Soft Tissue Injuries
Posted by: Mark Albright on Wed, Jun 05, 2013Share this post
The term soft tissue is often defined by what it is not: it is not bones. Thus, soft tissue includes structures that connect, support, and surround bones. When people speak of injuries to soft tissue, they normally refer to injuries to muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc. Injuries to soft tissues, with proper care, often resolve in a relatively short period of time, often within 3 to 5 months. There are times, however, when an injury that initially appears to be a soft tissue injury develops into a serious and debilitating injury that in the end may require surgical intervention and may leave the injured person permanently disabled.
Whiplash is a lay term for an injury to the soft tissues of the neck, which include the neck muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Whiplash is not a formal medical diagnosis; it generally refers to soft tissue injuries such as neck sprain or neck strain.
Whiplash is caused when the neck moves back and forth due to the impact of the car accident. The main symptoms of whiplash include neck or upper back pain or stiffness, shoulder pain or stiffness, headache, dizziness, or a burning or itching sensation in the neck, shoulders, or arms. A more severe injury might cause memory loss, difficulty in concentration, sleep disturbances, or fatigue.
Causes of Soft Tissue Injuries
A common situation we face as a Las Vegas personal injury firm where an individual sustains soft tissue injuries is when he or she is involved in a car accident. As a result of a motor vehicle collision, a person inside may get jolted around resulting in sprains and strains of various muscles and other soft tissues. Broken bones may or may not be included in the list of injuries arising out the accident. It is common for a person, whose vehicle is struck in the rear to experience whiplash-like movement of his or her body, often resulting in injuries to the neck and low back. Many factors are involved, including speed, bumper design, location of the head rest, and whether the individual braced for the impact.
Often, proper and timely conservative treatment, such as physical therapy and chiropractic treatment, allows the injured person to return to the pre-accident state of health. Sometimes, however, the injuries do not resolve quickly or easily. For example, in certain circumstances, as a result of a car accident, a person may develop abnormalities in his or her spine, such as bulging or herniated discs at one or more levels, or other problems. These spinal injuries can often develop into a serious and painful condition, known as radiculopathy, which may result in pain and other symptoms, such as numbness and tingling, radiating into the person’s arms or legs.
Often soft tissue injuries are concentrated around the spine, but they are not always limited to the spinal region. Vehicle accidents may result in injuries of the soft tissues of other body parts, as well, such as shoulders, knees, elbows, etc. Again, most of the time these injuries resolve with proper and timely conservative medical treatment. Sometimes, however, soft tissue injuries to shoulders, knees, and elbows may require more involved treatment and, under certain circumstances, may require surgery. It is important to establish a proper diagnosis and receive proper treatment immediately after the injury occurs, which may minimize the chance that the injury that initially appears to be easily manageable develops into a serious, painful and even permanent condition. At Albright Stoddard, we use a network of expert medical care providers in the Las Vegas metro area who work together as a team to help get you back on your feet on a contingency fee lien basis.
Calculation of Damages
The problem with soft tissue injuries, and why some attorneys don’t like them, is that they can sometimes be difficult to prove. Unlike broken bones, which are obvious in an x-ray, less serious but equally as painful, if not more so, soft tissue injuries do not show up on x-rays. Because of that, insurance companies and other potential defendants are notorious for denying the existence of soft tissue injuries and many times refuse to compensate victims for such injuries.
Even when a soft tissue injury develops into a serious condition, such as a bulging or herniated disc in the neck or lower lumbar back, or a torn rotator cuff in the shoulder, insurance companies often will continue to argue that the injury pre-existed before the accident and therefore was not caused by the accident. Insurance companies often argue that if the vehicle was not damaged extensively, the person inside was either not injured or injured only slightly, minimizing or ignoring altogether injuries and complaints that cannot be confirmed with an x-ray or MRI. Such defensive tactics are not fair to the injured person, whose life can be seriously disrupted by the pain caused by the accident and who has to incur medical expenses and, perhaps, lose time from work, even if the car body does not seem to suggest that a major collision occurred.
Many experts believe that the reluctance of insurance carriers and others to reject such soft tissue claims is due to a decades-long propaganda campaign waged by the insurance companies, costing millions of dollars, to convince the general public that these “whiplash” injuries are fake, and that the people who claim these injuries are fakers, trying to take advantage of the system. Unfortunately, this propaganda campaign has been largely successful and has infected our jury system in many areas of the country.
