Lower back pain is the primary cause of disability worldwide, with lower back pain affecting more than 500 million people in the world at any given time. Many of these back injury sufferers are in California.
But what’s the cause of so much back pain for so many people? There are various causes of back injuries, whether it’s lifting something the wrong way, a sporting accident, slip and fall, car accident or incident at work.
But there’s some good news. If someone’s negligence or intentional conduct caused your back injury, you could have a legal claim against them. This could make it possible to return to work or living your life without chronic pain.
Common back injuries
According to the MedlinePlus of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, common back injuries include:
- Fractured vertebrae. A break in one of the bones in the back.
- Sprains and strains. These occur if there is a torn or overly stretched ligament, tendon or muscle.
- Herniated disc. Sometimes known as a slipped disc, this is a rupture of one or more of the discs that exist between the vertebrae. These discs keep the vertebrae in place and cushion against impacts and shocks to the body.
The most common location of back injuries, as well as back pain, is the lower back.
What causes the most back injuries?
Back injuries can come from something as simple as sneezing or as significant as a fall down the stairs However, the majority of back injuries are the result of:
- Car accidents. A sudden impact from even a minor car accident can exert a tremendous amount of force on the body.
- Fall. A fall can be more damaging for older individuals that may have weaker muscles and deteriorating discs, tendons, bones and ligaments.
- Slip. Even without a fall, the act of slipping can induce a reflex in the body where the person tries to balance themselves and avoid a fall. This reflexive action can sometimes lead to back injuries.
- Lifting a heavy object. This often leads to herniated discs in the lower back.
- Sports. Back injuries are common in contact sports, such as football, but can also occur in non-contact sports that place a lot of stress on the spine, like golf.
- Twisting. Back injuries often occur when someone is lifting and twisting the back at the same time.
Back Injury at Work
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2019, of 2.8 million nonfatal injuries that occurred in private industry, more than 136,000 of them involved injuries to the back. Specific jobs that have their fair share of back injuries include:
- Construction workers
- Dental professionals
- Warehouse workers
- Production workers
- Auto mechanics
- Commercial drivers
- Nurses and other frontline healthcare professionals
Because a significant number of workers in these fields end up with back injuries, they are likely eligible for workers’ compensation. So it’s no surprise that about 25% of all work-related compensation claims are paid out to workers with back injuries.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system where workers may receive compensation to help pay for medical bills and lost income due to injuries that occur at work. Employees may receive this compensation regardless of who caused their injuries.
If the injured employee would like to bring a personal injury lawsuit for a back injury from work, they can sue the responsible party, but only if it isn’t the employer.
For example, let’s say the employer was supposed to ensure the loading dock remained free of ice in the winter. The employer failed to do this and it led to an employee getting hurt when they slipped and fell on the ice. The injured employee can’t sue the employer, although they are probably eligible for workers’ compensation benefits.
But change the facts around a bit and instead of the employer having the duty to keep the loading dock free of ice, it was an outside snow and ice removal contractor that had the responsibility. If the contractor failed to remove the ice like they were supposed to and it led to the employee falling, then the employee may have an injury lawsuit claim against the contractor and not the employer.
As you can see, this is a very fact-specific analysis and can sometimes be confusing. That’s why if you hurt your back at work, it’s a good idea to get a free consultation with a workers’ compensation attorney to understand your rights and legal options.
How do you prove a back injury at work?
If you file a workers’ compensation claim, you will need to prove that your injury occurred as a part of your job duties and while you were working. This is normally pretty easy for most injured workers to establish.
What’s more challenging for many employees who file a workers’ compensation claim is getting the full amount of the compensation they should receive.
It’s common for employers and workers’ compensation insurance companies to contend that the employee’s injury isn’t as bad as they claim, the injury didn’t occur at work or the injury is the result of the re-aggravation of an earlier injury (like a previous back injury).
This is why it’s so important to report any workplace injury to your employer as soon as possible. The sooner you report the injury, the harder it will be for them to argue something else caused your injury.
If your employer or the insurance company is giving you a hard time with your workers’ comp claim, it might be a good idea to speak with a lawyer and look into getting another doctor’s opinion as to your injuries.
Compensation for back injury after a car accident
If your back injury is the result of a vehicular accident, you’ll most likely receive compensation from a car insurance company. California is an at-fault car insurance state, which means the driver responsible for causing the accident will be responsible for compensating you for your injuries. This is true whether you hurt your back as a driver or a passenger.
In most California car accidents that result in a back injury, you will obtain your compensation for your injuries by filing a claim with the at-fault driver’s car insurance company. But if the at-fault driver or his or her car insurance company denies responsibility for causing the accident, you may need to file a lawsuit and sue the other driver. If you decide to do this, it’s a good idea to consider consulting with a personal injury law firm that handles car accident cases.
Slip and fall back injury compensation
Most commercial establishments that are open to the public have a legal duty to keep their premises safe. This means promptly cleaning up a spill or wet spot on the floor, fixing uneven flooring or removing any potential fall or trip hazards. If a mall, store, hotel or restaurant fails to do this, they can be legally responsible for your injuries if you slip and fall in their establishment because of this hazardous condition.
For instance, let’s say you’re out shopping at a grocery store and slip and fall in a puddle of water that was the result of a leaking case of water on the store shelf. You hurt your shoulder and back from the fall and sue the grocery store. Are they legally liable?
It depends on if they were negligent. If the puddle of water had been there for several hours, then that’s a long enough time where a store employee should have seen the water and cleaned it up. Therefore, they are probably negligent and therefore liable for your injuries.
But if the water started leaking just minutes before you fell, then there’s a good chance that the grocery store could successfully argue that they couldn’t be reasonably expected to have the water cleaned up before your fall. As a result, you’d probably lose your case.
If you end up hurting your back at a commercial establishment and are considering bringing a lawsuit, you will want to notify that business as soon as possible so they can preserve evidence of what happened.
This may include obvious things like having them save video surveillance footage that shows the area where you got hurt. It can also include saving any other relevant information that could serve as evidence in a lawsuit, such as emails, personnel files and employee timesheets.
How much compensation will I get for a back injury?
It depends on how serious your injuries are, where they occurred, how they occurred, who’s responsible for them and how much they’ve affected you and those around you. If you win your California personal injury case involving back injuries, you could potentially receive the following types of damages:
- Lost income
- Loss of future income
- Pain and suffering (including mental anguish)
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
- Medical bills
Some of these damages are fairly straightforward, like lost income and medical bills. But others are far more speculative, such as pain and suffering, loss of future income, loss of consortium and punitive damages.
Depending on how sympathetic your injuries are and how unsympathetic the defendant is, these more speculative damages could amount to just a few thousand dollars or as much as millions of dollars.
Time limits for back injury compensation claims
For workers’ compensation cases involving injured workers, they have only 30 days to notify their employer of the back injury.
In personal injury cases, prospective plaintiffs have much longer to bring suit. In California, the statute of limitations for personal injury cases, such as those involving back injuries, is two years. So if you hurt your back in a car accident, you have two years from the date of the accident to sue the at-fault driver or entity responsible for your back injury.
There are some exceptions to these deadlines. But you’ll want to speak with a personal injury attorney to get a better understanding of how they’ll apply to you and what you need to do if you’re filing a claim or lawsuit after the time limit has passed.