A car accident victim clutches at their neck and back due to the pain caused by aggravated degenerative disc disease.

The Impact Degenerative Disc Disease Has on Recovering Damages

Suffering injuries in a car accident creates emotional distress on top of physical pain, making it a life-changing event for most accident victims. When auto accident injuries cause underlying conditions to explode with symptoms, the aftermath of the accident is even worse. If you have degenerative disc disease (DDD) and were involved in an auto accident, you might be worried that you are not eligible for compensation, even if another driver caused the accident.

This is not always the case.

Keep reading to learn more about degenerative disc disease, its symptoms, its causes, and how a diagnosis might impact your personal injury claim against the driver who caused the accident.

What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

The bones that make up the human spine, called vertebrae, have discs between each of them that serve as shock absorbers. Disc degeneration occurs when one or more of these discs in the spinal column deteriorates.

Degenerative disc disease is often associated with aging, but physical traumas such as car accidents can lead to injuries that exacerbates the condition.

Something as seemingly harmless as a soft tissue injury like minor whiplash can aggravate a person’s condition and cause massive amounts of pain and discomfort.

Symptoms of Degenerative Disc Disease

Those who suffer from degenerative disc disease or a herniated disc due to the disease can experience a wide range of symptoms. Unfortunately, most symptoms are pain-related.

Pain associated with the disease often has the following characteristics:

Sharp Pain in the Neck, Spinal Column, and/or Back

This condition can lead to pain along the entire spinal column. Those who have the disease might experience pain in their neck, lower back, or buttocks. In some cases, pain radiates from hips to legs.

Chronic Pain

Each person who suffers from the condition has a different experience with regard to how often they feel pain. Some have consistent pain and for others, their pain comes and goes. Pain from the disease can last days, weeks, or months at a time.

Radiating Pain from Hips to Legs

The type of pain one suffers from DDD varies from person to person. Sharp pains in the neck and back are common for some, while others might experience strong discomfort or a chronic, shooting type of pain.

Pain While Bending or Sitting

The position in which one stands, sits, or lies often impacts how those with condition experience pain. Many people experience pain while bending, sitting, lifting, or twisting.

Yet, they find relief when they move and walk around. Some also find their pain gets better when they lie down.

Numbness,Tingling, or Weakness in the Legs

Numbness can indicate that the deterioration of one of the discs or a bone spur has pinched a nerve or caused minor spinal cord damage.

Those in severe pain greatly reduce their daily activity, which can result in the loss of muscle mass, ultimately leading to weakness.

What Causes Degenerative Disc Disease?

The medical community is not certain about the exact causes of the disease, but they do know it’s associated with aging. Everyone suffers from an overall deterioration as they get older. Most do not experience symptoms or have problems until they are much older unless they suffer injuries in a traumatic event like an auto accident.

As mentioned above, discs in the spinal column absorb the shock of movement. When an accident occurs, those who have experienced disc degeneration cannot absorb shock the same way as a healthy person, so the accident forces symptoms to emerge, causing pain and discomfort for accident victims.

Diagnosing Degenerative Disc Disease

A doctor inspects x ray images of a patient's spine which looks to be curved painfully and could indicate degenerative disc disease.

It’s not always easy for doctors to diagnose DDD and many people do not experience symptoms until the disease progresses to later stages.

Doctors use x-rays to look for bone spurs and measure the distance between the vertebrae. Shorter than normal distances indicate deterioration of a disc.

Doctors also diagnose the disease with diagnostic imaging. By ordering an MRI, doctors can see whether a disc’s soft tissue is compressing the spinal cord or a nerve.

Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment

Treatment depends on how far the condition has progressed in an individual. Most treatment revolves around reducing pain because there is no way to reverse the deterioration of a disc. It can include a variety of things such as:

  • Disc replacement surgery. Sometimes doctors treat patients with severe disc deterioration by replacing their disc with an artificial one to alleviate pain and allow more movement.
  • Laminectomy. If someone with DDD has several bone spurs, their doctor may recommend a laminectomy to remove the spurs, especially if one is pinching the spinal cord.
  • Spinal fusion. Spinal fusion is the most common surgery those with the condition might undergo. A surgeon fuses two vertebrae together to stop the friction that occurs from total disc deterioration. The goal is for the two vertebrae to heal together into one solid bone.
  • Injections. Doctors often give those with severe pain cortisone shots or other injections for pain relief. This is especially common in the early stages of the disease.
  • Physical therapy. Regular movement helps eliminate muscle weakness and helps complement other forms of treatment for DDD.
  • Pain medication. Sometimes doctors prescribe prescription painkillers to help patients cope with their chronic pain. Yet, doctors carefully weigh this decision because many prescription painkillers are highly addictive and can create more problems for a patient suffering from DDD.

