What You Need to Know About Soft Tissue Injury Cases
During an accident, it is common to suffer soft tissue damage. A motor vehicle incident, sports-related trauma, or battery often results in such an injury. If you are involved in a traumatic accident, there is a strong likelihood that you have suffered one or more soft tissue injuries.
Some soft tissue damage results in only minor trauma but others have long-term, even potentially life-long, consequences. A long-term or permanent injury falls under the classification of ‘catastrophic’ and often entitles the victim to significant monetary awards.
Understanding Soft Tissue Injuries
The term ‘soft tissue’ refers to the muscles, tendons and ligaments located in the body. Throughout the human anatomy are 650 muscles (although the muscles are often further classified into 850 distinct tissues). Each one of the muscles that runs throughout the body attaches to one or more bones using a fibrous material known as tendons. Ligaments and cartilage also help hold the muscles in place and provide shape. All the soft tissue works together to help the body move. During a physical impact, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments function by holding the body together. However, during a severe collision or impact, the soft tissue frequently sustains stretching, twisting, and tearing, which cause considerable pain and damage.
Common Soft Tissue Injuries
Typically, soft tissue injuries fall under three distinct categories; sprains, strains, and tears.
- Sprains: A sprain happens when the soft tissue is stretched, or a minor tear occurs in a ligament.
- Strains: A strain involves the stretching and minor tearing of either a muscle or a tendon.
- Tears: A tear happens when a muscle, ligament or tendon sustains either a partial or complete rupture.
Grading Soft Tissue Injuries
Physicians grade soft tissue injuries to denote their severity. The grades range from Grade I to Grade III.
- Grade I: Any sprain, strain, or minor tear that causes no joint instability. Usually a Grade I soft tissue injury heals on its own within a couple of weeks without medical intervention.
- Grade II: A partial tear of the soft tissue that causes joint instability. Some Grade II injuries will heal without medical intervention, but others require surgery to treat correctly.
- Grade III: A complete tear that will not heal without surgery. The injury causes an extreme amount of pain that is comparable to that of a bone fracture. The sufferer cannot make use of the affected limb or joint until after surgery and recovery. Often there is a significant amount of recovery time needed and physical therapy.
What are Catastrophic Soft Tissue Injuries?
A catastrophic soft tissue injury is one that has the potential to cause long-term or permanent effects. A Grade I injury does not fall under this category. However, a severe Grade II or a Grade III soft tissue injury often has long-term effects and is usually classified as catastrophic.
Long-Term and Permanent Side Effects of Grade II and Grade III Injuries
Proper medical treatment often helps reduce the long-term effects of a Grade II or Grade III soft tissue grievance. However, in some cases, even extensive medical intervention cannot return the sufferer to normal function.
Long-term or permanent side effects of Grade II or Grade III damage include:
- Ongoing numbness
- Extreme pain
- Chronic pain
- Limited mobility
- Impaired muscle strength
- Loss of function
- Noticeable physical deformity
Catastrophic Soft Tissue Injury Signs
Signs of a catastrophic soft tissue injury include:
- Inability to put any weight on a limb or move an afflicted joint.
- Ongoing numbness or pins and needles sensations.
- Severe pain in the bone or joint.
- Body shape takes on a deformed appearance even after healing.
- Pop or crack at the time of the accident or even after healing in the affected joint.
Automobile Accident Personal Injury Claims
Many people ask, what is a serious soft tissue injury claim? To successfully pursue a claim against an insurance company after an auto accident, you must show that you have sustained severe physical damage. One of the best-known soft tissue injuries suffered from an auto accident is whiplash. However, direct proof of acute bodily damage that involves tissue becomes difficult. Thorough documentation of the physical damage and the accident is imperative for any successful insurance claim or potential lawsuit.
State Insurance Laws in Maine
Maine has the distinction of being one of the few states that requires all insured drivers to purchase medical payments coverage (MedPay). The coverage helps pay for some your medical expenses after an accident. MedPay also covers anyone injured in an accident while riding in or driving your insured vehicle. Furthermore, MedPay can also cover some of your medical expenses if you experience an accident while being a passenger in someone else’s vehicle. Unfortunately, MedPay offers extremely limited coverage. In Maine, the minimum amount required by law is $2,000, but you do have the option to purchase additional coverage.
Maine’s Required Liability Insurance
All drivers must carry at least liability insurance in Maine. Many motorists within the state willingly choose to carry policies with much higher coverage.
Maine’s legal minimums for liability include:
- $50,000 for injury or death of a single person
- $100,000 total for injuries or deaths caused by a single accident
- $25,000 for property damage
Remember, whether you file a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance or you pursue a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, the insurance carrier remains responsible for providing you with compensation up to the policy’s limit. If your damages exceed the policy limit, then the at-fault driver faces paying the difference with their own personal assets.
