A car accident can result in multiple types of injuries. Although not as common as other injuries like whiplash and back hernias, knee injuries can be quite serious. They frequently occur in side-impact, head-on, and rollover collisions. It’s fairly common for an accident victim to file a knee injury insurance claim for compensation.
When someone files a knee injury claim, the issues of negligence and liability determine whether the insurance company accepts responsibility on behalf of its insured, and the amount of compensation they agree to pay.
Understanding the types of knee injuries common to car accidents, and their treatment and costs is vital if you’re considering filing a personal injury claim. Seeking medical treatment promptly, while gathering important evidence of the other driver’s negligence, is essential for your claim to succeed.
In this section, we review:
- Common knee injuries
- Medical treatment, recovery, and costs
- Negligence and your insurance claim
- Duty of care (obligation) and proximate cause
- Gathering evidence for your claim
- Self-representation vs. hiring a lawyer
Common Knee Injuries
In a collision, the side door, firewall, window, and even the roof can cave in on and crush the driver’s knee(s). When this happens, the patella (kneecap), a clamshell-shaped bone inside the knee, can fracture. The patella, medically referred to as the sesamoid bone, protects the ligaments and tendons inside the knee, which surround the quadricep muscle running up the front, or anterior, side of each thigh.
To repair a fractured patella requires open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) surgery. During ORIF surgery, the surgeon opens the front of the knee and reconstructs the sesamoid bone using wire, pins, and screws. The surgeon removes fractured pieces of the bone, which are too small to repair. When the bone damage is too severe, the surgeon performs a full or partial patellectomy, removing part or all of the damaged bone.
Post-surgery therapy can take from six to nine months. The combined costs of surgery and therapy range from $6,000 to $12,000.
An auto accident can also damage tendons and muscles in the knee. This is especially true in side-impact collisions. Depending on the force of the impact, the tendons can pull and twist, or hyperextend, well beyond their intended radius.
More than 70 percent of car accident knee injuries are to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). The ACL is one of the four ligaments whose purpose is to give the knee flexibility. It has dense soft tissue that connects the upper and lower knee joints. The ACL is comparable to a thick grouping of rubber bands within the knee. As the knee turns, the anterior cruciate ligament stretches and turns along with it. Once stretched, it usually returns to its original form.
However, like a rubber band, when the ACL twists too forcefully, it can become misshapen, or worse, torn. When a strain occurs, the result is mild to moderate pain. However, when the force of a collision is significant enough to tear the ACL completely from the connecting knee joints, the pain is often excruciating and debilitating.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you’re in a side-impact, head-on, or rear-end collision and one or both of your knees were hurt, it’s important to pay attention to your symptoms. These can include pain, swelling, and knee instability. If you begin to experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately. This is especially true if you’re considering filing a personal injury claim against the other driver’s insurance company.
ACL and MCL injuries
Your doctor can often diagnose a sprained or torn ACL with X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam. Having your doctor link the accident to your injuries is crucial. If you wait too long, you run the risk of the insurance company saying the injury happened when you were jogging, playing sports, or during some other activity. In legal terms, you must show the car accident was the direct and proximate cause of your injury.
Depending upon the extent of injury to your knee, your ACL may heal itself with rest and therapy. Therapy may take anywhere from three to six months or longer. During that time, you may have to use crutches or a walker to keep undue pressure off your knee.
However, when your ACL tears away from your knee joint, arthroscopic surgery, sometimes referred to as “scoping,” is probably your only option. It can take six to nine months after the surgery for your knee to heal. The total cost of arthroscopic surgery and subsequent therapy ranges from $4,000 to $6,000.
Less common knee injuries from car accidents are damage to the medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL) or posterior collateral ligament (PCL). The symptoms for damage to all three are similar to those of the ACL. Swelling, pain, and general discomfort in and around the knee are common. In most cases, treatment for MCL, LCL, and PCL injuries is rest and therapy. The average cost of treatment and therapy is similar to that of ACL therapy, ranging from $2,500 to $3,500.
A somewhat different knee injury sustained in car accidents is a tear to the meniscus. The meniscus is a disk-like mass of soft tissue and cartilage located behind the knee. Each of your knees has two menisci. During a car accident, the force of the impact may tear or rupture one or more of your menisci. A slight tear has moderate pain and discomfort. A ruptured meniscus is quite painful and sometimes debilitating.
