What’s Causing the Pain in my Lower Back and Neck after a Car Crash?

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Two of the most common pain generators in the lumbar spine are 1) the discs, and 2) the facet joints, with facet oriented pain being more common the older you get, and discogenic pain being more common overall.  If you’re suffering back pain, it is important to know the difference between these two causes.  First, let’s take a look at discogenic injuries:

Discogenic pain occurs as the condition of the discs in the spine either gradually changes over time or as a result of acute trauma, such as in a car crash. You may experience only a few days of pain, or you could potentially suffer prolonged, moderate to severe, recurrent pain. Most discogenic pain occurs in the lumbar spine.  When pain occurs, it may be spontaneous or it could result from an activity. The most frequent symptoms of discogenic pain are low back pain and spasm. Occasionally, pain could radiate to the buttocks, groin, or thighs. Typically, the pain increases from bending, sitting, or standing.  It is often relieved by lying down.  Walking may actually provide relief. Lifting or bending, however, could make the symptoms worse.

Proper Diagnosis and Treatment for Discogenic Injuries The lumbar spine has 5 vertebrae with soft discs in between. Each disc has a tough outer ring surrounding a soft nucleus. When young, the discs consist predominantly of water.  As we age, however, they lose hydration and become more susceptible to cracking and fissures known as annular tears. These tears lead to inflammation and pain.

Because back pain has so many different causes, it’s important to have a skilled practitioner properly diagnose your problem. MRIs are helpful in identifying signs of disc degeneration. However, since some degenerated discs do not cause pain, skilled doctors will recognize the need for other tests, such as discography to identify all problematic discs.

Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications are usually the first steps in treating discogenic back pain. If these measures do not bring significant relief, there are other non-surgical options that can prove successful in providing long lasting relief. For example, epidural corticosteroid injections can be very effective in resolving discogenic pain. Of course, sometimes surgery is the only option left should conservative care fail to resolve the pain.

Common Facet injuries and Associated Symptoms

The facet joints, also known as zygapophysial joints, are synovial joints which help support the weight and control movement between individual vertebrae of the spine. They work together with the intervertebral discs so the spine can move.

Common symptoms associated with facet joint pain include muscle spasms.  Muscle spasms can actually pull the spine out of alignment and cause back and/or neck pain. For example, patients report just bending over to tie a shoe lace and suddenly being unable to move. The usual attack of back pain involving facet joints occurs suddenly with no warning. Symptoms vary and can be confused with disc related disorders. The traditional facet locking syndrome may lead to an acute attack but can be resolved successfully by freeing the offending joint and restoring normal function.

Facet joints have a hard, smooth cartilage which, along with the joint capsule, allows movement but also gives stability. Facet joints have a nerve supply from two levels; one branch arises from the nerve root at that level and the second from the level above. Facet joints move freely controlling the movement of the spine when they are functioning properly.

Facet joint pain may arise directly from the facet joint from inflammation or nerve impingement. This muscle spasm is how the body protects itself.  The muscle spasm serves to prevent you from moving and incurring further damage.

Proper Diagnosis and Treatment for Facetogenic Injuries

Fortunately, usually facet joint damage can be seen on X-rays, which are taken from front to back, side to side and obliquely across the joint. In some cases a CT scan can be used instead as this will show up more detail of other structures in order to rule them out.  An MRI scan may be taken to find problems with associated structures such as discs and ligaments of the spine. Another method occasionally used is an injection into the facet joint itself, often referred to as a facet joint block. The injection consists of x-ray contrast material, local anesthetic and cortisone.

Some therapists will recommend cold therapy and some prefer hot packs. Whatever seems to offer the most relief is fine. Use this for 15 minutes at a time every couple of hours. Anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen can be helpful.   Try to get some gentle movement going within a day or soIf you are still in pain, treatments such as sports massage may ease associated muscle spasm. Chiropractic mobilization may be helpful to free stiff joints and allow better movement but should only be done by a qualified professional. Exercises to improve posture and strengthen back and core muscles may be helpful.

How Car Accidents Cause Neck and Back Pain

Car accidents involve a tremendous amount of science when evaluating the impact on a vehicle occupant’s body. Whiplash is a common cause of most neck and back injuries (Accident Related), whether the injury is discogenic or facetogenic in nature. In a vehicle crash the shear speed and force create such dramatic acceleration/deceleration that the body is not prepared for, particularly when the vehicle is stopped. Sometimes these injuries can be repaired through physical medicine or pain management intervention as we have previously discussed. Dolman Law Group works tirelessly to assist victims in obtaining a proper recovery to offset damages caused by a negligent party.

