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Catastrophic Workers’ Compensation Attorneys

Workers’ Comp Back Injury Settlements

March 8, 2021

If you have recently suffered a work related back injury, you may be interested in the process of how workers’ compensation cases are handled in California. It can be helpful to know what you can expect if you decide to file a workers’ compensation back injury claim.

In many cases, injured workers are entitled to benefits prior to the settlement of the back injury claim or prior to going to trial. Generally, you will settle your case, or at least attempt to settle your case before trial, after you have completed medical treatment and your condition has stabilized.

I. Workers’ Comp Settlement After Returning to Work

With most work injuries, there will come a time after you have completed medical treatment when you will have reached what is called “maximum medical improvement.” If you have not already returned to work at this point in time, you will usually do so once a doctor has determined that your condition has stabilized or has become permanent and stationary.

A finding of permanent and stationary means that your condition has improved to the fullest extent that you are medically able to, in light of the injury. With some injuries, you may reach permanent and stationary status but not be fully recovered, and you may even still require future medical treatment. In these situations, you can still settle your case. Future medical care and the permanent nature of your injuries will be factored into the settlement amount.

II. Different Types of Back Injuries Suffered at Work

There are a few different types of back injuries that tend to be the most commonly suffered on the job. Since back injuries can vary in severity, some of these work-related back injuries may involve substantial medical treatment, including back pain injections and even surgery. Other back injuries, such as sprains and strains, can be minor and may only require a few sessions of physical therapy and other forms of conservative treatment to resolve.

A. Lumbar and Cervical Sprains and Strains

Lumbar and cervical sprains and strains are relatively common work-related injuries. Workers can experience these injuries by performing actions such as lifting, pushing, and carrying heavy objects. Back sprains and strains can occur due to one-time traumatic events, or they may occur as repetitive use injuries, developing over a longer period of time.

B. Herniated Disc Injuries

Herniated disc workers’ comp and bulging disc workers’ compensation injuries can be quite severe and may require surgical intervention. Work injuries involving herniated discs are often due to performing repetitive actions over time.

Most often, herniated disc injuries involve the lower back. L5 S1 workers’ comp cases are common, as well as L4 L5 back cases.

A herniated disc injury occurs when the soft center of the spinal disc pushes through a crack in the exterior casing. These injuries are also referred to as bulging discs. Herniated disc at work compensation can include benefits for time off work during the recovery process, payment of medical bills, and permanent disability benefits.

III. Treatment for Workers’ Compensation Back Injuries

Even for minor back injuries, you may require some medical care. Treatment often begins with a visit with a doctor to diagnose the injury, or if it was a traumatic injury, your first visit might be to an emergency room for emergency medical care.

A. Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is often recommended in the initial treatment stages. Generally, the goals of this treatment for back injuries are to increase function, decrease pain, and also provide education on an at-home maintenance program to help prevent future occurrences.

Physical therapy involves active exercises as well as passive modalities. The exact modalities used will depend on the type of injury you have and are based on your own individual needs.

Depending on the type of injury you have, a course of physical therapy may be enough to resolve your injury and return you to permanent and stationary status. At this stage in a workers’ compensation case, you can then move forward with settling your case.

B. Epidural Steroid Injections

For more serious back injuries, such as herniated disc injuries, an injured worker may need more than physical therapy in order to achieve maximum medical improvement for their injury. Another form of treatment that may be tried concurrently with more physical therapy or may be tried after a course of physical therapy has been completed is the use of epidural steroid injections.

Epidural steroid injections are a common form of treatment used for injuries causing lower back pain. These injections are called epidural steroid injections because the process involves injecting both a local anesthetic and a steroid medication directly into the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord and the nerve roots.

The goals of performing epidural steroid injections are to control the injured worker’s pain levels by reducing the inflammation both in and around the nerve roots, to improve function and mobility in the injured worker’s lower back and legs, and also to allow the injured worker to make progress with a physical therapy and rehabilitation program. In most cases, epidural steroid injections are recommended after nonsurgical treatments such as physical therapy and pain medication have been attempted and prior to a recommendation of surgery.

C. Laminectomy

After more conservative treatment has failed for a serious back injury such as a herniated disc, your treating doctor may recommend a laminectomy as the next step in resolving the work injury. A laminectomy is a surgical procedure in which the surgeon removes a portion or all of the vertebral bone, called the lamina.

This procedure is designed to ease pressure on the spinal cord or on any nerve roots that had been caused by an injury, a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or another cause. Typically, this procedure will only be performed after conservative medical treatments have failed.

D. Laminectomy with Spinal Fusion

Another type of surgical procedure that may be performed in severe back injury cases is a laminectomy with spinal fusion. A laminectomy with spinal fusion is performed for the same reasons as a laminectomy—and is considered after more conservative treatments have failed.

