A herniated cervical disc may result from any motor vehicle accident, including an automobile or car wreck or a truck, tractor trailer, semi or big rig accident. It is one of the injuries we see most often see as personal injury law practice.
The spine is a stack of bones called vertebra. The vertebra are separated by shock absorbers called intervertebral discs. The outer layer (the “bread” of the donut) is the annulus fibrosus, a tough tissue comprised of several layers of fibrocartilage. This layer contains the nucleus pulposus (the “jelly” of the donut) and distributes pressure evenly across the disc. The discs are often compared to a jelly donut.
Nerves run out from the spinal cord, which is in the middle of the spine, to all parts of the body. If anything pinches a nerve coming out of the spine, that can cause pain, numbness, tingling or loss of function.
There are normally 23 discs in the hum your spine: 6 in the neck (cervical region), 12 in the middle back (thoracic region), and 5 in the lower back (lumbar region). They are called by letters and numbers according to location. For example, the disc between the fifth and sixth cervical vertabrae is designated “C5-6.”
When there is an injury to the disc, the bread of the donut weakens and cracks and the jelly begins to protrude outward. There may be a bulge in the disc so that it pinches nerves causing pain, numbness or tingling. When the jelly leaks out of the donut, it is called a herniation. Often a disc herniation causes disabling pain or loss of bodily function.
As we age, the annulus fibrosus gets dry, weakens and begins to crack. The nucleus pulposus begins to dehydrate, which limits its ability to absorb shock. These age related changes may not cause any symptoms for many decades until some event such as a car or truck collision causes trauma that aggravates or exacerbates the degenerative condition.
A person with age related degeneration in the spine may do just fine until trauma causes severe pain, numbness, tingling or loss of bodily functions, in insurance claims and injury litiation we generally address such injuries as aggravations of preexisting conditions. The few exceptions are when post-accident x-rays, CT scans and MRI images show a fresh fracture of a vertebra. We embrace preexisting conditions that were previously asymptomatic and make them part of the client’s case.
We often see clients who have had cervical disc herniation injuries due to automobile or truck collisions. Typically, orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons prescribe conservative treatment with physical therapy a series of injections in the spine. If symptoms still persist, they will discuss with the patient surgical options. For cervical (neck) injuries, we most often see anterior cervical fusion surgery in which an incision is made in the front of the neck, the damaged disc is removed, replaced with bone tissue (from the patient’s own hip or donor bone tissue), and the vertebra secured with a metal plate and screws. Sometimes a newer model of flexible artificial disc is used. While results vary, we usually hear from clients that the surgery greatly improves their quality of life and ability to engage in normal activities without significant pain.
With long experience representing clients with intervertebral disc injuries, we are able to handle such cases efficiently and guide most such cases to optimal resolutions through pretrial settlement or jury verdicts.
Mr. Shigley is the first Georgia lawyer to earn three national board certifications in his practice area from the National Board of Trial Advocacy – in Civil Trial Law, Civil Practice Law and Truck Accident Law. He is a board member of the Academy of Truck Accident Attorneys, and former chair of the American Association for Justice Motor Vehicle Collision, Highway & Premises Liability Section, which includes the Trucking Litigation Group.
He is lead author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation and Practice, now in its tenth annual edition with Thomson Reuters West. His law practice is focused on catastrophic injury and wrongful death including those arising from commercial trucking accidents and those involving brain, neck, back, spinal cord, amputation and burn injuries.
In 2011-12, Mr. Shigley was president of the State Bar of Georgia, which includes all the lawyers and judges in Georgia. He also is a former chair of the Institute for Legal Education in Georgia (board member 2008-2020, chair 2012-13), State Bar of Georgia Tort & Insurance Practice Section (1994-95), and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute (1994).
A former prosecutor and former insurance defense lawyer, Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. He is a widower, father of two adult children, and an elder in his church.
Recently he moved his law practice to the Atlanta law firm of Johnson & Ward. He may be contacted at 404-253-7862.