Back injury lawsuits are becoming more and more prevalent in the civil legal system. The epidemic of chronic back pain is partially due to the huge success of litigation for spinal and muscular injuries.
Here is a little known fact: The legal process of bringing litigation can not only affect the amount of people suffering with back pain, it can also affect the actual intensity of the symptoms experienced, as well as the duration of these symptoms and the prognosis for recovery.
As a former trial preparation investigator in New York City, I have seen it all when it comes to back pain litigation. In fact, it was this work experience which truly got me behind the scenes to experience things few people ever witness within our justice system.
Some care providers within the modern medical establishment have created a false view of our collective backs. Doctors have promoted more and more conditions as causing pain, often without scientific evidence.
Medical science has painted a picture of our lower backs being so fragile and prone to injury. Even normal processes that occur universally in our bodies have been elevated to disease status.
Spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease are 2 perfect examples. These are conditions that are normal to experience as we age. Medical science has made them notorious. Medicine has created a spectre of fear surrounding these conditions. This is what is called the nocebo effect. It creates back pain fear where none is appropriate.
The chances of making to middle age without disc degeneration or arthritic change in the spine are virtually zero. Somehow people are always shocked to learn they have either of these conditions. Worse still, their occurrence is often illogically blamed on injury.
What is trauma? Well, anything at all that hurts us, scares us or even touches us, can be considered trauma in the eyes of the law. If we are injured “in any way” (a quote from a local lawyer in NY), most likely, you will have back pain. It just seems to be a natural thing nowadays.
Litigation is out of control in the USA. We are a "sue happy" society.
Back injury lawsuits are the #1 most common type of personal injury case.
Back pain is a perfect reason for a lawsuit. We already accept the fallacy that our backs are easily injured. We have all seen or heard of many people that have horrible chronic back ache. Every time someone is in an accident, they almost always develop back pain. We have been conditioned to view our backs as delicate and easily injured.
We are the legal system. We sit on the juries. We create the precedents for payment.
Back pain is a perfect fit to a lawsuit. It is very easy to identify conditions in the spine and back muscles that might cause pain. That is because most of us will have degenerated discs, herniated discs, osteoarthritis or some other condition in our spines. These conditions are normal and rarely cause pain.
It is also very difficult to disprove back pain. There is physical evidence of a structural problem and I complain of pain. Who is going to refute me? Imaging studies will show the effects of the accident and will stand up in any court of law. What most people do not know is that these conditions were most likely there before the accident. They just never created symptoms before the accident. So why do they start now?
Have you ever been in a car accident? I have.
The doctors are very worried about back pain:
"Does your back hurt?
No? Are you sure?
You know, it might start to hurt in a day or 2, or even a week."
These statements are relatively common to hear from doctors after an accident. The patient starts to think…
Does my back hurt? Maybe a little.
That is the start of the nocebo effect. The condition has started not because of the injury, but because it is expected to cause pain after an accident. Do I blame the doctors? Of course not… well not really. They are just doing their job, in most instances.
Lawyers practice law. They create law. They set the precedents for what we believe is fair and just in our legal system. Most lawyers are good people who want true justice. However, there are some who are truly diabolical.
Plaintiffs lawyers get paid based on awards they win for their clients. They actually earn about one third of the monetary award in fees and up to one half total, including court expenses, investigation expense and hiring medical experts to appear at trial. This is big business that amounts to billions and billions of dollars.
Lawyers are usually successful and affluent members of our community. Doctors are also successful and affluent. Lawyers and doctors have a social link, as well as a common financial strength. Lawyers and doctors have always influenced the way each does their respective job.
Lawyers have given doctors the guidelines for proper diagnosis of any possible condition that might result from an accident or injury. Doctors have given lawyers the medical ammunition to fight for their money. They are a natural fit.
You are in an accident. You feel shaken up, but feel generally ok. Maybe you have a few bumps and bruises, but nothing serious. You go to the hospital. They treat your wounds and release you. You go home. You feel lucky to be alive and safe.
Later that day, you speak to a few friends about what happened. One suggests that they would sue, if they were you.
You think to yourself, I am ok, but maybe I should speak to a lawyer.
Your friend recommends one and even has the lawyer call you. The lawyer is so kind and offers to come right over to speak to you.
The lawyer seems to know a lot. He warns you that the type of accident you were in almost always causes a delayed reaction. You might become very injured, or even incapacitated in the future, all as a result of this accident. You feel ok, but the lawyer is starting to scare you a little. You have heard of this happening before. He tells you several horror stories of good people, just like you, who lost everything, due to health problems that started after an accident. Your back is actually starting to hurt as you are still talking with the attorney.
