The Car Insurance Company Says My Neck and Spinal Disk Injury Is a Preexisting Condition

Post By Corey Heit

Visit any trusted medical website, and you will learn that the majority of spinal disk injuries result from normal wear and tear. Risks for herniating a disk rise with age, and the more active a person is, the more likely they are to experience the disk degeneration that leads to most instances of herniation.

This medical consensus can make it difficult to prove that a neck or lower back disk herniation happened in a car accident. Effectively countering a car insurance claims adjuster’s argument that a disk injury was a preexisting condition and, therefore, does not merit personal injury compensation requires presenting convincing evidence that the crash completely caused the problem or worsened a manageable condition to the degree that it became debilitating.

What Is a Herniated Disk?

A spinal disk is a pad of cartilage that sits between each vertebrae. The disk itself consists of a softer core of cartilage encased in a harder shell of the same biological material. According to the Mayo Clinic, a disk herniates when “a crack in the tough outer layer of cartilage allows some of the softer inner cartilage to protrude out of the disk.”

The cracks often develop naturally. The event that causes the herniation can be lifting a heavy object, twisting suddenly, or just bending over. Impacts to the spine can also cause herniation. Once the soft inner cartilage protrudes, it pinches nerves that run to the lower body.

Also referred to as a ruptured or slipped disk, symptoms of a herniated disk range from numbness, tingling and weakness in one or both legs to sciatica, which is marked by sharp, shooting pains running from the buttocks to the heels. At its worst, a herniated disk can cause a loss of bladder or bowel control.

Car Accidents as a Cause of Disk Herniation

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons explains how disks herniate this way: “In children and young adults, disks have high water content. As people age, the water content in the disks decreases and the disks become less flexible. The disks begin to shrink and the spaces between the vertebrae get narrower.”

The academy then immediately tosses in the observation that “a traumatic event, such as a fall, can also cause a herniated disk.”

A car accident is certainly a traumatic event. Collisions involving cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, and pedestrians are leading causes of all types of neck and spine injuries. Specifically, an analysis of 903 cases in which car crash victim suffered neck and lower back disk injuries determined that the neck injuries happened most frequent during sideswipe collisions. Lower back disk injuries happened most frequently in head-on collisions.

A Preexisting Condition Does Not Automatically Invalidate a Claim for Compensation Following a Car Accident

No outcome for an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit can be guaranteed, but an insurance company cannot instantly make a claim go away by invoking the term “preexisting condition” as if it were a magic spell. Rather, the car accident victim has the right to present facts that show that either the disk herniation did not exist prior to the crash or that symptoms worsened significantly following the crash.

Medical evidence and expert testimony carry great weight when a crash victim is seeking a settlement or jury award for a neck or back injury. In particular, records from emergency room care, follow-up appointments with medical specialists, and notes from physical therapists can support a claim for compensation for a disk injury.

Should expert testimony become necessary, partnering with an experienced personal injury attorney would help with arranging that.

Corey Heit of Westerville, Ohio-based Heit Law represents car accident victims in Columbus and across Franklin County. You can schedule a free consultation online or speak with Corey by calling (614) 898-5300.

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