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Understanding Shoulder Injuries in Car Accidents

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The shoulder is a fairly complex joint because it needs to have a wide range of motion and support significant loads as you use your arms. That means it’s quite vulnerable to injury in many types of accidents, including car accidents. Shoulder injuries can be caused by contact with the steering wheel, seatbelts, or flying debris. You may be looking at a lengthy recovery period or even have a permanent injury affecting your independence and ability to work.

Unfortunately, insurance companies often undervalue shoulder injuries, which means the injured person ends up with less compensation than they deserve. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain or other symptoms after a car accident, here’s what you need to know.

Symptoms of shoulder injuries in a car accident

Shoulder injuries can present symptoms not just in the shoulder itself, but also in other parts of the body adjacent to the shoulders. It’s important to recognize the warning signs because a shoulder injury can quickly become worse if not promptly treated. Some key symptoms include:

  • Instability or weakness in the shoulder
  • Limited range of motion
  • Pain or soreness when moving your arm normally
  • Persistent pain
  • Numbness
  • Grating or cracking sounds when moving the arm
  • Inability to sleep on one side due to pain

Sometimes, these symptoms are apparent immediately after the crash, but not always. In the aftermath of a car accident, your adrenaline level is high, and inflammation may not have set in yet. That’s why you always need to see a doctor, even if you aren’t currently in pain. Tell your doctor about all your symptoms and follow your doctor’s instructions. This is important for your health and to document your injuries to support a potential claim.

Types of shoulder injuries in car crashes

When the force of a car crash impacts the shoulder, many types of damage can result. Some types of shoulder injuries that can occur in a car wreck include:

  • Shoulder strain: while the shoulder has a very wide range of motion, a car accident can cause it to extend beyond its capacity, causing a strain or sprain. This often causes pain, especially near the front of the shoulder, and instability or weakness.
  • Deep tissue bruising: the word “bruise” may not sound like a severe injury, but deep tissue bruising can cause significant damage to the muscles and connective tissues in the shoulder, along with serious pain and even internal bleeding.
  • Shoulder fractures: the force of impact can break any of the bones that make up the shoulder, including the scapula (shoulder blade), clavicle (collarbone), or humerus (upper arm bone).
  • Separated shoulder: a shoulder separation injury is a result of tearing in the ligaments between the collarbone (clavicle) and the shoulder blade (acromion). The shoulder blade may partially separate from the collarbone if the damage is severe enough.
  • Rotator cuff injury: the rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tears can cause a dull ache deep in the shoulder, making it difficult to reach above your head or behind your back. Surgery may be required to repair the damage.
  • Dislocated shoulder: the force of impact causes the upper arm bone to pop out of the cup-shaped socket. Depending on the direction of impact, car wrecks can cause the shoulder joint to dislocate forward, backward, or downward. Dislocations can cause pain and instability in the shoulder, muscle spasms, tendon and ligament damage, and nerve damage.
  • Brachial plexus injury: the brachial plexus is a cluster of nerves that carry signals from the brain through the shoulder and down the arm. Brachial plexus injuries can cause numbness, burning or stinging pain, and partial or total loss of use of the shoulder, arm, wrist, or hand.

Depending on the nature and extent of your shoulder injury, you may need medication to treat inflammation or shoulder surgery to repair the damage. Your injury may also require surgery to recover strength and range of motion. While most shoulder injuries heal in time, some can become permanent, which significantly impacts your ability to work and quality of life. That’s why victims of shoulder injuries in car accidents need full compensation.

The high cost of a shoulder injury in a car accident

Until you’ve injured your shoulder, you may not realize just how many activities of daily living depend on the shoulder joint. For example, losing range of motion in a shoulder means you may not be able to comb your hair, scratch your back, or clean yourself, affecting your independence and quality of life. A severe shoulder injury can also affect your ability to work, depending on the nature of your job. Whether the damage is temporary or permanent, the effects can ripple across your life, your family, and your future.

A settlement for a shoulder injury in a car accident should include everything you’ve lost because of the injury. Those losses may include:

  • Medical expenses, including medication, shoulder surgery, physical therapy, and any other medical services you may need. Some shoulder injuries may increase the likelihood that you’ll need future shoulder replacement or other procedures; those costs, too, should be included in your settlement or verdict.
  • Lost wages during your recovery period, as well as lost future income if your shoulder injury will permanently affect your ability to work.
  • Modifications to your home or vehicle to accommodate a permanent disability.
  • Loss of quality and enjoyment of life, which can be substantial if your shoulder injury affects your ability to spend time with your children or participate in activities.
  • Pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish.

Again, just because you should be compensated for all these losses doesn’t mean you will. Insurance companies are notorious for downplaying shoulder injuries and offering “lowball” figures. This is where an experienced attorney can make a significant difference.

Why you need a lawyer for a shoulder injury in a car accident

As with any car accident, one of the reasons you need a lawyer is to investigate and get to the bottom of what happened. If there is a dispute over fault for the accident, your attorney can review accident reports, interview witnesses, and examine physical evidence from the scene to reconstruct what happened. A lawyer can help you identify all liable parties for your injury, which may be more than just the at-fault driver. For example, if a seatbelt contributed to your shoulder injury, an attorney can also hold the manufacturer responsible.

Just as importantly, an attorney can document the full cost of your injuries and build a case for full and fair compensation for those costs. That includes economic losses such as medical expenses, lost income, and more subjectively determined costs like pain and suffering or lost quality of life. Depending on the circumstances, your attorney may need to hire expert witnesses, such as an economist who can opine on the effects on your lifetime earnings, or a medical doctor such as an orthopedist who can explain the future medical costs associated with your shoulder injury.

Whether through a negotiated settlement or, if necessary, a jury verdict, a car accident attorney can fight for full compensation for your shoulder injury while you focus on healing. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain after a car accident, see a doctor if you haven’t already. Then, contact Smith & Hassler for a free, confidential consultation.

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