If you are experiencing any pain in your neck or back as a result of a traffic collision or slip and fall, getting accurate diagnosis of your injuries is crucial.  It is important to stay informed, and to utilize qualified medical professionals as well as experienced attorneys to help you fully recover.  Give the attorneys at Bernhardi Lukasik a call at 716-674-2424


Winter Weather Crashes: Can You Blame the Weather?

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If you get into a winter crash, can you blame the weather to avoid liability?

Meeting challenging winter conditions on the road takes skill, experience and attentiveness. Unfortunately, each winter many drivers come up short, causing thousands of automobile accidents on the road. Winter car accidents often involve snow, ice or slush, or dense fog.

But when you get into a crash during bad weather, will you face liability? Here’s a general overview of what drivers need to know:

Bad Weather Won’t Excuse Negligence

Generally speaking, all drivers have a legal responsibility to drive safely given the road conditions. Most winter car accidents are preventable when drivers practice safe winter driving habits and take a number of special precautions such as driving below the speed limit, leaving extra space, and outfitting your car for winter weather. The golden rule for winter is “defensive driving.”

But there is a steep learning curve as drivers reacclimatize themselves to winter driving during the first few storms of the season. Drivers can potentially face liability for negligence if, for example, they:

  • Fail to adjust their driving to weather conditions,
  • Fail to service a car for winter driving, or
  • Are unreasonably overconfident in vehicle safety features like four-wheel drive.

What to Do in a Winter Weather Crash

Even when you are as prepared as possible and as safe a driver as you can be, you may still find yourself in a car crash during a bout of winter weather.

If this happens, don’t exit the protection of your car until it’s safe to do so. Follow the standard accident protocol, if possible, of exchanging driver, registration, and insurance information, as well as reporting the accident when significant property damage or injury occurs. It may also be a good idea to take pictures of the accident scene to help illustrate the driving conditions at the time of your crash.

Finally, consider contacting a car accident attorney to explore your legal rights and remedies. Your attorney can go over potential liability issues and means of recovery for property damage and injuries suffered from the accident.

Free Consultation — No Fee Unless We Succeed

The law firm of Bernhardi Lukasik is one of Western New York’s most trusted personal injury law firm. Our dedicated auto accident attorneys have years of experience in skillfully handling car accident injury cases. We are committed to providing outstanding legal results for every client we serve.

We offer a free consultation to those injured in car accidents.  If we decide to take your case, you do not have to pay us at that time.  We get a fee at the end of the case and only get such fee if we are successful on your behalf.

We have collected millions of dollars over the years for car accident victims and will give your case the personal care and attention you need.

We have offices located in Buffalo, Amherst, West Seneca, Niagara Falls, Lockport, Niagara Falls and Olean.  We offer free parking.  If you would like to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us today at 674-2424 or e-mail us at info@berhardilukasik.com.


Some Veterans Eligible for Presumptive Service Connection for Certain Conditions Related to Agent Orange

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Veterans exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service, and in some cases their dependents and survivors, may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including disability compensation. The VA presumes that Veterans were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides if they served:

  • In Vietnam anytime between January 9, 1962 and May 7, 1975, including brief visits ashore or service aboard a ship that operated on the inland waterways of Vietnam
  • In or near the Korean demilitarized zone anytime between April 1, 1968 and August 31, 1971.

Veterans who served outside of Vietnam or Korea may also be eligible for disability compensation for Agent Orange or herbicide-related conditions.  However, these Veterans must first prove exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during their military service.  In cases such as these it is extremely helpful to consult with an accredited Veterans representative.  Our accredited attorney representative has achieved an award of past-due benefits for over $100,000.00 in one of these complex cases. There is a list of diseases VA presumes are associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service.  However, Veterans who have been exposed to Agent Orange during their military service and have developed medical conditions afterwards, are urged to apply for benefits, even if their medical conditions are not currently recognized by the VA.  This is particularly important because the VA periodically updates their list of medical conditions presumed to be associated with Agent Orange. For more information visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website. If you have been denied Veterans disability compensation benefits for a service connected impairment and would like to speak with an accredited attorney representative you can contact our office at (716) 674-2424 or by e-mail.


Important Changes in 2014 to Social Security Disability Programs

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This year, more than 60 million Americans are receiving a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) in their monthly benefit payment.

The estimated average monthly Social Security payment to a retired worker is now $1,294, up from $1,275 in 2013. The average monthly Social Security disability payment for an individual has increased from $1,131 to $1,148.

The basic monthly federal payment to an individual for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is $721, up from $710 in 2013.  In New York, beneficiaries receive a state supplement of $87, bringing the monthly total to $808 for an individual living alone.

Some other changes that took effect in January are based on the increase in average wages. For example, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security payroll tax (taxable maximum) increased to $117,000, up from $113,700. Of the estimated 165 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2014, about 10 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum.