Spinal fusions can be performed at any level of the spine—cervical, thoracic, or lumbar. However, it is more common to have a spinal fusion in the cervical or lumbar spine because there is more risk of sudden trauma or degeneration in these areas of the spine.

During a laminectomy with spinal fusion, the surgeon will connect two or more bones in the back in order to better stabilize the spine. Your recovery time may be a bit longer if your laminectomy surgery requires a spinal fusion.

For laminectomies and laminectomies with spinal fusion, you will likely be off work for a period of time while you are recovering. During this time, you will likely be eligible for temporary total disability payments, which is a benefit of a workers compensation claim.

IV. Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Back Injuries

While most people are aware that successful work injury cases result in either a settlement or an award at trial, this is not the only benefit available. Workers who are injured on the job in California are entitled to a few different benefits, such as payment of medical care, temporary disability payments for time off work, supplemental job displacement benefits, and permanent disability payments. Death benefits may also be available to families of workers who died due to a work injury.

A. Payment of Medical Care

In the state of California, workers’ compensation law requires claims administrators to approve and pay for all medical care that is reasonably required to cure or relieve the effects of an injured worker’s injury. In some cases, the claims administrator may dispute the need for medical care or a medical procedure.

If that happens in your case, you may be evaluated by a qualified medical evaluator (QME). If the dispute is not resolved, your case may go to trial on the issue of whether the recommended treatment or procedure is medically necessary and reasonably related to your work injury.

B. Temporary Disability Payments

In a California workers’ compensation case, you are entitled to temporary disability payments if you lose wages because your injury causes you to be unable to perform your usual job while you are recovering. Temporary disability is paid at a rate of two-thirds of the gross wages (pre-tax wages) that you lose while recovering from your work injury.

However, this payment amount is subject to minimum and maximum rates that are set each year. Your workers’ compensation back injury attorney can help you understand how the minimum and maximum rates will impact your case, if at all.

C. Supplemental Job Displacement Benefits

If your injury occurred in 2004 or later, you might be eligible for a voucher that will help you pay for retraining or for job skill enhancement. Vouchers are given as a benefit to injured workers who do not recover completely from their injuries and cannot return to working for their employer.

D. Permanent Disability Payments

You may be entitled to permanent disability payments if you have a lasting disability from your work injury or illness that impacts your ability to earn a living. Even if you are able to go back to work, you can still be eligible for permanent disability benefits.

V. Average Workers’ Comp Settlement for Back Injury

Back injuries are some of the most common types of work injuries. If you have suffered a back injury at work, you may be wondering what you can expect for any workers’ compensation settlements for back injury.

According to a 2015 study involving workers’ compensation cases, the average payout for back injury at work was $23,600. This sum includes both settlements and awards given at trial.

The average payout for workers’ compensation cases, in general, was found to be $21,800. Based on this study, workers’ compensation back injury settlement amounts (and award amounts) tend to be slightly higher than the average settlement and award for workers’ comp cases in general.

Since back injuries can vary widely in severity, the average settlement for back injury at work may not be an amount that is realistic for you to expect. Conversely, the average may also be lower than what your case is actually worth if you have a more severe injury.

VI. Factors That Impact Workers’ Comp Settlement Amounts for Back Injury

There are a few different factors that can affect the amount you can expect for a settlement for back injury on the job. Every case is different, with a unique set of facts. These factors can give you an idea of what to expect for workers’ compensation payouts back injuries.

A. The Strength of Your Case

The first factor that goes into how much your eventual settlement may be worth is the strength of your case. While you may know for a fact that your injury did happen at work and is work-related, in order to have a strong case, you will also need supporting medical records and other evidence.

B. Whether Your Injury Can Resolve with Conservative Treatment or If it Will Require Surgery

Generally, more severe back injuries will require more extensive treatment. Many minor back injuries can heal with conservative treatment such as physical therapy, prescription pain medication, pain management, and chiropractic care.

However, more severe back injuries—such as herniated discs—may require surgical procedures such as laminectomy, discectomy, or a spinal fusion in order for the injured worker to achieve maximum medical improvement. Injuries that require surgery are more expensive to treat and often result in higher settlements.

For example, a herniated disc workers’ comp settlement amount or workers’ comp bulging disc settlement may be much higher than a lumbar strain workers’ comp settlement. Additionally, a workers’ comp settlement for low back after two epidural injections will likely also be higher than a lumbar strain workers’ comp settlement.

Another reason the type of injury and medical care required will impact your settlement for back injury on the job is that more severe back injuries are more likely to cause permanent disability. Permanent disability can impact the injured worker’s ability to return to work in their former capacity if they are even able to return to the workforce at all.

