Can a Herniated Disk Qualify as a “Serious Injury”? 

Posted: May 22, 2023

The disks in your spine act like cushions between the vertebrae, allowing you to move freely without pain.  


These disks can be injured in a car accident. They can  herniate. Herniated disks are painful because they put pressure directly on the spinal column. 


If you are injured in a car accident in New York and plan to file a claim for pain and suffering, the law requires you to establish that you suffered a “serious injury.” A medically diagnosed herniated disk, when combined with evidence of limitations, may qualify as a serious injury. 

What is a Herniated Disk? 

A herniated disk, organ, or muscle is one that, because of stress or injury, protrudes through an abnormal opening or gap inside the body.  


Herniated spinal disks are a common result of motor-vehicle accidents. Under certain conditions, the injured party may file a bodily injury claim against the at-fault motorist’s auto insurance company to receive compensation for injury-related expenses, including past and future pain and suffering. However, barring certain exceptions, the injured person can recover in such a claim only when the injury qualifies as a “serious injury” according to New York law. 

Herniated Disk Symptoms  

 Herniated disks can occur in the cervical (neck), thoracic (mid-back), or lumbar (lower back) spine. Symptoms depend on where the disk is situated and the degree of the herniation, including whether it is pressing on a nerve. People with herniated discs may experience symptoms in the neck or back, as well as the upper or lower extremities.  


Here are some symptoms to look for:  

  • Arm or leg pain. If a herniated disk is in the lower back, the injured person may feel pain in the butt, thigh, calf, or foot.  
  • Shoulder or arm pain. If the herniated disk is in the neck, the injured person may feel symptoms in the shoulder and arm. 
  • Numbness or tingling. People who have a herniated disk may also experience numbness or tingling in the body part served by the affected nerves. “Stenosis” occurs when there is a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, which restricts the space available for nerves in the spine.  
  • Weakness. Muscles served by the affected nerves can weaken. This can cause the injured person to stumble or strain when lifting or holding items. 

One way to identify and diagnose a herniated disc isthrough a spinal image using an MRI machine. An MRI provides imaging and can be performed to see what has happened to the underlying structures of the spine. 

What is Considered a Serious Injury in a Car Accident? 

In New York State, most motorists and pedestrians injured by another driver can make a claim for pain and suffering only if they sustained a serious injury. There are exceptions, but in most cases, the injured person must show a serious injury, which is defined to include:  

  • Death 
  • Significant disfigurement 
  • Dismemberment  
  • A fracture 
  • Loss of a fetus 
  • Permanent loss of use of a body organ, member, function, or system  
  • Permanent, consequential limitation of use of a body organ or member 
  • Significant limitation of use of a body function or system  
  • A medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature which prevents the injured person from performing all the material acts which constitute such person’s usual and customary daily activities for not less than ninety days during the one hundred eighty days immediately following the occurrence of the injury or impairment.

Some of these categories are self-explanatory, but others are not so clear. For example, it can sometimes be difficult to identify when someone sustained a “significant limitation of use of a body function or system.” New York courts have held that a herniated disc can qualify as a “serious injury” normally under the “permanent, consequential limitation of use,” “significant limitation of use,” or the “90/180” categories. These categories have certain legal requirements. For example, New York courts have held that the categories require some evidence of impairment or limitation, in addition to objective evidence of injury.  


Everybody is unique, with different medical histories and daily activities. The courts have developed some rules to help differentiate when someone has a “serious injury” and when someone does not. An experienced New York attorney can review the facts and help advise whether an injury may warrant compensation for pain and suffering.  

Did you Sustain a Herniated Disk in a Car Accident? 

If you have sustained a herniated disk injury in a New York motor vehicle accident, you may be wondering if the injury qualifies as a “serious injury” under New York State law. William Mattar, P.C. has decades of experience helping car accident victims receive maximum compensation for their injuries. Our experienced attorneys are well versed in car accident injury law, and we have represented many car accident victims who have suffered from herniated disks. Please feel free to contact one of our motor vehicle accident attorneys today, at (844) 444-4444. 

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