This is how is all begins..
The attorney sends you to his doctor for an evaluation. The doctor asks all about the accident and what happened. She takes a lot of tests and asks a lot of scary questions. She is concerned that the trauma has not fully affected you yet and that there will be serious health effects in your future. You start to become really frightened now.
After reviewing your tests, the doctor calls you to come back in to see her. She shows you 2 herniated discs on the MRI she took. She tells you that this is causing a mass effect on your spinal nerves. She says that this could lead to chronic pain, incontinence, maybe even total disability.
You mention to her that your back has been hurting more and more.
She gets you into treatment immediately.
are prescribed. All these healthcare workers are conveniently working
together for you, under one roof. The attorney calls this a diverse
care practice. Insurance investigators have a slightly different name; a
personal injury mill.
They are all so nice and keep telling you that they hope you can overcome your horrible pain soon. You keep thinking, "Hmm. I did not think the pain was that bad, actually".
After 3 months of conservative treatment, you are still in pain. Actually the pain has gotten worse. Now it is preventing you from working. You can’t enjoy time with your family. You are miserable. You feel like the pain relief drugs are starting to mean more to you than anything else. You simply can't wait for the next dose and sometimes take 2.
Your attorney is always there for you and has become your most trusted friend. He is always making sure that you get all the treatments you need, while he works on your case. What a great guy! What would you do without him?
Finally, you are told that surgery will be needed to correct your pain. The attorney sets up everything. He is so great! You have the procedure. It is a nightmare, but at least you will be well soon. As you recover, the legal case is starting to get into the court system. The attorney has a good case and the defense offers to settle your back pain lawsuit.
1 million dollars! Wow, that’s so great. Now, you have nothing to worry about. You will recover. You will also be rich.
Well, now that your lawsuit is over, the doctor feels that your treatment is finished. She does not seem so interested in the fact that you still have pain in your back. The attorney rarely returns your calls anymore. He must be really busy with some new case, so you understand.
The 1 million? Well, the attorney got one third for his fee. Another third went to pay the doctors and hospital bills. Court costs and investigation ate up another 50 thousand. You were left with about $280,000. By the time everyone got paid, (including the taxes) you had $160,000. That’s about 2 years pay for you.
You missed more than 3 years of your life seeing this case through and you are still in pain. Your back is not the same after the surgery. You can’t move as well, and you put on a lot of weight. You can't work. Your lower back hurts every day.
Is this every case? Of course not.
It is a model that is very common, however. The legal system can eat up the defense, at the cost of billions of dollars. It can also eat up the plaintiff, at the cost of quality of life. Think of how this would have gone differently, if only you did not talk to that lawyer.
Lawyers might make sure that their doctors give the facts to their patients in a way to create pain, even if none is there already. This power of suggestion is very potent. If the person is in pain, the diagnosis might be made in a way to guarantee that the pain will continue or worsen. Doctors support the lawyers in the courts. They are expert witnesses and the medical testimony they offer is well beyond the scope of the average person to refute.
This is an over simplified example.
It is only for illustration.
Many back pain lawsuits have merit and should be fought to conclusion. However, as an insurance investigator, I have seen many that fit this profile perfectly. I have seen the federal arrests of doctors, lawyers and therapists for manufacturing lawsuits They have even hired plaintiffs to get into accidents on purpose.
A jaded view or a realistic view? You can decide for yourself.
My second chiropractor (also my good friend) had a great practice. His dad left him the business and he even had his brother join him. They were a great team. It seemed that their business was great. After a couple of years, the practice changed. I began to see patients being bused in from out of the area. Few of these patients spoke any English, so the staff changed as well, to accommodate the linguistic needs of the clientèle.
I asked my friend what was going on. He said that he hooked up with a lawyer who was sending him tons of patients for care and he was thrilled. Well, it was obvious that these people were not injured. They were just receiving care to defraud the insurance companies or to build cases for back injury lawsuits.
I warned my friend that he was going to get caught and be in big trouble. Don’t forget, I investigate these matters professionally, so I know a bit about insurance fraud.
He said he had nothing to worry about, since he was not the one setting it all up. He said if anyone’s head was to roll, it would be the lawyer. I warned him again, but he laughed.
His business was super. He had a steady stream of fake patients, but no time for his real patients. They began to leave. Finally, as one of his last remaining original patients, I left also.
A short time later, I read that he was in trouble with the law. I do not know the exact outcome of his case, but I do know he had to close his practice and move out of state to start over. Such a shame, but some people will never listen to reason over money $$$.
Yes, it is a true story.