Back injuries are among the most common workplace injuries. If you are coping with discomfort and pain from a back injury that occurred at work, you are not alone.
Back injuries can be minor issues that cause short-term challenges but ultimately heal, and life returns to normal. In other cases, severe back injuries cause lifelong challenges, leaving people with some level of continuous pain and discomfort.
People work to support their households and families, so it is natural to try to return to work as soon as possible after a back injury. However, moving beyond the pain is difficult, if not impossible, for some. Fortunately, workers’ compensation provides benefits so injured employees can pay medical bills and replace lost income from missing work.
You may not know that you can negotiate a settlement with your employers’ workers’ compensation insurance provider instead of receiving monthly benefits.
If you settle with the provider, you will receive the amount agreed upon, but you must agree to waive rights as they relate to workers’ compensation claims in the future. Workers’ compensation back injury settlements are the right move for some injured employees, but settling is not always the best course of action.
Below we take a closer look at workers’ compensation back injuries and settlements, including types of work-related back injuries, how the workers’ compensation settlement process works, average settlement amounts for work-related back injuries, factors that impact the value of your workers’ compensation back injury settlement, and things you consider before accepting a workers’ compensation settlement for your back injury.
Work-Related Back Injuries
A back injury broadly describes injuries to a wide array of body parts in the spinal column. Back injuries can impact soft tissues, vertebrae, discs, joints, nerves, and the spine. Back injuries are among the worst injuries people suffer because finding relief from pain is difficult, whether someone is sitting, standing, or lying down. Additionally, pain from a back injury can radiate through the body, leading to struggles with mobility, migraines, and a host of other issues.
Back injuries occur most often to those who engage in manual labor during their jobs. However, sitting at a desk all day can lead to back injuries too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 100,000 employees each year miss work when overexertion while lifting or lowering leads to back injuries. The vast majority of back injuries occur from heavy lifting, repetitive motions, or unnatural positions.
Workplace accidents and movement can lead to a wide range of back injuries. Some back injuries are difficult to prove when they impact soft tissues and do not show obvious signs. This is especially true for back injuries that develop over time instead of one traumatic event.
The value of a workers’ compensation settlement for a back injury heavily depends on the exact back injuries someone suffers. Some injuries cost more to treat than others, and higher medical expenses increase the value of your workers’ compensation back injury settlement claim.
Common work-related back injuries include:
Sciatica refers to a condition that occurs when someone has a herniated disc or a bone spur on their spine. It compresses the spinal cord, causing inflammation, pain, numbness, and tingling along the sciatic nerve, which begins in the lower back and runs down each leg. Any time someone suffers trauma to their lower back, they face sciatica.
Treatment typically includes multiple doctor visits and physical therapy. Some patients need injections or other solutions to help them with pain. Sciatica commonly occurs in employees who engage in large amounts of heavy lifting over the years, especially when employers do not provide the proper training or equipment to help them avoid back injuries.
#2. Soft Tissue Back Injuries
Soft tissue injuries are also common work-related back injuries. A soft tissue injury refers to an injury to a muscle, ligament, or tendon. Sometimes these injuries are simple strains or sprains that heal quickly with rest, ice, and some over-the-counter pain reliever.
Unfortunately, soft tissue injuries can be much worse, leaving injured workers with lingering pain. If someone tears soft tissue fibers in their back, they might need surgery to repair the muscle, ligament, or tendon. In addition to doctor visits, workers who suffer soft-tissue back injuries also need costly physical therapy to help them recover from their injury.
#3. Spinal Fracture
Fractured vertebrae are among the most painful and dangerous of all back injuries an employee might suffer at the workplace. Those who break one or more of their vertebrae face ongoing pain and discomfort. Treatment often includes surgery at some point depending on the severity of the fracture(s), but doctors typically try to treat a spinal fracture without surgery.
The most dangerous aspect of a spinal fracture is the possibility of a piece of bone breaking off a vertebra and getting lodged in the spinal cord or a vertebra damaging the spinal cord.
Damage to the spinal cord usually results in paralysis. Sometimes loss is only temporary, and patients regain lost function after the swelling subsides or doctors remove a piece of bone. In other cases, patients suffer permanent paralysis, leaving them with lifelong struggles.
Workers’ Compensation Settlement Process Overview
The potential settlement of a workers’ compensation claim does not begin for some time after an injury. Employees must file a workers’ compensation claim with their employer’s insurance provider and seek medical treatment.
Hiring an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer is also a smart move to help ensure that you get the compensation you deserve. Your attorney and the insurance company most likely will want to wait to discuss settlement until you have reached your maximum medical improvement, the point at which your doctor tells you that your back injury will not get any better.