C. Your Wage Rate Prior to the Injury

The wage rate at which you were earning prior to the injury is also a very important factor that goes into your eventual back injury workers’ comp settlement. The way that back injury workers’ comp cases are calculated includes a formula that is based, in part, on your average weekly earnings at the time you were injured. Your case would be worth more if you earned more money at the time of the injury.

D. Whether or Not You Have Permanent Restrictions Due to Your Injury That Prevent You from Returning to Your Pre-Injury Job

Back injury workers’ comp cases that involve injuries severe enough to prevent the injured worker from returning to their pre-injury jobs often result in higher settlements. One reason for this is, because in many of these cases, there will be ongoing treatment or pain management in the future. Future medical care may be part of a lump sum settlement for the injured worker, which will increase the value.
While rare, if the injured worker is permanently and totally disabled, then they may be eligible for permanent disability payments. In these cases, the injured worker can receive regular payments for the remainder of their life for two-thirds of their pre-injury average weekly wage (subject to minimum and maximum rates).

E. The Physical Requirements of Your Pre-Injury Job

In general, settlements tend to be higher for injured workers that have jobs requiring physical labor. This is because work injuries tend to have a more substantial impact on their ability to make a living. These workers are also more likely to have permanent restrictions.

VII. Workers’ Compensation Back Injury Settlement Amounts for Severe Injuries Requiring Extensive Treatment

In most cases, workers’ compensation back injuries that are more severe in nature and more likely to cause permanent damage will result in higher settlements. When conservative treatment methods, such as PT, do not resolve an injured worker’s herniated disc back injury, epidural steroid injections may be recommended as the next step in treatment.

A. Average Workers’ Comp Settlement Herniated Disc

It is difficult to give an average amount for what an injured worker in California can expect for a workers’ comp herniated disc case or for a bulging disc workers’ comp case. The primary reason for this is because herniated disc and bulging disc injuries can vary widely in severity, medical treatment, and permanency.

These factors, as well as the wage rate of the injured worker, are all considered when negotiating a settlement. Therefore, a herniated disc lower back workers’ comp settlement may fall within a wide range of compensation.

B. Average Workers’ Comp Settlement for Laminectomy

In a severe back injury case, the injured worker may need a surgical procedure called a laminectomy. During a laminectomy procedure, the spine surgeon will remove a portion of the vertebrae in order to relieve the pressure put on the spinal cord or nerves by a herniated disc. These procedures are done more often on the cervical or lumbar areas of the spine rather than on the thoracic spine.

The average workers’ comp settlement for laminectomy is generally higher than that of most back injury cases that do not require surgery. The reason for this is because of the severity of the injury, as well as the fact that if this surgery is required, the worker may potentially be unable to return to work in their former capacity. The injured worker may even be deemed permanently and totally disabled, which would result in a high settlement.

Additionally, with one laminectomy surgery, there is potential for the need for additional surgical procedures down the line depending on the remaining level of back pain. An injured worker who undergoes a laminectomy surgery for their back injury may require an additional procedure or may even need a spinal fusion procedure in the future.

A workers’ compensation settlement may include money for future medical care, depending on the likelihood that it may be needed. In some cases, as part of the settlement agreement, the parties may leave future medical care “open.” This means that if the worker does need additional medical care in connection with the original work injury, then those treatments and procedures will be paid for by the insurance company, even after the case has been settled.

C. Average Workers’ Comp Settlement for Spinal Fusion

A laminectomy with spinal fusion surgery is necessary in some severe back injury cases. Workers’ compensation back injuries involving spinal fusion surgeries tend to have higher settlements than other types of back injuries.

It is not unusual for a spinal fusion workers’ compensation case for a high wage earner to result in a settlement of $100,000 or more. When a spinal fusion is required at multiple levels, the eventual workers’ comp spinal fusion settlement may be even higher.

Additionally, in severe back injury cases in which the workers injured needs a spinal fusion surgery, that worker may never be able to return to work in their former capacity. They may also be permanently and totally disabled, which can significantly increase the settlement for the case.

VIII. Workers’ Comp Back Injury Settlements at The Odjaghian Law Group

For many years, the workers comp attorneys at The Odjaghian Law Group have successfully handled back injury workers’ compensation cases for California workers who have suffered work-related injuries and suffer from back pain as a result. We have been so successful in winning high settlements and awards for our clients workers compensation claims due to our unique and personal approach to every case.

We know what it takes to see a workers’ compensation back injury claim through from start to finish. Contact our office today to learn more about how we can help you pursue the workers comp claim you deserve for your workers’ compensation back injury. We will help you fight for the workers’ compensation benefits that you deserve.

Disclaimer: All workers compensation claims are different, and the Odjaghian Law Group cannot guarantee a positive legal outcome. Additionally, the above information is not meant to be construed as legal advice, nor does it create an attorney/client relationship between the reader and the Odjaghian Law Group.

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