Read about major issues in a shoulder and arm personal injury claim, and review related settlement amounts
If you have suffered a personal injury to your arm or shoulder in a car accident, it is natural to wonder what type of settlement you might receive in a claim or lawsuit. The purpose of this article is to review the major considerations in shoulder and arm personal injury cases, and to cover recent settlements and verdicts in these cases.
Types of Arm and Shoulder Injuries in Car Accidents
Shoulder injuries and upper arm injuries are common in car accidents. The shoulder is highly complex; injuries to this area are not always properly diagnosed immediately following the accident. However, many accident victims suffer from shoulder pain after car, motorcycle and bike accidents. The heavy trauma to that small area from the accident can cause many serious shoulder injuries.
There are several common shoulder injuries in car accidents. Usually, injuries to the shoulder involve the ligaments, tendons and muscles and not to the shoulder joint. However, some fractures of the upper arm and the shoulder joint have occurred in car accidents.
Should injuries are classified in two ways. The first type is an instability injury where a shoulder joint is improperly aligned. This injury will cause pain when you raise the arm, or the shoulder will slip out of place. The other type of shoulder injury in a car accident is referred to as impingement. This is where your shoulder muscles rub on the shoulder blade top. Impingement is often caused by repetitive motion, but it can be the result of a car accident. Below is more information about specific shoulder injuries.
A fracture of your clavicle or humerous can be caused by a direct hit to the area in an accident or fall. Most shoulder fractures must be diagnosed with X-rays. However, a CT scan may also be needed to process a personal injury claim.
- In a fracture of the clavicle, mid collarbone swelling is clear. This area may appear to have a bump in it, which is the end of the fracture below your skin. The range of motion in the shoulder will be limited, but not as much as a proximal humerous fracture.
- For a fracture of the proximal humerous, the shoulder will be very swollen, as the effects are upon a larger bone than the clavicle. You will have a very limited range of motion, with severe pain.
Dislocation is common in the acromioclavicular joint. This is the point where the collarbone meets the highest aspect of the shoulder blade. A dislocation is common in both car accidents and falls.
Rotator Cuff Tear
Soft tissue injuries to the shoulder include damage to the muscles, joint, tendon and joint capsule. Shoulder injuries such as rotator cuff tears in car accidents are more common than injuries to the joint or bones. However, diagnosis of this injury can be problematic. An MRI can confirm a diagnosis, but your doctor will need to show proper correlation of pain to the actual injury. The pain with this type of injury will usually be in the front of your shoulder and go down your arm. You could feel the pain when you sleep on your side.
A related soft tissue injury is a SLAP tear, which is to the shoulder labrum. This is a cartilage ring that is around the shoulder socket. SLAP is the acronym for Superior Labrum Anterior and Posterior. This injury can be suspected when you have less range of motion and less strength, as well as significant pain with movement.
Arm and Shoulder Injury Symptoms
The shoulder is a type of ball and socket joint with three major bones. These bones are the scapula, clavicle and humerous (arm bone). All of the bones are joined at the shoulder joint by ligaments, muscles, tendons and the joint capsule. When functioning normally, the shoulder joint has the largest range of motion in the body. This mobility has advantages, but it also means the joint is more prone to injury in violent accidents.
After a car accident, it is important to take note if you are suffering from any shoulder pain. Recovery from a shoulder injury can take months and it is critical to have it diagnosed as soon as possible. Some of the most common shoulder and arm injury symptoms to watch for are:
- Stiff and tender shoulder that hurts the most at night; sleep is often difficult
- Lack of feeling, weakness, inflammation in the shoulder
- Physical exertion makes shoulder pain worse
- Difficulty moving the arm in any direction without pain
- Concentrated, focused pain in the shoulder joint
- Shoulder appears bruised or pale
How Shoulder and Arm Injuries Are Valued
Valuing a shoulder or arm injury personal injury claim means arriving at a reasonable ‘guesstimate’ of what a jury would award to you in a lawsuit. Also under consideration is what the plaintiff to the lawsuit would agree to pay. The plaintiff in such cases usually is a car insurance company. There also will be questions about what each side would consider offering to get the case resolved before an expensive trial.
The major factors in valuing any shoulder and arm injury case is how severe your damages are, and what the chances are the jury would find the defendant liable when/if the case goes to court.
However, estimating what you could receive in a car accident shoulder surgery settlement or car accident rotator cuff surgery settlement can be challenging for one big reason: During a trial, it is usually the jury that will decide the amount of money the insurance company or defendant must pay you.
Some shoulder and arm injury damages – such as lost earnings and medical costs – are simple to predict. These losses are usually the amount that you can show you have paid/lost, and will keep paying/losing as you recover. But for subjective pain and suffering damages, predictions of a settlement amount are just a guess. This guess is based upon research of past awards that were won in previous arm and shoulder injury cases. But every personal injury case and jury varies. So even the most educated analysis by a personal injury attorney of your pain and suffering damages could be off by a significant margin. Why is this?
Many arm and shoulder injuries will affect different plaintiffs differently. For example, if you are an active golfer and you played 18 holes every Saturday, perhaps your shoulder impingement or rotator cuff injury prevents you from enjoying this activity. The damages incurred for pain and suffering in this type of case might be higher than a person who was sedentary before the car accident.
If you had an earlier shoulder injury, such as rotator cuff surgery, that the accident makes more likely to recur, it is possible you could receive a lower settlement. Also, if the arm or shoulder injury prevents you from earning your living, the defendant may be responsible for years of lost or reduced wages.
The other major issue regarding the value of the shoulder and arm injury settlement is how likely the other person would be found negligent at the trial. If there is little evidence that the other person caused the accident, the value of your shoulder injury drops. Even if the chances of a higher settlement are great, the defendant could be willing to go to trial to try to prevail and pay little or nothing. And if fault is unclear, the plaintiff may want to settle as there is a chance of getting nothing from a jury.
Average Shoulder and Arm Injury Settlement
Here is some real settlement and verdict information for various shoulder and arm injuries from car accidents. Talk to a personal injury attorney, however, to get better idea what your car accident injury is worth:
- Median verdict and settlement for torn rotator cuff cases in Fulton County, Georgia: $72,500
- Median verdict and settlement for torn rotator cuff cases in all of Georgia: $25,000
- $100,000: Client in Georgia had car hit in rear end at high speed by someone without insurance. This led to a complete rotator cuff tear. The case was worth more, but the limits of insurance coverage was reached at $100,000. This is a good example why people should buy as much uninsured motorist coverage they can afford.
- $737,000: A plaintiff in Illinois was rear ended, and the liability for the case was clear. The initial offer from the insurance company was only $190,000. The attorney on the case used a vocational rehabilitation specialist to show the level of work restriction and lost wages, resulting in a much higher settlement.
Shoulder and Arm Injury Summary
Insurance companies are fond of denying personal injury claims for these injuries. The company may claim that you had a previous injury to the shoulder. But the best way to beat this argument is to get medical treatment immediately after the accident. Even if you do not feel significant pain after an accident, you should be evaluated by a medical professional right away. You could experience shoulder pain a few hours or days after the accident. Whether you get compensation for this injury often hinges on a prompt medical evaluation.