The amount of earnings needed for one credit of Social Security coverage has gone up as well, but all workers can still earn up to four credits in a year. In 2014, a worker earns a credit after earning $1,200. In 2013, one credit of coverage was $1,160. It takes forty credits to be fully insured for retirement benefits.

Other important changes for disability applicants and beneficiaries are the increased thresholds to wages.  In 2014, an individual may earn up $770 per month in gross earnings before triggering a Trial Work Period (TWP).  The limit for “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) is now $1070 per month, an increase from $1040 in 2013.  Therefore, an individual may earn up to $1070 a month before their disability benefits are jeopardized.

If you have filed for Social Security Disability, intend to file, or are at risk for losing your benefits, our experienced attorneys and staff may be able help.  Don’t hesitate to call us at Bernhardi & Lukasik, PLLC at (716) 674-2424, or toll free at  1-800-949-0772, or contact us at info@bandllaw.com.

 


Discharge of Student Loans for Total and Permanent Disability

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In a recent article in The Huffington Post, an exasperated disabled nurse writes in to talk about the difficulty she had with the discharge of her Sallie Mae loan when she became disabled after nursing school.

Federally Guaranteed Student Loans may be the hardest debt to get rid of.  In fact, student loan lenders have some of the greatest protection that a creditor can have. The U.S. Bankruptcy Code provides an exception to bankruptcy discharge for education loans.

However, student loans may be discharged if the borrower is “totally and permanently disabled”.  This standard can be difficult to meet.  The borrower must prove that they are “totally and permanently disabled” from gainful employment, and that the disability can be expected to result in death, or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous five year period.

Although this standard may be difficult to meet, it is not impossible.  If you feel that you might be able to meet this criteria it is important to consult an attorney who has experience with student loan disability discharges.  There will be obstacles to overcome, as this article illustrates.  That is also true in my professional experience.

If you have filed for Social Security Disability, or if you intend to file, our experienced attorneys and staff may be able help.  Don’t hesitate to call us at Bernhardi & Lukasik, PLLC at (716) 674-2424 or contact us at mailto:info@bernhardilukasik.com.


Car Accidents Caused by Snow and Ice

Winter driving isn’t out of the ordinary for people here in Western New York, but despite that, there are still hundreds of winter weather-related accidents a year. Snow and ice can create slippery or unsafe road conditions. A car going too fast may not have enough time to stop on an icy road surface, causing an accident resulting in serious injuries or even death.

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Weather Related Crash Statistics

In the United States, there are over 1.5 million weather-related car accidents every year. Many of these were collisions caused by drivers that failed to tread with caution while driving in bad weather. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 24 percent of all annual crashes are weather-related including 220,000 accidents because of snow sleet, 190,000 because of icy pavement and 170,000 crashed because of slushy roads.

We Hold Negligent Drivers Responsible

All drivers in New York State have an obligation under the law to drive safely and take into account the weather conditions, including snow, ice and slush.  Negligent drivers cause accidents when they are driving too fast or following too close when the weather is bad.  If they had driven more slowly or kept a safer distance between their car and the vehicle ahead of them, it’s likely that the accident would not have happened.

We Know How to Investigate Car Accidents Caused By Snow, Ice and Slush

Proving negligence in a weather-related accident is a complex task. We understand how our opponents think when putting together a case. We know that they will try to disprove negligence and put the blame on the weather.

Our attorneys will immediately conduct an investigation into the cause of the accident. We will interview witnesses to determine if the other driver was speeding or failed to keep a safe distance between cars when unsafe conditions existed. We know how to investigate a weather-related case to get the information we need. You can count on us to find out what happened and to take action on your behalf.

What to do if you’ve been involved in a car accident caused by snow, ice or slush

1.   Immediately call for medical help if someone is injured.

2.   Call the police. They will document the accident and gather facts for legal purposes. If you don’t call the police, it is your word against the other person’s.

3.   Report the accident to your insurance agent as soon as possible.

4.   Exchange information with the other parties involved, such as address and phone number. If it’s a car accident get the license plate number; make, model and year of the vehicle; driver’s insurance information; car registration number; driver’s license number.

5.   Get the names, addresses, and phone numbers of any witnesses.

6.   Take pictures of the accident, damage to the vehicle, and the area around the accident.

7.   Collect any physical evidence that could have caused the accident.

8.   Gather details from the accident: draw a diagram of the accident; note the date and time; the type of weather; the location of the accident—including any landmarks.

9.   Above all remain calm and call for help.

Free Consultation — No Fee Unless We Succeed

The law firm of Bernhardi Lukasik is one of Western New York’s most trusted personal injury law firm. Our dedicated auto accident attorneys have years of experience in skillfully handling car accident injury cases. We are committed to providing outstanding legal results for every client we serve.

