Car accidents do not cause degenerative disc disease. However, if you had this serious back condition before the accident, the crash can make it worse. Because the accident exacerbated the preexisting injury, you can recover compensation.
The at-fault driver is responsible, even though your particular health condition made your injuries more severe. This is known as the “eggshell skull rule.”
What is degenerative disc disease?
Degenerative disk disease is a back condition that is caused by aging and the wear and tear that normal life events will have on your spine over the course of time. If these causes create back pain, it can amount to degenerative disk disease.
Age and back use are conditions that everyone suffers. Your spinal column is a shock absorber that moves and twists in your day-to-day activities. Over time, these small traumas and activities will have an effect on your spinal cord. They will eventually wear out the spinal discs that are in between the vertebrae that make up your spine.
For many people, that wear and tear does not cause pain. In some cases, though, the deterioration of your spinal column can impact a nerve or cause a bone spur. This can cause severe pain in your back. When this happens, it is often diagnosed as degenerative disc disease. You will most often experience pain and discomfort caused by disc degeneration when you:
- bend over,
- twist your torso,
- sit down, or
- lift heavy objects.
The trauma that your back goes through on a daily basis can also make you more susceptible to other, more sudden back or neck injuries such as:
- herniated discs,
- bulging discs,
- cracked or broken vertebrae,
- nerve damage, and
- chronic pain, often in the neck or the lower back.
Degenerative disk disease, however, is the medical condition of having back pain without one of these particular injuries. It is a disease that gets worse over a long period of time, rather than an injury that happens all at once.
Medical treatment often focuses on pain management rather than curing the problem. Doctors often prescribe the following to reduce the negative impact that the condition can have on your quality of life:
- pain medication,
- physical therapy to reduce muscle weakness in the back,
- medication to reduce swelling in the back, and
- steroid injections.
Surgical procedures may also be an option. Doctors may recommend a:
- discectomy, which removes a part of a disc that has deteriorated and is causing pain through pressure or swelling in your back, or
- spinal fusion, which permanently connects several vertebrae in your back.
Can a car accident exacerbate it?
Yes, auto accidents can make degenerative disc disease much worse. The trauma from a wreck can cause back injuries that, when coupled with your preexisting degenerative disc disease, prove to be far worse than they would have been without your prior condition.
Any time your spinal cord suffers trauma, it can deteriorate faster. Typically, that trauma is minor. However, it builds up over time and can lead to degenerative disc disease if it causes you pain or discomfort.
More severe forms of trauma speed up this deterioration process. A car accident is one of the most traumatic events that your spinal cord can go through. The force of even low-speed collisions can strain your core and back muscles.
The inflammation from these muscles can put pressure on your vertebrae and cause further deterioration of the spinal cord. Serious, high-speed car crashes can tear the outside of the spinal cord. This can increase the odds of a herniated disc or can make an existing one much worse.
Some of the worst car accidents for back injuries are:
The force from these collisions can be significant. The direction that it comes from is often not something that the muscles around your spinal cord were designed to withstand. This can drastically increase the symptoms of degenerative disc disease that you were experiencing before the crash.
Herniated discs are a common complication if you have degenerative disc disease and then have a traumatic event, like a motor vehicle accident. A disc herniation is when the soft tissue between your spinal cord’s vertebrae bulges outwards. If the outer lining of your spinal cord is weakened, torn, or frayed from the trauma of a car crash, it can fail to prevent this from happening. Herniated discs are serious injuries that can be extremely debilitating.
Can the at-fault driver be held liable for making the disease worse?
Yes. If you have degenerative disc disease and get into a car accident that worsens your condition, the at-fault driver is liable. This is known as the eggshell skull rule. Negligent parties, like the driver that caused your accident, are liable for all of the injuries that they cause.
This holds true, even if the negligent driver did not know or could not know about your condition. Instead, personal injury defendants “take victims as he or she finds them.”1
However, it is often difficult to recover compensation for these aggravation injuries. Auto insurance companies frequently claim that, because you already had degenerative disc disease, they should not be the ones to cover any losses that are associated with it.
To overcome these defenses, it is often essential to have a personal injury lawyer on your side to file an accident claim. It also helps immensely to document your condition very well. You can do this by having medical records concerning your history of back problems, as well as access to MRI or x-ray results.
What compensation can I recover in a personal injury case?
If you suffer car accident injuries, you deserve compensation for all of your losses that stemmed from the crash. These center on your medical bills and includes both the medical expenses that you have already paid and those that you are likely to have to pay in the future. It also includes professional setbacks, like your lost wages, as well as financial compensation for your pain and suffering.
This compensation is frequently reached in a back injury settlement, rather than a jury verdict after a trial. If the complications from your degenerative disc disease were severe, it can be higher than the average settlement for a back injury claim.
By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a car accident lawyer from a reputable law firm and getting his or her legal advice, you can maximize the value of your claim. Your personal injury attorney can help you file an effective insurance claim. If that does not lead to adequate compensation, they can help you file a personal injury claim in court.
- See Rideau v. Los Angeles Transit Lines, 124 Cal.App.2d 466 (1954). See also California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI) No. 3927 (Aggravation of Preexisting Condition or Disability) and 3928 (Unusually Susceptible Plaintiff).