial meniscus tear is 717.3 and a lateral meniscus tear is 717.4.
These codes do not matter for trial. But car accident lawyers need to keep an eye out for these codes in the medical records for the settlement demand. For whatever reason, these codes are also written incorrectly which, for reasons that escape our attorneys, have a chilling impact on the settlement offer.
The average settlement value of a torn meniscus in a personal injury lawsuit is around $25,000 to $50,000. The primary factors that impact value in these cases are the severity of the tear and the level and extent of medical treatment required.
The most basic and conservative level of treatment for a torn meniscus usually consists of rest, ice packs, and anti-inflammatory medications.Rehabilitative Therapy
Physical therapy offers another level of treatment for a torn meniscus. The object of physical therapy is to help strengthen the muscles around the knee and leg to increase stability and support for the injured knee.Surgery
If physical therapy and other treatments efforts are not successful a torn meniscus can be treated with surgery. If the patient is relatively young, surgery can be successfully used to actually repair the damaged meniscus cartilage.
When the meniscus cannot actually be repaired, it can be surgically trimmed to alleviate pain and increase mobility. In some cases, a procedure called a meniscectomy is used to surgically remove most or all of the damaged meniscus.
Years ago, surgery was the first option. Today, surgeons typically require conservative treatment before taking the leap into surgery. While young people do better after meniscus surgery than adults, the failure rate on meniscus surgery is still very high.Compensation for Torn Meniscus Caused by Car Accident
The knees of drivers and passengers are put under considerable force during any car accident. For this reason, car accident knee injuries are a common result in significant automobile collisions. Of all the various types of knee injuries that typically occur in car accidents, a torn meniscus is probably the most common.
One big factor in settlement compensation payouts in tort meniscus cases is age. Why? Younger people are more likely to have a traumatic as opposed to a degenerative tear because their elastic fibers have yet to break down. Older patients who are more likely to experience a degenerative tear can have a relatively minor type of injury and can go on to get a torn meniscus that could become symptomatic.
When our law firm cannot settle a torn meniscus case without filing a lawsuit, the sticking point is often a disagreement about when the tear occurred. This is because, unlike an ACL tear, an MRI will not confirm whether the meniscus tear is an acute (the result of traumatic injury) or degenerative injury.
So besides the age of the victim, the extent of the property damages will also be a driving force in the settlement value of a meniscus claim because the more significant the impact the more likely the possibility of an acute tear.
There is one more thing we want to make clear. Our lawyers are focusing on this page on personal injury claims, mostly car crash cases. Workers' compensation cases in Maryland are almost invariably will be less because the compensation system is very different.Torn Meniscus Settlements and Verdicts
Below are summaries of recent settlements and verdicts in cases where the primary injury was a torn meniscus. The value of these cases is typically driven by the severity of the meniscus tear and whether there were any additional injuries involved. These cases are for informational purposes only.
You should not put a lot of stock in these verdicts. They are extremely low (and the first one is extremely high). We have settled many six-figure meniscus tear lawsuits in Maryland in recent years.
- Walter v. Spree West Construction (2020 Washington) - $4,500,000 Verdict: A 30-year-old pipe layer was working inside a trench box and pinched between the spreader bar and excavator bucket. He had a small meniscus tear requiring arthroscopic surgery. The defense lawyer asked the jury to award no more than $75,000, advice they obviously did not heed.
- Plaintiff v. Defendant (2019 Maryland) - $190,000 Settlement: A welder suffered multiple injuries after a head-on collision in Montgomery County. An ambulance took him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a sternum fracture, a meniscus tear, and contusions to his heart and lungs. He was hospitalized for two days. He underwent physical therapy courses on his knee for eight weeks. He was out of work for several months and sought orthopedic treatment during that period. His knee injury lawyer filed suit, claiming the man never underwent surgery for his knee injury because he could not afford to pay or miss more work to recover from the procedure. The case led to a settlement compensation payout of $190,000.
- Buechler v Tessler (2018 New Jersey) - $30,000 Settlement: Both cars were totaled in the crash. The defendant conceded liability. The car accident was as both cars were totaled. Plaintiff's wife suffered more severe injuries and was awarded $120,000 in damages. Plaintiff's primary injury was a torn medial and lateral meniscus for which the jury in Morris County awarded $30,000.
- McCellen v. Cruz (2016 Maryland) - $2,000 Verdict: Plaintiff's lawsuit alleged torn medial meniscus resulted when Defendant backed into his car in a parking lot. A Howard County jury awarded just $2,000 which, as you can imagine, was much less than what Plaintiff was seeking.
- Dagher v. Murillo (2016 Maryland) - $28,000 Verdict: Plaintiff's primary injury in this intersection collision case was a torn meniscus. The meniscus tear was particularly severe in this case requiring full meniscectomy surgery. A jury in P.G. County awarded $28,000 in medical expense damages but no economic damages.
If you suffered a torn meniscus or other knee injury in a car accident in the Baltimore-Washington caused by another driver's negligence, the Maryland personal injury lawyers at Miller & Zois can help get you financial compensation. Call us at 1.800.553.8082 or get a free consultation and evaluation of your potential knee injury lawsuits.Meniscus Tear Literature
- Ahmed, I., et al. Meniscal tears are more common than previously identified, however, less than a quarter of people with a tear undergo arthroscopy. Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc (2021).
- Chirichella, PS, et. al: Treatment of Knee Meniscus Pathology: Rehabilitation, Surgery, and Orthobiologics. PM R. 2019 Mar;11(3):292-308.
- Howell, R, et. al: Degenerative Meniscus: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Treatment Pptions. World J Orthop. 2014 Nov 18;5(5):597-602.
- Makris, EA, et. al: The Knee Meniscus: Structure-Function, Pathophysiology, Current Repair Techniques, and Prospects for Regeneration. Biomaterials. 2011 Oct; 32(30): 7411–7431.
- DeHaven KE, Meniscus Repair. Am J Sports Med. 1999 Mar-Apr; 27(2):242-50.