Your spine has 33 separate vertebral bones. The “facet joints” between those bones make it possible for you to bend and twist your back and neck while still providing support for your torso and body. When you suffer a facet joint injury, you can experience lingering and debilitating pain and your quality of life will almost certainly be adversely affected. Even the most benign accident can cause neurological damage when facet joints are dislocated and soft tissue surrounding the joints swell up and place pressure on adjacent nerves. Physicians may not diagnose a facet joint injury immediately or even for several days after an accident. If you are seeking to recover compensation from a negligent party that caused the accident, you need to be aware of the possibility of later-diagnosed facet joint injuries, and your personal injury attorney needs to account for those injuries when he negotiates with the negligent party’s insurance carriers.
A facet joint injury will rarely show up on an X-Ray or MRI. Physicians generally diagnose a facet joint injury as a function of symptoms, which include headaches, neck and upper back pain, shoulder pain and pain radiating down arms, dizziness, and sleep disorders. Lower-back facet joint injuries can also cause pain that radiates down an injured party’s hips and legs. Although facet joint injuries can occur solely as a result of age and bone degeneration, the vast majority of these injuries happen in motor vehicle accidents and slip-and-fall situations. A person who suffers pain from a facet joint injury will likely need some combination of chiropractic treatments and physical therapy. He or she may need to wear a neck brace or be placed in traction to straighten neck and back alignment. If those treatments fail to alleviate pain, a physician will likely recommend spinal fusion surgery.
A person who suffers a facet joint injury may be reluctant to pursue damages from a negligent party because of the negative stereotypes in popular culture of individuals who claim “whiplash injuries” and who show up in court wearing neck braces in an attempt to garner sympathy from a judge or jury. If you have experienced a facet joint injury in an accident, however, you will know that the pain from that injury is very real and that it does affect your ability to work, earn wages, and enjoy your life. Courts and insurance companies are also very much aware that facet joint injuries are a common consequence of motor vehicle accident and falls that are caused by another party’s negligent actions. Accordingly, you should not let a popular culture stereotype dissuade you from pursuing compensation for your injury.
Consider, for example, a case from Washington State in which a jury awarded a party more than $150,000 in damages to compensate her for a back injury she suffered in a car accident. A negligent party broadsided her car. The collision drove her head into the driver’s side window of her car. She received treatments for her injuries for six months at a cost of more than $9,000. She continued to do back and stretching exercises for two more years, but her back pain never subsided. She then went to another physician, who diagnosed a lower back facet joint injury that was caused by the trauma of the car accident. An insurance company offered $18,000 to settle the case. She rejected that offer. After a 4-day trial, a jury came back with a verdict of almost $115,000. The court awarded her a final judgment of $154,212.
The delay in onset of facet joint injury symptoms or the lingering nature of those symptoms can work against an injured party in Minnesota who does not act promptly after an accident that caused the injury. Minnesota law gives an injured party two years to file a lawsuit after the occurrence of the accident that caused an injury. (Washington State gives injured parties a longer three-year period, which made it possible for the injured party in that case to file her lawsuit more than two years after her accident.) If you delay taking any action after your accident, the negligent party that caused the accident will probably move to have your case dismissed and a Minnesota court will probably grant that motion. An injured party in Minnesota that is reluctant to file a case because of negative stereotypes or for any other reason faces the very real risk of losing an opportunity to recover tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation for his or her injuries.
When you have suffered an injury in an accident, you should promptly consult with an experienced attorney who understands the types of injuries that different accidents can cause. Your attorney will interview you and investigate the accident in order to advise you on how best to proceed. He or she may recommend that you schedule a complete physical exam with a physician, chiropractor, or therapist who is familiar with accident-related injuries and who will be on the alert for possible facet joint injuries. No quality-conscious doctor will diagnose a condition that does not exist, and no experienced personal injury attorney will recommend anything but a well-qualified physician.
The personal injury attorneys at Swor & Gatto in St. Paul have protected the rights of many clients who have suffered facet joint and other injuries in accidents. If you have been in an accident in Minnesota and have questions about your right to damages for injuries that you have suffered, please see our website or contact us promptly after your accident to schedule a consultation.