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An Expert Look at Spine Injuries

Spine injuries are very common after car accidents and other personal injuries. How do you know if your back pain is a soft tissue injury that will go away versus long-term spine damage? In podcast this episode, Josh and Aaron share how to prove up future damages from spine injuries and why it’s important to talk to an injury lawyer after a car wreck even if you think (or just hope!) your pain will go away quickly.

FVF’s Summary Judgment podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and more.

Intro: Thank you for tuning in to Summary Judgment where Austin Personal Injury attorneys, Josh Fogelman and Aaron von Flatern, of FVF Law, discuss the ins, outs, and in-betweens of personal injury cases.

Aaron Von Flatern: Alright. Welcome back to Summary Judgment. This is Aaron von Flatern, and I’m here with my law partner, Josh Fogelman. We are the co-founders of Fogelman and Von Flatern, also known as FVF law. We were started in 2014 with the mission of changing the way people perceive personal injury law here in Austin, Texas, and also abroad. If you’re tuning in, my condolences. You’re either somebody who’s actually injured right now, or maybe somebody with a law license, or maybe you’re one of our staff members who’s having to listen to this and pretend to laugh at our jokes, but we do have a very serious and important topic today. It’s about spine injuries, but specifically, how to prove up the future damages that go along with spine injuries. We all know people get back injuries. We all probably have known someone who’s even been through a back injury and a settlement from that, but we also know that people who’ve been in, what seems like a minor accident, can have the lingering effects for a really long time. Josh, let’s start out with just asking, how do you start to figure out when your clients are going to have one of those long-term type of injuries? How do you separate that from your typical, just soft tissue whiplash case?

Josh Fogelman: It’s so incredibly hard. And one of the things that I’ve noticed, I have done this for over a decade, and talked to hundreds of people with back and neck injuries, which just tend to be the most common types of injuries that people sustain in car accidents, is not knowing how serious the injury really is. People tend to want to be optimistic after they’ve been hurt in a car wreck, they have new pains, new problems going on that they didn’t have before, but they want to just chalk it up to something muscular, a stiff or sore neck, something that’s going to resolve, over a period of time, with a little bit of maybe over-the-counter medication, some ibuprofen or Tylenol, only to find that six, eight, 12 weeks later, not only has it not gotten better, but it’s actually gotten worse.

And that’s one of the really tricky things about spine injury cases is, they manifest for different people in different ways, on different timelines, and it’s really, really hard to predict which way it’s going to go. One of the huge, huge problems that people have when they call us is, they’ve already let six weeks or 10 weeks go, or they’ve been in constant pain, but either at the advice of a primary care doctor, who doesn’t really understand spine injuries, or how to prove them up or how to properly and adequately treat them for chronic long-term pain, or if they’ve just been one of those optimists who thought that it was going to go away.

Now, we’ve got an uphill battle, not just on figuring out what’s going on with them and why they’re continuing to have this pain, but now, we’ve got an insurance company who’s going to be pointing at that gap in treatment and using it as an excuse to undervalue or even deny the claim. Getting out ahead of that and understanding the path forward in how you evaluate and treat a spine injury, so that you can put yourself in the best position possible to get your claim resolved, whether with an insurance company or if the case does need to proceed to a jury trial, that you’ve done everything in your power to understand what both the short and long-term consequences are. We really like to talk to people as soon as we can, and help educate them about the things that we have seen and make sure that they’re taking the proper steps to put themselves in that proper position.

Aaron Von Flatern: So Josh, how about somebody who’s sitting there saying, “Look, I don’t want surgery. And my back still hurts. I’ve been going through this… ” Maybe it was a car accident. Maybe an industrial accident. “It started maybe four or five months ago, back still hurts, but I don’t want surgery. And so I’m just not going to do anything about it, I’m just going to live with it.” And the insurance company is sitting there saying, “Well, your client doesn’t have a surgical case, so it’s either this or that.” Is there something in between those two?

Josh Fogelman: Yeah, absolutely. I want to maybe take a step back and give a bigger picture approach to how we go about proving a case like that. Someone’s going to have long-term lingering pain, and either it’s not severe enough for them to get surgery, or they’ve got a medical condition that might preclude them from being a good surgical candidate, or they’re just terrified to get the surgery, or they just want to wait as long as they possibly can, which is oftentimes what doctors recommend in these types of cases. The way that the law works as far as personal injuries or spine injuries are concerned is, when someone is careless and harms you, you have the right to recoup monetary damages or financial compensation for whatever your short and long-term harms and losses are. And those short and long-term harms and losses are typically broken down into two categories, as we’ve talked about before in some of our other podcasts, those are usually things like your economic losses, and your non-economic losses. With your economic losses being things that you could account for on a spreadsheet like medical expenses, lost earnings, whereas your non-economic losses are things like physical pain and physical impairment.

