Elizabeth is a stay-at-home mom who often shuttles her three kids between ballet, soccer, and band. In those moments of free time, she tries to find some sanity by visiting with her friends or shopping at a local boutique she loves. She even tried her hand at cutting vinyl and making shirts, but she found it easier to just buy them from friends of friends.
Anyway, one day between all her errands and car service duties (at least it often feels that way to her), she was hit from behind while waiting at a red light. The impact caused her car to lurch forward suddenly which in turn caused her body to accelerate forward. Luckily, Elizabeth was wearing her seat belt so she did not seriously injury her head. But, she did feel some pain on her left shoulder, where her seatbelt was crossing her body.
She thought it would go away, but when her shoulder continued hurting a week later - Elizabeth was having pain while brushing her hair, washing her hair, trying to put on clothes and it seemed the pain was just getting worse – she went to her doctor. After some discussion, a negative X-ray that did not show any fractures or breaks, and a painful bout of physical therapy, she had an MRI done. The MRI revealed a partial thickness tear of her rotator cuff.
What is the Rotator Cuff?
A rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that keep the shoulder steady. The four muscles of the rotator cuff are the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, and the Subscapularis.
What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?
A rotator cuff tear occurs when one of the tendons is torn from overuse or injury.
A rotator cuff tear weakens the shoulder, which makes it harder or more painful to engage in your activities of daily living, such as putting on your clothes, brushing your hair and more.
How is a Rotator Cuff Tear Diagnosed?
A rotator cuff tear will not show up on an x-ray. In addition to a physical exam, an MRI or ultrasound may help to determine if there is a rotator cuff tear.
These studies can better show soft tissues like the rotator cuff tendons.
These studies can show the rotator cuff tear, as well as where the tear is located inside the tendon and the size of the tear. With a larger tear, there is decreased room for argument by the insurance company and/or its doctors. If the tear is very small, there is a chance that the insurance company and/or its doctor will deny that a tear even exists. This influences the value of the case.
An MRI can also give your doctor a better idea of whether the tear is old or new because it may show the quality of the rotator cuff muscles.
Causes of Rotator Cuff Tears
The two major causes of rotator cuff tears: injury and degeneration.
Acute Tear (Injury)
If you fall down on your outstretched arm or lift something that weighs too much and make a jerking movement, you can tear your rotator cuff.
The strongest cases (and those worth the most) are usually those where another person’s negligence caused the injury and where an orthopedic doctor states that your injury was caused by the incident in question.
Many rotator cuff tears happen due to the tendon being worn out, which happens slowly over time. Degenerative tears may exist in those with old injuries or those who have repetitive type jobs that use the shoulders. An acute injury can aggravate a chronic tear and cause a non-symptomatic tear to start causing pain!
In these types of cases, your treating doctor will likely be a key witness in your case. If you did not have serious pain prior to an accident but do now, and your doctor can testify as such, this can result in a good case.
How much can I get for a torn rotator cuff injury?
If you are trying to estimate what your damage award could be if you file suit after a car accident, there are several factors you must consider.
First, there is not a “settlement formula” that can accurately predict how much you will receive for your case. Estimates are practically useless prior to a thorough examination of your case and all relevant factors. Additionally, it is difficult for any attorney to give an estimate due to unpredictable factors, such as the particular jury for your case or without knowing the full extent of your injury or treatment.
For example, in one torn rotator cuff case I handled, the client had one surgery a few weeks after an accident, did some physical therapy for a few months, and then returned to work without issue.
In another case, my client had physical therapy, then surgery followed by more physical therapy, followed by another surgery when the shoulder did not heal, followed by more physical therapy and ultimately a third surgery on the same shoulder before she could return to work – which she did at a lower level than she was working before the injury.
In yet another rotator cuff tear case, a surgeon recommended that my client have rotator cuff repair surgery, but my client decided against the surgery.
These types of scenarios make it difficult to accurately estimate the value of any such case.
An experienced personal attorney will learn about your case and instruct you on the process of a personal injury/car accident case.
Additionally, there are several resources that will help you determine what juries in your area are awarding car crash victims. You can look at sites (for a fee usually) like VerdictSearch which archive trial verdicts and can be good resources if want to see what juries are awarding for cases like yours. You should note that specific factors in any reported case may be different than your case and you should not use any results as an indication of what you will receive.
If you have been injured in a car accident, seek medical treatment first. A doctor will evaluate your case and decide the best course of treatment.
Oh – and Elizabeth, she was able to treat conservatively with physical therapy and an injection, and returned to full function in a few weeks. I am thankful her injuries were not more serious. As she said – her carpool depended on her!
For more information about car crash cases and representation in St. Charles Parish and throughout the River Parishes, contact our team at Loyd J. Bourgeois, LLC at (985) 240-9773.
Please note that names are changed and circumstances may be combined for illustration purposes!