If you decide a lump sum settlement is better than receiving benefits over time, your lawyer can contact the claims representative handling your case and making a demand. Settlement negotiations sometimes begin informally, but ultimately you need to present a demand letter to the insurance company. The letter outlines your injuries and asks for the amount you want to receive for them.
Typically, you can be sure the insurance representative will not accept your initial demand. In the vast majority of cases, they review the claim and make a lower counteroffer with an amount the insurance company is willing to pay. Offers typically go back-and-forth many times before there is an agreement.
The insurance company wants to pay the least amount possible, so disagreement about the value of the claim slows negotiations. Eventually, you can reach a workers’ compensation settlement for your back injury as long as settlement negotiations continue.
Workers’ Compensation Back Injury Settlements Vary Among People
Several factors impact the value of a workers’ compensation claim and the settlement amount someone receives. Settlement amounts vary among workers as much as back injuries vary.
Some factors that impact the amount you could receive for your workers’ compensation back injury settlement include:
- The severity of your back injury. The most severe back injuries prevent a person’s ability to work, cost more to treat, and generally are more expensive than minor back injuries.
- Permanent disability. Back injuries can be permanent. Even after corrective surgery and rigorous pain management, some who suffer back injuries face lifelong struggles because of the permanency of their injuries.
- Potential future medical expenses. Workers’ compensation benefits cover medical treatment costs, so initial medical expenses have been paid in most cases. However, some need continued physical therapy, doctor visits, surgery, and more. Workers’ compensation back injury settlements sometimes include estimated future medical treatment costs.
- Unpaid medical bills. Injured workers who have unpaid medical bills can include them in their workers’ compensation back injury settlement.
- Changes in income. A back injury can impact income in multiple ways. Catastrophic back injuries prevent workers from returning to their job or seeking employment in the future. In other cases, someone with a back injury might miss a few weeks or months from work, or they might have to switch positions at their job because their injury prevents them from doing specific tasks.
- Unpaid disability benefits. Sometimes insurance providers deny workers’ compensation claims for benefits or do not pay the proper amount. In a settlement, workers can receive unpaid disability benefits they should have received.
- Your background. Insurance companies review a claimant’s personal history and demographic information during settlement negotiations. They factor in a worker’s age, life expectancy, employment potential, and more.
- Issues related to the cause of injury. Preexisting conditions and other unresolved issues about how a back injury happened can affect the value of a claim and the settlement amount someone receives for their back injury.
Workers’ Compensation Back Injury Claim: Considerations Related to Settling
Whether you negotiate your own workers’ compensation settlement or not, it is always in your best interest to let an attorney review the agreement. You cannot change your mind once you sign the agreement. You need to carefully factor in how your back injury has physically and financially impacted your life and ensure you are getting the compensation you deserve and need for the future.
Keep these important considerations in the back of your mind during the workers’ compensation claim settlement process:
- Accepting a settlement offer means you must waive your right to receiving future benefits for your back injury.
- If your back injury worsens or leads to secondary problems, you cannot reopen your workers’ compensation claim.
- Your doctor should always be part of your decision-making process so you have a realistic idea of your long-term prognosis.
- Accepting a settlement offer for your back injury means you are responsible for all unpaid medical expenses related to the injury and any future medical treatment costs you incur because of your back injury.
Suffering a back injury in the workplace creates emotional, physical, and financial stress for injured workers. Worker’s compensation benefits decrease some financial stress, but money comes in over time. Additionally, injured workers only collect a portion of their wages when they receive temporary or permanent disability benefits, leaving a large income gap for many households.
Receiving a lump sum settlement sometimes allows those with back injuries to alleviate some or all the economic burden they face because of their injuries. At the very least, many can use the lump sum to pay off large bills and reorganize their finances to suit them better. Settlement payments also can eliminate the debt that often accumulates after a severe back injury.
However, you need to proceed with workers’ compensation settlement negotiations cautiously. Settling too soon for too low of an amount could negatively impact you in the future. If your back injury worsens, you risk not having the funds you need for additional medical treatment. If you are currently feeling the financial impact of your back injury, you could wind up in the same position again but without any recourse to seek more compensation.
Consult A Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
As you consider settling your workers’ compensation back injury claim, it is in your best interest to have an experienced attorney in your corner. Lawyers know the ins and outs of the workers’ comp claims process, ultimately reducing stress and leading to a better outcome for injured workers. Work-related back injury claims are complex and involve complicated state and federal laws.
Additionally, workers’ compensation insurance providers take every step possible to deny claims or reduce payouts. They thoroughly investigate each case to find a reason to discredit you and your injury claim.
A skilled workers’ compensation attorney knows how to communicate and deal with insurance companies while protecting the rights of their clients and seeking the best outcome possible.
Letting a lawyer negotiate for you increases the chances that the insurance company will treat you fairly and that you will get a settlement for your back injury that does not leave you worse off than before your injury.