And the trick in the spine injury case is to do the job that you didn’t ask for, which is, be diligent about getting your medical care in, working with the proper specialists, so that you can find out what it is that’s causing your pain, what treatment options are available for you to deal with that pain, is this something that’s going to go away, or is it something that’s going to linger long-term? And if it’s something that’s not going to go away, what are the future potential treatment options that are available to you, whether it be long-term pain management care, or ultimate surgical intervention. And either way, you need to understand what long-term complications then might flow from whatever treatment protocol might be proper for you, and also, how that might impact things like your ability to earn a living.

Our clients that end up having the best outcomes as far as what we’re able to do, in order to make them whole, in order to offset those harms and losses, the best that we’re able, which is with monetary compensation, are those clients who are prepared to do their homework and treat like it is a job. So that we can answer those questions, and more importantly, so that the people who are actually providing that treatment to them who are ultimately going to be the advocates on their behalf, who are qualified to talk about what those future implications are, are adequately armed to provide those types of opinions. Because if you don’t get that information and you don’t check those boxes and you don’t do the job, you can’t get the evidence that you have to have to support your claim for long-term damages, whether economic or non-economic.

Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah. You talked about answering questions for people, and I want to just clarify also. I think one of our biggest roles is asking the questions, because a lot of doctors, they’re busy. Especially family doctors who don’t just work in car accident cases all day. They might be dealing with cancer and liver disease and renal failure, one minute, and now they’re dealing with some spine injury, and they oftentimes just want to get you… You’re either a blown out full-on herniation that needs surgery right away, or you’re that other category that needs some kind of maybe chiropractic care or pain management or physical medicine or strengthening, something like that, just in need of physical therapy. But if you keep going up the chain and you keep asking the questions and pushing the doctor, you’ll find some really different kinds of injuries inside of the spine. It’s not just one thing or another. But Josh, long story short is, there are a lot of things going on inside the spine. It’s one of the most complex areas of the body, and I think a lot of people wrongly feel like, “Well, you got a sore back.” And it’s just a lot deeper than that.

Josh Fogelman: Yeah, no, that’s absolutely right. And, whiplash is a term that’s been thrown around. It was a term that has a negative association with it from the tort reform days when tort reform lobby was suggesting that people were getting rich off of really minor injuries, but the reality of it is, even seemingly minor injuries can have a really, really significant impact on a person’s quality of life. I’ve tried multiple back and spine injury cases before a jury, where the client wasn’t necessarily in need of a really invasive spine surgery, which happens more frequently than you would expect out of a car wreck, even sometimes minor car wrecks, but where the person, because of these ongoing chronic problems or physical limitations, was unable to do things that are really important to them, like engage in their hobbies or play with their kids, or play with their grandchildren. And these aren’t things that are going to go away and these are the meaningful aspects of a person’s life that they were otherwise entitled to enjoy before somebody’s carelessness took that away from them.

And so, as an advocate, trying to get to the bottom of what it is that’s going on, whether it’s an intervertebral disc herniation or whether it’s a facet joint injury, or some sort of damage to the outer part of a disc, or any number of types of spine injuries that are common in car wrecks, we got a understand what it is, what the long-term approach is, and how it’s likely to impact that person’s quality of life and financial situation in the long term. And the bottom line is, it can be done. It can be done in cooperation with someone who’s been down that road before. It can be done in cooperation with the many, many outstanding doctors we have in this community, who are prepared and willing to advocate for their patients. But what many people don’t understand is the importance of starting that process immediately and knowing what the protocol is and working to get better.

Sometimes, aside from just proving the personal injury case and helping us do our jobs for our clients, an incidental benefit of going through the protocol and learning what’s going on, is that people get better. And so, you just got a do it. You got a get out there and do it, and it’s super inconvenient, and it can be extremely stressful and costly, but we can help our clients understand what their rights and options are for paying for that medical care. Oftentimes, in a way that presents no financial consequence to them upfront and in a way that makes a lot of sense for their particular set of circumstances. If you’re dealing with a spine injury or a back or neck injury following a car wreck or any other type of injury-causing event, and you’re looking for some guidance on how do I figure out what the future looks like for me and how do I make sure that I’m able to recoup enough money to pay for my long-term medical costs and some of these other long-term consequences that can flow from an injury like that.

That’s what we’re here for. Our law firm, FVF Law was built on the foundation of being educators. We like to take the time to educate people about what their rights and options are, even if they choose not to hire us. Just so we know that they’re avoiding stepping on the mines in the vast minefield that is the insurance claims process, and they’re putting themselves in the best position possible to secure a fair or excellent financial recovery when it’s all said and done. This has been another episode of Summary Judgment. We hope that you found it informative and educational. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us. You can find us on our blog, on our website at fvf.law. Do check us out on Facebook or on Instagram, or feel free to give us a call.

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