How Much Is a Workers' Comp Back Injury Settlement?
January 31, 2024 · 4 min read
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2020 (the last year for which data is available), there were 152,740 back injury cases. Almost 30% of them missed a month or more of work.1 If you hurt your back while working, you can likely turn to workers’ compensation to cover medical care and to help replace any lost income while you recover. In the case of serious or long-term conditions, you may also need to negotiate a settlement offer from the insurance company. Below we cover what to expect and where to get help.
How much is the average workers' comp back settlement?
The National Safety Council (NSC) released data in 2023 reporting that on average, settlements for lower back injuries were worth $39,328. That cost includes $17,643 toward medical care and $21,685 as an indemnity payment. Upper back injuries were worth slightly less — an average of $35,439 ($16,183 in medical care and $19,256 for lost wages).2
These numbers are just averages, though. The amount you’ll get for an injury depends on multiple factors, like your exact injury, its severity, what your job is, and where you live. Injuries that also impact other body parts could result in higher payouts. For example, NSC data also shows that injuries affecting the brain or spine could be worth almost $100,000 on average. Any surgeries that increase recovery time or lead to complications could also lead to a higher payout.
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Do all back injuries qualify for workers’ comp?
A back injury can qualify for workers’ comp as long as it happens in the course of your work and you report it to your employer of the injury. Each state has its own reporting deadline but most give you at least three days.
Note that your injury doesn’t have to be on your work premises for coverage as long as it was your work that caused the injury. For example, if you strained your back unloading heavy boxes at a client’s workplace, you can absolutely make a claim under workers’ comp.
If you have a preexisting back condition, things can get complicated. You will still qualify for benefits if your job worsens a preexisting condition. But your employer or their insurance company will likely try to argue that your injury wasn’t work related. In that case, we do recommend talking with a workers’ comp lawyer. (Read more about what a workers’ comp lawyer does.)
Workers’ comp is also a no-fault system so you can qualify whether you slipped and fell or a piece of defective machinery caused the injury.
Examples of workers’ comp back injuries
There is a wide range of injuries that qualify for workers’ comp. In some cases, there’s a specific incident that injures your back, like a muscle tear while lifting something). In other cases, repetitive motion strains your back over time, resulting in conditions like spinal osteoarthritis. But anything causing pain, stiffness, swelling, or decreased range of motion could qualify.
The list below includes some common examples of eligible back injuries and conditions:
Degenerative disc disease
Repetitive strain injuries
When will workers’ comp offer a settlement for a back injury?
The most common point for the insurance company to offer a settlement is once you’ve reached maximum medical improvement (MMI). At that point, you’ve recovered as much as possible the insurer may want to avoid making you long-term payments. However, you could also receive an offer sooner if the insurance company wants to minimize their expenses related to your claim.
Not all claims end in a settlement, though. The insurer may choose to continue paying for your lost wages and medical care until you recover or until payments expire.
If you get a settlement offer for your back injury, you have three main courses of action:
Accept the offer.
Reject the offer to keep getting your regular benefits.
Send a counter offer to negotiate a higher payment.
Since any of these could be best under different circumstances, it’s important to consider your options carefully. Consider any current or future lost income while you’re out of work, current and future medical bills for your injury, and any other expenses you need to pay.
Talking with a workers’ comp lawyer at this point can go a long way. They’ll help you understand your options and make an informed decision. Since you’ll probably want to negotiate a higher settlement, a lawyer can also talk to the insurance company on your behalf. They’ll also help you with paperwork and managing your medical care.
How much does workers’ comp pay if I don’t settle?
In every state, workers’ comp should cover the cost of all medical care related to your back injury. That means doctor’s visits, medication, physical therapy, surgery, copays, and anything else your doctor says you need. Insurance will likely pay those costs directly to your medical providers.
As far as wage replacement benefits go, the amount you get depends on where you live and your income before the injury. In most states, you’ll get a weekly check worth up to two-thirds of your pre-injury average weekly wage (AWW). We have a state-based workers’ comp payment guide to help you find out what you can expect for lost wages coverage where you live.
With conditions that continue after you reach MMI, your workers’ comp doctor will give you an impairment rating (from zero to 100) that determines the value of your long-term benefits. Called permanent disability benefits in most areas, these could last years and include medical coverage.
Do I need a workers’ comp lawyer?
Not necessarily, but you should at least talk with a lawyer if you’ve received a settlement offer. Keep in mind that once you accept a settlement offer, your claim is closed and you can’t get any more payments for that same injury.
A lawyer will be able to calculate a fair settlement based on your personal circumstances. They’ll handle all negotiations with the insurance company’s legal team so you can focus on recovery. Your initial consultation is free and you don’t need to pay anything upfront, so there’s no situation where you can’t afford a lawyer. (Read more on the cost of a lawyer.)
Atticus can connect you with an experienced lawyer. Take our 3-minute workers’ comp quiz to get started and a member of our team will reach out to learn more about your situation.
Call us to get help with your workers' comp claim today.
Common questions about workers’ comp back injuries
Who qualifies for workers’ comp?
Most full-time and part-time workers can qualify for workers’ comp, but independent contractors, consultants, and freelancers don’t usually qualify.
The average workers’ comp settlement for a back injury is about $39,300 nationally, but you could get much more or less depending on your situation. If you want to maximize your settlement, contact an Atticus workers’ comp attorney. Settlements with our attorneys are twice as high as claims without an attorney, on average.
Should I accept a workers’ comp settlement?
It depends on your personal situation. Negotiating is best in many cases, but we recommend getting a lawyer’s opinion before you make any decision. They can help you negotiate enough to cover your current and future medical expenses, lost wages, and other bills while you’re out of work.
Will back surgery increase my workers’ comp settlement?
It depends. Back surgery could increase your potential settlement if it doesn’t lead to a recovery or if you have complications. But it could decrease your potential settlement if it greatly improves your symptoms or recovery time. Get a more detailed answer in our guide to when surgery increases workers’ comp settlements.
Victoria Muñoz is an attorney on Atticus’s Workers' Compensation team. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and has counseled hundreds of people seeking workers' compensation. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and spending time with her pup.
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