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Slipped, bulging and herniated disc compensation

Back pain can be debilitating. If you have ever suffered from a slipped disc (herniated disc) or from a bulging disc you will know how awful this kind of pain can be. Back injuries can happen in a number of ways, but some of the most common ways people suffer back injuries is in the workplace or in a road accident.

In 2019-20, sprain and strain injuries made up 30% of all injuries lodged to WorkCover. Of these injuries, the back was the most common location for injury - with a total of 6.4% of all lodgements relating to back injuries. In 2018-19, 24% (15,584 people) of all hospitalised transport injuries - which are injuries suffered while using a vehicle, bicycle, or motorbike - related to the trunk, including the spine, abdomen and pelvis.

Back pain can be so all-consuming that it can be hard to find relief, with moderate to severe back pain being almost unbearable.

If you have been injured in a workplace accident, a road accident, or suffered an injury in some other way, and this injury has been caused by someone else’s negligence, you may be eligible to seek compensation for the injury and subsequent losses suffered. Workplace injuries can also be covered with a WorkCover claim (including in Queensland those injuries suffered while travelling in the course of work).

Speak to our injury lawyers team today about making a claim for your back injury on a no win, no fee basis. A claim for compensation can help you with your short and long term treatment, medical care, lost wages, and other associated costs, and will ensure you are financially compensated for the loss you have suffered.

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What is a bulging disc?

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The spine is made up of bones (called vertebrae) which have a thin disc between them to cushion each bone and provide for smooth movement. You have a spinal disc between each of the vertebrae in your spine. Each disc is filled with a gel-like fluid which permits the spine to flex. Your spine protects your spinal cord, which is the bundle of nerves which connect your brain to your body.

When these discs are worn down (through the passage of time) or are injured by way of trauma, twisting injury, cancers or diseases/infections, the disc can rupture, which means that the inner gel-like fluid bulges outside of your disc, causing inflammation that can irritate the nerves that run up through the spine canal. A bulging disc is also known as a disc protrusion, or a prolapsed disc.

Symptoms of a bulging disc include back pain, increased pain when you stay in one position for an extended period, numbness in an arm or a leg, or increased back pain when coughing, laughing or lifting.

What is a herniated (slipped) disc?

A herniated disc injury refers to a more serious condition compared to a bulging disc. With a slipped disc, fluid from your disc is compressing the spinal nerve and causing serious and severe pain. Surgical intervention may be required to treat herniated discs.

What’s the difference between a herniated disc and a bulging disc?

A bulging disc is the less serious of the two injuries. A bulging disc refers to an injury where the disc between two vertebrae has been compromised and is causing inflammation and swelling. This swelling can press on the spinal nerves and will often cause pain.

Herniated disc injuries are more serious, and results in more severe pain. A herniated disc refers to an injury where the disc between vertebrae is seriously damaged and swollen, with the disc fluid protruding out of the disc. The fluid will likely be pressing on the spinal canal nerve and causing compression or inflammation. Herniated disc injuries can cause long term pain and may require surgery or other medical intervention. 

Common causes of bulging and herniated disc injuries

Herniated and bulging disc injuries can be caused in any number of ways. The workplace is a common location where spinal injuries happen, especially if you are working in an active role where there may be a lot of lifting, twisting and bending. Spinal injuries can be caused by:

  • Falling from a height - such as falling off a ladder or scaffolding
  • Injuring the spine while carrying a heavy item or heavy load
  • Twisting the spine or performing a repetitive task without rest
  • Falling from a moving vehicle - such as from a tractor, forklift, or vehicle
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Being struck by an object
  • Falling over onto a hard surface

If the injury you have suffered has been caused by the negligence of your employer, or the negligence of another person or party, then you may be able to claim compensation for your injuries and any associated loss that you have endured.

Example 1: Madeline is at work and is climbing a ladder to reach some stock in the back room of the clothing store she works in. The electricity for lighting in the back room has failed and management has been promising to fix it for two weeks but have not done so yet. As a result, the stockroom is very dark. Because she cannot see the ladder clearly, Madeline misses a rung when she is coming back down with a box of stock. She has to jump off the ladder to avoid falling onto her back, a distance of one metre, and instead lands on her feet with one leg straightened.

She experiences searing pain up her back when she lands, and from that point on she has nerve pain and numbness down her right leg which does not lessen with treatment. A diagnosis reveals that she has injured two discs in her spinal column.

Madeline would be able to claim on WorkCover for her lost wages and medical expenses and treatment associated with her injury and may also be able to make a common law personal injury claim for compensation against her employer for failing to provide a safe place of work.

Example 2: Janice is getting ready for work at home when she slips over in the shower and hurts her back, causing a bulge in her L2-L3 disc. She has to take a week off work while she recovers and needs physiotherapy treatment. While WorkCover provides cover for injuries sustained travelling to and from work, Janice would be unable to make a personal injury claim as her journey to work has not commenced yet.

Herniated or bulging disc from work

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A disc injury can happen in any number of ways, from trauma through to an ongoing exacerbation of a pre-existing injury. High risk professions for disc injuries include:

  • Construction workers - injuries can be suffered through lifting heavy items or bending and twisting in a way that injures the spine
  • Truck drivers and taxi drivers - sitting for an extended period of time can cause spinal injuries due to poor posture combined with exposure to vibration
  • Manual labourers - bulging disc injuries can happen over time due to repetition and strain, or can happen suddenly with an acute injury
  • Warehouse and packing workers - lifting and twisting heavy loads and repetitive actions are common causes of herniated disc injuries and bulging disc injuries
  • Food and meatworks operators - food and meatworks operators using tools and machinery are at risk from injury to the back due to improper systems of work, unsafe working environments and inadequate or improper training

Can a herniated disc cause permanent nerve damage?

A herniated disc, if left untreated, can cause permanent nerve damage as the nerve impulses are restricted with continuous pressure from the swollen and damaged disc.

It is important to seek treatment for a herniated disc as soon as you are able to, as it may cause problems in the future if you do not commence appropriate rehabilitative treatment promptly.

If your herniated disc injury has been caused as a result of work or through someone else’s negligence, a WorkCover claim or common law personal injury claim can provide financial compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and other costs associated with your injury.

It is important to note that if a workplace injury leads to permanent impairment, you will also be eligible to be assessed for a lump sum compensation payment. Our Brisbane personal injury lawyers can speak to you about a permanent impairment assessment.

How much compensation for bulging or herniated discs?

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A claim for damages for a bulging or herniated disc is calculated having regard to your overall impairment, how severe your injury is, how much the injury impacts on your life, your age at the time of your injury, and how much your injury has impacted on your ability to work. Your claim will be calculated to include:

  • Loss of income - both present and future loss
  • Medical expenses and treatment
  • Care that is provided by a family member or friend
  • Loss of enjoyment
  • Pain and suffering

Your claim will vary depending on your future prognosis and any level of permanent impairment that you may have suffered. Our lawyers can discuss your compensation payment and will speak to you about what you can expect.

Time limits for bulging or herniated disc injury claims

Personal injury time limits

When making a claim for compensation you have to ensure that you commence a common law action within three years of the date of your injury.

If you are making a WorkCover claim you need to notify your employer of your injury within thirty days, notify WorkCover of your intent to claim weekly repayments as soon as practicable, and advise of an intent to claim for medical and other expenses within six months of your accident. Speak to our Brisbane based no win no fee accident lawyers about where you might stand in relation to your claim.

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