A typical settlement for a car accident that caused a herniated disc is several hundred thousand dollars. However, settlements in herniated disc cases vary widely.
- Some herniated discs are relatively minor, while
- others are permanently disabling.
Some settlements can be for as little as $20,000. Other car accident cases with a herniated disc are worth over a million dollars.
Why does the average settlement for a herniated disc injury vary so much?
There is a huge range for an “average” settlement amount for a herniated disc injury. This is due to 3 reasons:
- there is a wide variety of herniated disc injuries, from fairly minor to extremely debilitating,
- if you were partially to blame for the car accident, it can reduce your settlement amount, and
- details about your personal and professional life can increase your legal damages.
The best way to maximize your settlement amount is to establish an attorney-client relationship with a personal injury lawyer from a reputable law firm.
Not all herniated disc injuries are the same
A herniated disc is a spinal cord injury. The spine is made of a stack of bones called vertebrae. In between these vertebrae are spinal discs. These discs are soft, circular tissues. They let the vertebrae move and flex.
The discs have a soft inside, called the nucleus, enclosed in a hard rubbery exterior, called the annulus. A herniated disc is when the annulus tears and the nucleus pushes out through it.
Because the spinal cord is a dense network of nerves, the new presence of the nucleus can create serious complications. Depending on the location of the herniated disc, it can impinge or pinch a nerve. If this happens, you can suffer:
- chronic pain,
- leg or arm numbness or tingling, or
- weakness or even an inability to move an arm or a leg.
These symptoms can be constant. They can also get extremely bad when you move into certain positions, bend over, sneeze, or cough. In these cases, it can be difficult to hold a job. The pain can require continuous medication.1
However, in some cases, a herniated disc does not cause serious complications. Sometimes, there are no symptoms at all. You may not even know that you have a herniated or bulging disc after a car crash.
Because your car accident settlement is meant to compensate you for your losses, the extent of these medical complications will determine the value of your case. If there are no complications and no medical bills, you will recover very little for the herniated disc. If the injury is debilitating, though, the amount of your settlement should reflect that.
Shared fault rules can decrease your car accident settlement
If you were partially to blame for the car accident that caused your herniated disc, your settlement may be lower.
Personal injury laws in nearly all states use comparative fault rules. At trial, the jury verdict will state what percentage of fault each party was for the accident. Your award is then reduced by your percentage of fault.
For example: Olivia suffers a herniated disc in a car crash. Her case goes to trial and the jury awards her $100,000. However, the jury finds that she was 25 percent at fault for the crash. She will only recover $75,000.
Some states, like Texas,2 use modified comparative fault rules. In these states, your award would be reduced by your percentage of fault. However, you would be barred from recovering anything if you were more than half at fault.
Other states, like California,3 use pure comparative fault rules. There, your award is reduced by your percentage of responsibility, no matter how much you were to blame.
A few states, like Virginia,4 use contributory negligence rules for shared fault accidents. There, you are barred from recovering anything if you bore any responsibility for the accident.
While shared fault rules are only used in a personal injury trial, they influence settlement negotiations. If it looks like you were to blame at all, the insurance company for the at-fault motorist will reduce its settlement offers. This can make it more difficult to receive full compensation for your injuries.
Your professional or personal life can increase your settlement value
In addition to your medical expenses, your settlement should also compensate you for your:
It should also compensate your loved ones for their loss of consortium if their lives have suffered because of your herniated disc.
This means that details about your professional and personal lives will influence your settlement amount.
Your settlement should cover any wages that you lost while recovering from your injury. This means that your salary can alter your compensation amount. Victims who make $100,000 per year will have more lost wages than someone who makes the minimum wage, even if they miss the same amount of time from work.
If your herniated disc makes it difficult to work, then your profession and background can also influence your settlement value. You are entitled to compensation for any reduction in your ability to earn a living after the accident. This can increase your settlement value if, for example, you are a:
- construction worker,
- manual laborer,
- mechanic, or
- professional athlete.
However, it might not increase the value of your case if your job does not require a lot of the kinds of movement that can trigger a bulging disc.
Even your personal life can increase or decrease the value of your settlement. If the herniated disc prevents you from doing the activities that you liked to do, you deserve compensation for loss of enjoyment of life. This is a part of your pain and suffering.
What are some examples of severely herniated discs from car accidents?
The severity of a herniated disc is determined by the medical complications that it causes. This mainly depends on the nerve damage or radiculopathy that the bulge causes in the spinal cord. The symptoms of a severely herniated disc include:
- pain in an arm or leg, or in the neck, shoulders, or back,
- tingling in the extremity of a limb,
- a lack of feeling in the hands or feet,
- numbness in an arm or leg, and
- muscle weakness in a limb, up to and including an inability to move it.
In many cases, a disc herniation only impacts one side of the body of the accident victim.
Where the herniation is located in the spinal cord can determine where the symptoms are felt. A herniated disc in the lower back is more likely to cause leg problems. A herniated disc in the neck is more likely to cause arm problems.
Many of these serious injuries require extensive medical care. Some of these injury cases require surgery. Some common medical treatments include:
- discectomy surgery,
- prescription pain relievers,
- spinal fusion surgery, and
- steroid injections in the cervical spine.5
While your insurance coverage should pay for much of these costs, you may still pay a lot out of pocket. A lawyer can help you file an injury claim. They can use your medical bills to show how much you paid. Your medical records can show that the treatment was necessary.
What types of car crashes lead to these injuries?
Rear-end car accidents, truck accidents, and “t-bone” crashes are more likely to cause back trauma that can lead to a herniated disc than other types of crashes. However, any motor vehicle accident can cause a herniated disc.
Is there a difference between a herniated disc and a bulging disc?
Yes, there is a medical difference between these types of injuries.
A herniated disc is when the hard, rubbery outside of the spinal disc – the annulus – ruptures and the inside, or nucleus, seeps out.
A bulging disc is when the annulus flattens and expands outward without rupturing.
Both herniated and bulging discs can impact the surrounding nerves in the spinal cord, though. They can both cause the nerve damage that leads to debilitating symptoms and the back pain and neck pain of a serious spinal cord injury.
In some cases, that severe pain can go away. Sometimes, however, it is a permanent injury.6
What types of compensation are there in a herniated disc settlement amount?
If you have suffered a herniated or bulging disc in an auto accident, you deserve compensation for your:
- medical expenses, both those that have already accrued and those that will be needed to cover future medical treatment that is reasonably likely to be necessary, like physical therapy,
- lost wages,
- reduced earning capacity,
- physical pain,
- mental and emotional suffering,
- loss of consortium, and
- property damage to your vehicle.
Your injury settlement amount should reflect the amount necessary to cover these losses. However, adjusters from the insurance company covering the at-fault driver are likely to make settlement offers that drastically undercompensate you. They often claim that your lumbar injury is a pre-existing condition.
Getting the legal advice of a personal injury attorney is essential. They can inform you of the payout that you deserve. If no adequate settlement offer for your back injury is made, your car accident lawyer can file a herniated disc claim for you.
- Alexander M. Dydyk et. al., Disc Herniation, National Library of Medicine (2023).
- Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.
- Li v. Yellow Cab Co., 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975).
- See, for example, Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 796 S.E.2d 556 (2017).
- Herniated disc – Symptoms and causes, Mayo Clinic.
- Bulging Disc Vs. Herniated Disc: What’s The Difference? Penn Medicine (November 6, 2018).