Cervical Spine Injuries and the Role of Vocational Experts

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cervical spine injuries and the role of vocational experts

Even in today’s modern world, with our state-of-the-art medical treatment, one injury still often eludes successful treatment – spinal injuries. Even moderate damage to the vertebrae in the neck and back can lead to total paralysis and a lifetime of pain.

In this article, we will discuss cervical spine injuries, we will look at some case studies, and we will cover how the vocational experts at Occupational Assessment Services, Inc. (OAS) have helped attorneys prove their client’s cervical spine injuries.

After reading this article, if you have questions about how vocational experts can help you with your personal injury cases, please contact us at OAS. We have decades of experience as vocational experts in various kinds of claims.

Cervical Spine Injuries

The spine consists of approximately 29 separate vertebrae running from the neck to the pelvic area. Traditionally, the spine is divided into the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions (see image below). 

The seven cervical vertebrae are nearest the brain and are numbered C1 through C7. Since they are closer to the brain and control more of the body, injuries to these vertebrae and nerves are often the most serious. Damage in this area can result in quadriplegia, or else the partial lack of feeling or movement below the neck. Even if a victim isn’t totally or partially paralyzed, there are a host of other complications that can arise from injuries to the cervical spine.

Upper Cervical Spine Injuries

Damage to the C1 through C4 region may result in:

1. Paralysis in arms and legs
2. Inability to breathe without mechanical assistance
3. Loss of bladder control or bowel movements
4. Reduced ability to speak.

The victim may need around-the-clock personal care.

Middle Cervical Spine

Injuries to the C5 and C6 vertebrae and associated nerves may cause:

1. Inability to move arms or bend elbows or possible paralysis of any extremities
2. Weakened ability to speak and breathe
3. Partial or total loss of control of bladder or bowel movements.

The patient may need help with most daily activities.

Lower Cervical Spine

A person with C7 injuries may have difficulty controlling hand movement and little or even complete loss of control of bladder or bowel movements.

Diagnosis of Cervical Spine Injuries

Physicians perform a range of diagnostic tests to assess the severity of a cervical spine injury. These include measuring the patient’s strength and feeling in their hands, arms, and legs. Doctors also use imaging tools like X-rays and MRIs to detect vertebrae fractures, pinched nerves, and other abnormalities.

Recovery from Spinal Injuries

The hard truth is that severe injuries to the cervical spine can cause permanent damage, and in some cases, quadriplegia. For others, physical therapy and surgery may be successful in restoring some or all of the body’s functions. 

Case Studies

Injuries to the cervical spine are not theoretical. They happen every day and have a devastating impact on the victim. Below are three case studies in which OAS played a pivotal role in securing damages.

1. Dump Truck Crash

A dump truck loaded with rocks came barreling down a hill and crashed into a car that was stopped at a red light. In a chain reaction, that car smashed into a vehicle driven by a New Jersey man. This victim suffered injuries to the cervical spine that became worse with time. 

He underwent multiple surgeries and spinal fusions but was unable to continue his work as a mail carrier. The defendants argued that his injuries were the result of a pre-existing condition. However, the vocational experts from OAS were able to examine the plaintiff’s injuries and offer an objective assessment. This helped lead to a $750,000 settlement.

2. Construction Accident

A 30-year-old ironworker claimed he was injured at a construction site where a new building was being constructed. He said he was working on a canopy when he fell approximately 25 feet to the ground. 

The worker suffered severe injuries throughout his body, including to the cervical spine. Specifically, he had bulging discs at C2 to C7, with extruded disc material at C3 to C4. Working in conjunction with the plaintiff’s attorney, OAS prepared extensive medical models of the spinal injuries. The case resulted in a verdict of $3.9 million.

3. Car Accident

A 38-year-old landscaper was a passenger in a car driven by the defendant. They were traveling down a road when the defendant lost control of the vehicle and it crashed into a tree and utility pole. 

The plaintiff landscaper suffered severe cervical spine injuries, including a fracture dislocation at C2-C3 and eventual spinal fusion at C1, C2, and C3. Plaintiff claimed he had a restricted range of motion in his neck and testified that he could not perform sedentary work. OAS worked with the plaintiff’s attorney in establishing medical costs and future lost earnings. The verdict was $610,164.

How Vocational Experts Help in These Cases

In each of the cases above, the vocational experts from OAS estimated the extent of economic damages and then prepared to present the evidence at trial or in settlement discussions. 

The process comprises the following steps:

1. Vocational evaluation. OAS reviews the documentation, visits the home of the injured, understands work problems, conducts interviews, and performs an assessment of how the victim’s daily life is impacted. The vocational expert evaluates the person’s needs and researches the relevant costs in the area where the victim lives.
2. Future healthcare costs. The vocational expert works with doctors to understand what services and medical equipment the injured person will need for the remainder of his or her life. Then, they research the costs of the necessary items and work with an economist who considers medical inflation rates and discounts the determined costs to present value.
3. Loss of earning capacity. The vocational expert performs an earning capacity assessment by asking questions such as:
4. Will the victim ever return to work?
5. If they can’t return to their old job, do they have transferable skills to other careers?
6. What is the difference in compensation between the pre-injury job and post-injury job?

The expert pairs this information with labor statistics, current trends in compensation, and benefits for the person’s industry. Based on this information, a loss of earning capacity is determined.

The Final Steps

The vocational expert takes all the information on future medical expenses and lost earning capacity and prepares to testify. They also prepare exhibits, which demonstrate to the jury the basis of their objective testimony.

OAS Vocational Experts Can Provide the Information You Need to Get Appropriate Compensation for Your Personal Injury Clients

OAS has served as experts in the cases above and on many multi-million-dollar outcomes, including a record-setting $102 million verdict in a NY catastrophic injury case. Through objective consulting, analysis, and vocational evaluation, we specialize in assisting attorneys in documenting damages.

OAS is your vocational expert nationwide, with offices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Nevada, and California.

To discuss your case, call us at 1-800-292-1919, contact us at a location near you, or through our online form.