Understanding Maine’s Comparative Fault Rules
If an injured person is found to be partly responsible for their own injury then Maine uses what is known as a, ‘comparative fault rule’ to resolve the case. Under the comparative fault rule, an injured person’s damages face reduction based on the percentage of fault assigned. If the fault reaches 50 percent or higher then the injured party cannot claim from the at-fault party. This rule comes into effect any time both parties share fault for the accident.
Insurance Laws in Other States
Depending on which state the accident occurred within, either the plaintiff’s (the person injured) or the defendant’s (the person responsible) insurance company is liable to pay for the injury. In ‘no-fault’ states, the plaintiff’s insurance company pays for the injury. Typically, most insurance companies have pre-established amounts that they are willing to pay to settle the case quickly. Such pre-established sums are based on the type of soft tissue injury sustained. If a plaintiff refuses to settle on the aggregate offered by the insurance company, then the case goes to court. It is possible that if the case proceeds to court you could be awarded less money than the insurance company originally offered to settle the claim. Additionally, if the person you claim is responsible for the accident prevails in court you could be liable for the costs of litigation. You should take the time to research all factors and seek legal representation before turning down an insurance settlement and pursuing a claim in court.
The Difficulty of Proving a Soft Tissue Injury
Unfortunately, many soft tissue injuries do not show up on medical diagnostic tests. The inability to document the extent of a soft tissue injury makes it difficult for an insurance company or jury to feel confident in the injury’s legitimacy. During a court case, a variety of arguments can be made to refute the injury’s existence without medical proof of its severity. From the moment a soft tissue trauma occurs, the sufferer must seek medical care so that medical records exist to timeline the injury and its severity. The remedial records act as proof of the claim.
The Importance of Medical Documentation for Any Personal Injury Claim
To receive the maximum insurance settlement or win an insurance claim, you must be prepared to present thorough medical documentation of the injury, symptoms, and treatments. All curative verification must be maintained and presented. Also, proof of how the accident occurred, beneficial testimonies, or other evidence can also help the claim. Plaintiffs who live in a ‘no-fault’ state are not faced with winning a trial but proving the existence and extent of the injury at the time they submit the claim.
Maine is a traditional ‘fault’ system state. This means that the individual who is at ‘fault’ for the accident is responsible for all medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, and other costs incurred by the injured party.
An injured individual has three options to seek compensation under Maine’s injury law.
- File a claim under their own auto insurance policy
- File a claim against the at-fault party
- File a third-party claim with the at fault person’s insurance.
Which option applies to you depends on the specific facts of your case.
Maine’s Time Frame to File a Personal Injury Claim
Unlike some states, Maine has a statute of limitations which puts a limit on the amount of time that a person has go to a civil court and file a personal injury lawsuit against a responsible party. Maine’s time limit is six years and starts on the date that the accident occurs. Any personal injury claim must be filed within that deadline. If the injury claim in against a city, county, or state government then you have only 180 days to file a formal claim and two years to file a lawsuit.
Understanding the Legal System and Catastrophic Injury Claims
Auto accidents are the most common cause of soft tissue injuries, but they can also occur because of other impact accidents such as a sports injury or a civil battery case. In such situations, it remains imperative to present all medical documentation and proof. In the case of civil battery injury, the plaintiff must convince a defense attorney to offer an acceptable settlement. Such cases become complicated. With some civil battery, no insurance company is involved and instead the defendant must pay out of pocket for the agreement.
In a recent case in Maine’s Cumberland County, a plaintiff claimed they had sustained soft tissue injuries to the neck, shoulders, back and hips after being struck by a shed wall which had supposedly not been secured properly during construction. The plaintiff was seeking $17,000 in medical bills which included chiropractic care. The defendant argued that the physical problems sustained by the plaintiff did not occur because of being struck but were instead a continuation of former complaints and treatments that the plaintiff had been receiving for years prior to the accident. Before trial, the plaintiff was seeking a total of $70,000 but the settlement offer was $7,500. Cases such as this one clearly outlines the difficulty of proving a soft tissue injury, especially if the plaintiff has a history of previous physical problems.
Seeking Personal Injury Representation
The legal system is difficult to navigate for a novice individual. In a case where the plaintiff has suffered catastrophic injury, seeking legal representation is imperative to a successful outcome. A personal injury lawyer can help you determine if you should pursue a soft injury claim either against an insurance company or in court. The lawyer will work with you to determine the validity of your injury case, continue any settlement negotiations, and handle any lawsuits.
Please contact Nichols & Tucker, P.A. to learn more about your legal rights if you have suffered a soft tissue injury.