Does Degenerative Disc Disease Affect a Personal Injury Case?

Yes, if you have been diagnosed with this medical condition, it will likely impact the outcome of your accident claim.

However, you will likely need an experienced attorney to present these complexities to the insurance company and/or to the court.

In many cases, a person involved in a traffic accident develops back pain, and their doctor discovers their degeneration after they order x-rays or an MRI. The insurance company celebrates because they can now point to a pre-existing injury. This, however, is not the whole story.

Most in this situation never had previous back pain. Ultimately, your lawyer must convince the court that although a pre-existing condition was present, it did not cause the pain you are experiencing. The traffic accident led to the pain and aggravation of your condition. Even if you have already suffered back pain and knew about your condition, a traffic accident can make your condition far worse than it otherwise would have been.

Proving Damage from an Auto Accident

A doctor takes notes with a clipboard while diagnosing a patient with degenerative disc disease which has been aggravated by a car accident.a

For validation purposes, your personal injury lawyer will work closely with your doctor, and perhaps secure the testimony of an independent medical professional.

An expert witness can compare x-rays, documents, and medical records prior to the traffic accident with your latest x-rays and medical records to demonstrate to the insurance company and/or a jury that the car accident caused your degenerative disc disease to progress.

Compensation You Can Receive

If you reach an injury settlement agreement with the at-fault driver’s insurance carrier, or the court rules in your favor if you go to trial, you could receive compensation for a variety of losses related to your car crash injuries, including the escalation of your back injury.

Compensation for the following economic and non-economic damages are commonly awarded to accident victims:

  • Medical treatment costs including ambulance, hospitalization, surgery, aftercare, radiology, medication, and travel expenses to and from the doctor as well as other medical bills
  • Future medical expenses when car accident victims require multiple surgeries or ongoing treatment
  • Current lost wages and benefits
  • Future lost wages and benefits when car accident injuries cause a permanent disability that prevents a victim from working
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental anguish
  • Reduced quality of life

Process of Receiving Compensation

Receiving compensation for accident injuries can take some time. Each insurance claim is different and you can expect the insurance company to fight hard if you have been diagnosed with DDD. You could reach a settlement in as few as six months, but it could also take years before your case is resolved. The process of receiving compensation varies greatly based on several factors, which include:

  • The Severity of Your Injuries. For your lawyer to place a value on your claim and begin settlement negotiations, he or she must have an idea of your long-term prognosis. The more serious injuries, the longer time you need for healing and recovery before your doctor can provide an accurate picture of your chances for a full recovery.
  • Cooperation of the Other Party. If the other party won’t come to the table to negotiate or refuses to cooperate with the legal process in other ways, it can drag your claim out much longer than you would hope.
  • Litigation. If your car accident lawyer has to litigate your case in court, it will add at least one year to the timeline of your case. Setting a court date, coordinating witness testimony, and other aspects of litigation automatically require extra time.

Don’t Let an Insurance Company Claim You Had Pre-existing Injuries

Let the skilled legal team at The Miley Legal Group fight for you if a car accident has aggravated your degenerative disc disease. You deserve compensation for your injuries so you can get the treatment you need for your condition.

We serve injured clients who need a personal injury lawyer throughout West Virginia. Contact us today online for a free consultation to discuss the details of your claim.

Author Bio

Tim Miley is the Founder of Miley Legal Accident Injury Lawyers, a West Virginia personal injury law firm he formed in 2006. With more than 30 years of experience in personal injury law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of personal injury cases, including car accidents, trucking accidents, motorcycle accidents, brain injuries, wrongful death, and other personal injury matters.

Tim received his Juris Doctor from Duquesne University and is a member of the West Virginia State Bar and the Harrison County Bar Association. He has helped his clients win more than $10 million in personal injury verdicts and settlements and has further served the people of West Virginia by filling legislative roles in the state’s government since 2004.

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