Factors considered in settling soft tissue or whiplash injuries
However, these cases can usually be successfully pursued and resolved. There are several factors that are common to successful soft tissue injury claims. The more factors that are present in a case, the more likely the case will be successfully resolved. These factors include the following:
- Clear, uncontested liability on the part of the negligent adverse party.
- Substantial, clearly visible property damage to the injured parties’ vehicle. If the vehicle was not drivable from the scene of the collision and had to be towed, that increases the likelihood of success of the claim.
- The injured party reported being injured at the scene of the collision and showed visible signs of injury.
- The injured party was transported from the scene of the collision by ambulance.
- The injured party was treated at a hospital emergency room immediately after the collision.
- The emergency room physicians diagnosed a cervical (neck) and/or lumbar (back) strain/sprain.
- Radiology or other examination confirmed objective findings, including muscle spasm, or a straightening of cervical or lumbar lordosis.
- The emergency room physician prescribed medication and instructed the injured party to follow up with his or her family physician.
- The injured party followed the emergency room physician’s instructions, and timely followed up with his or her family physician.
- The family physician notes that the injured party had not previously sustained a similar injury.
- The family physician confirms the diagnosis of the emergency room physician and prescribes a course of physical therapy to treat the injuries.
- The injured party complies with the course of physical therapy, follows the restrictions placed on him or her by his medical providers, and goes to each and every appointment, without skipping medical appointments and without any gaps in treatment.
- After a reasonable period of treatment, the injured party improves, and recovers from his or her injuries.
Types of Damages
There are two general types of damages in a personal injury case:
- Damages capable of exact calculation (called special damages); and
- Damages not capable of exact calculation
Damages capable of exact calculation, or special damages, are lost earnings and lost earning capacity, medical bills, and other financial losses. Damages not capable of exact calculation are pain and suffering.
How to Value Pain and Suffering in a Whiplash Case
This is the big question in a whiplash case. You may have heard or read that lawyers and legal writers sometimes talk about a “multiplier” in personal injury cases, meaning that insurance companies will often calculate pain and suffering as being worth some multiple of your special damages. The multiple could be anywhere from 1.5 to 4 or even 5 in certain limited cases.
But the multiplier concept or method of settlement is applicable only up to a point before trial. If your case went to trial, the jury would not use a multiplier. In reality, there are so many other factors that increase or decrease a damages award at trial that you should not rely too much on the multiplier concept. Some of those factors are:
- whether the plaintiff is a good or bad witness
- whether the plaintiff is believable or other supporting witnesses are credible
- whether the plaintiff has a criminal record or has a history of drugs or alcohol abuse
- whether the jury understands the plaintiff’s injuries; and
- the nature of the plaintiff’s medical treatment and whether there were pre-existing conditions.
Human nature dictates that, if the jury likes the plaintiff, it will award him/her more for pain and suffering than if it doesn’t like the plaintiff. Obviously another important factor is the extent to which the plaintiff may have been contributorily negligent or had prior or similar injuries to those sustained or aggravated in the accident. Even expert witnesses, as educated as they may be, lose some of their impact if they do not come across as likeable to the jury.
The Role of Health Care Providers
Who the plaintiff treats with (the type of health care provider) is also very important. If the vast majority of the plaintiff’s medical bills are for treatment like physical therapy or chiropractic treatment, as opposed to physician’s or hospital bills, juries (and insurance companies) may discount the plaintiff’s injuries. Juries and insurers tend to believe that, if someone was really injured, he/she would be seeing doctors, not therapists or chiropractors. This is not a fair assessment but unfortunately reflects the attitude of certain physicians as well.
Give the attorneys at Albright Stoddard Warnick & Albright a call today at 702-384-7111 so that we can analyze your injuries and damages. Some studies show that those who are represented by experienced personal injury attorneys can obtain 3 to 5 times more than those who simply represent themselves. The National Academy of Personal Injury Attorneys named Mark Albright as one of the Top 10 Personal Injury attorneys in Nevada in 2014. You can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Authors: The law firm of Albright, Stoddard, Warnick & Albright is an A-V Rated Nevada-based full-service law firm having attorneys licensed in Nevada, California and Utah. Our firm’s practice includes a strong emphasis on personal injury accidents. Call us at 702-384-7111.
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