Additional symptoms you may feel include swelling, a “popping” sound at the time of the accident, and your knee locking up. Your doctor will usually diagnose damage to your menisci through a MRI examination.
Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, Flexeril, and Naprosyn treat a slight tear to the menisci followed by therapy lasting several months. In more severe tears or rupturing of the menisci, arthroscopic surgery is necessary. During arthroscopic surgery, the surgeon can sew together the torn areas of the menisci. If the menisci ruptured and parts of it moved into the surrounding tissue, the surgeon may have to remove those parts. This is called a partial meniscectomy.
In the most severe cases, when the menisci is beyond repair, the surgeon removes the damaged menisci and replaces them with prosthetics. This is a total meniscectomy. Recovering from a partial or total meniscectomy can take six to nine months of physical therapy. The costs for these surgeries and subsequent therapy range from $6,000 to $8,000.
Negligence and Your Insurance Claim
No one wants to have to deal with doctors and insurance companies, but when you’re involved in a car accident and must file a knee injury claim, you have no choice. If another driver was responsible for the accident, you file a claim against his insurance. If you live in a no-fault insurance state, you file your claim with your own insurance company.
Filing an insurance claim is easy. Normally all it takes is a telephone call to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. However, proving the driver’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the collision and your resulting knee injury is an altogether different matter. The driver’s fault may look obvious to you, but it will take more than your belief to convince the insurance company to offer fair compensation for your damages.
Let’s look at the law…
The courts have traditionally said all drivers have a legal duty of care to drive responsibly. This includes looking out for other drivers, following applicable traffic laws, and generally driving safely.
When a driver breaches (violates) his duty and someone is injured, nine out of 10 times, it’s because the driver was negligent. He ignored a stop sign, or he was speeding, or he was driving while intoxicated. The courts consider those to be negligent actions.
To have a strong knee injury claim, your job is to gather enough evidence to show the driver’s actions were negligent, and that his negligence was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries.
How to Prove Negligence and Proximate Cause
Proving negligence and proximate cause isn’t difficult. It’s time-consuming, but if you know what you’re looking for, your efforts will result in a substantial settlement. You already know about duty of care. Now you must prove the driver violated that duty of care by gathering evidence. Here’s what you need:
Medical records are crucial. They must link your knee injury to the accident. Make sure you gather copies of your hospital admitting chart and any doctor’s notes or narratives. If you didn’t go to the hospital and saw your own doctor, ask her to write a medical narrative diagnosing your knee injury and linking it to the car accident. It’s important to rule out any pre-existing or collateral injury.
Photographs taken at the scene are very important. It’s true a picture is worth a thousand words. Use a camera or your cell phone to photograph the vehicles and point of impact.
Look for skid marks, damaged road signs and foliage. Look for beer bottles or other open alcohol containers in and around the other driver’s car. You can never take too many photos. Within an hour or so, road workers will clear the accident scene, and your chances of taking the photos you need will be gone.
Look for witnesses, anyone who saw what happened. For example, did a witness see the driver roll through the stop sign? Did he see the other driver using his cell phone? Maybe the witness heard the driver make what the law calls “admissions against interest.” Those are statements invoking culpability (guilt). Statements from the driver like “I’m sorry,” or “I didn’t see him coming” are admissions, and are strong evidence against the driver.
Police reports are some of the best evidence you can have. Police are seen as impartial and objective. They will speak with witnesses and the driver, and look for evidence of intoxication.
The report will usually contain the officer’s hand-written diagram of the accident. It will indicate who was at fault, and why. It also notes whether the officer issued any traffic violations like speeding, failure to yield, etc. The report also includes weather conditions. You can usually pick up a copy of the police report shortly after the accident for a nominal fee.
Self-representation vs. Legal Representation
If your knee injury claim includes sprains or minor tears to the soft tissue knee ligaments, and your treatment was only therapy and rest, you can probably handle your own claim.
However, if the damage to your knee was more severe and requires surgery, hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Most won’t charge any fee for an initial office visit. Because the stakes are so much higher when invasive surgery is required, insurance companies usually use aggressive tactics to keep from making a fair settlement offer.
Getting the compensation you deserve may require your attorney to file a lawsuit, issue subpoenas, conduct depositions (recorded statements) of the other driver and witnesses, and conduct other pre-trial discovery (getting all the other side’s documents). You won’t be able to do this on your own.
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