We offer a free consultation to those injured in car accidents.  If we decide to take your case, you do not have to pay us at that time.  We get a fee at the end of the case and only get such fee if we are successful on your behalf.

We have collected millions of dollars over the years for car accident victims and will give your case the personal care and attention you need.

We have offices located in Buffalo, Amherst, West Seneca, Niagara Falls, Lockport, Niagara Falls and Olean.  We offer free parking.  If you would like to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us today at 674-2424 or e-mail us at info@berhardilukasik.com.

Personal Injury? Personal Attention.


A Man’s Promise to his Dying Wife, and Social Security

Read this powerful story about a determined Wyoming man, Brian Moyer, working to fulfill a promise he made to his dying wife to assure Social Security benefits for the terminally ill.

A bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate to waive the waiting period in cases of terminal illness.

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What do you think?

As background, when someone is approved for regular Social Security disability (“SSD”), there is a five full calendar month waiting period for which benefits are not paid.  For example, if someone is found disabled beginning January 15th, the waiting period is February through June, and the first month of eligibility for benefits is July, payable in August.

The five-month SSD waiting period applies to everyone except for those who were on SSD in the previous five years.  That means that many people disabled by terminal illness will die before they receive benefits, like the late wife of the man in this story.

If you have filed for Social Security Disability, or if you intend to file, our experienced attorneys and staff may be able help.  Don’t hesitate to call us at Bernhardi & Lukasik, PLLC at (716) 674-2424 or contact us at mailto:info@bernhardilukasik.com.


Texting and Driving, A Deadly Combination

Texting and driving has become a significant problem for drivers.  My family and I have lived in Lancaster, New York for the past twenty years.  Every morning, I take the inbound 33 to get to my office in downtown Buffalo.  It upsets me how many people I see talking on their cell phones, or, even worse, texting while driving at 50 miles per hour.

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In addition to making me angry, it scares me.  And the evidence supports my fear.

A recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that texting increased the risk of a crash or near crash to more than 23 times that of “nondistracted” driving.

This behavior happens everyday in roads all over Western New York.

Newspapers are full of texting and driving accidents:

A Lackawanna police officer was injured when a driver who was texting swerved, forcing the officer to veer off the road.  Read the article

A New Jersey teenager was texting when he veered into the opposite lane and collided with a motorcycle occupied by a married couple who each lost a leg in the crash. Read the article

A Utah man crossed over the double yellow line in the road and crashed head-on into two scientist on their way to work.  A police investigation revealed that he had been texting his girlfriend at the time of the accident.  Read the article

According to a recent article in The Buffalo News, New York recently passed tougher penalties for this dangerous conduct. In addition to the tougher penalties, the state also toughened enforcement. During a recent two-month crackdown, state troopers issued 5,533 tickets for texting while driving, compared to 924 in the same period last year – an increase of about 600 percent.

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But New York isn’t merely ordering drivers not to text and raising the pain threshold for those who do not comply. The state has also rebranded the 91 existing rest areas and turnoffs on the Thruway and other highways as “texting zones.” Some of these areas are advertised with highway signs reading, “It can wait. Text Stop 5 miles.”

There are many reasons car accidents occur due to negligence in Western New York.  Primary concerns in the recent past to watch out for on the roads have been drunk drivers, low seat belt use, speeding, fatigued drivers, and inexperienced or distracted teen drivers.

It may surprise you to know that today, the distraction of cell phone use accounts for nearly 25% of all crashes (NHTSA).  Drivers engaged in cell phone use, which is not limited to texting, but includes internet use, as well as use of GPS navigation systems, are four times more likely to be involved in a car accident.

What are the laws on cell phone use, texting or sending email while you operate a vehicle in NYS?

Under New York State law you cannot use a hand-held mobile telephone or send a text or an email while you drive. If you use a hand-held mobile telephone while you drive, except to call 911 or to contact medical, fire or police personnel about an emergency, or use a device to text or send email.

In 2013, several changes were made to stiffen the penalties for these violations as described below.

For offenses committed on or after June 1, 2013, this violation carries five driver violation points.

New Suspensions and Revocations for Probationary and Junior Drivers

For violations that occur on and after July 1, 2013, the following changes affect drivers with probationary driver licenses, Class DJ or Class MJ driver licenses or learner permits:

A first conviction will result in suspension of the driver license or permit for 60 days.

A second conviction within six months will result in:

Revocation of at least 6 months of a probationary license, or a revocation of at least 60 days for a Class DJ or MJ driver license or learner permit.

Fines, Maximum Fines and Surcharges

For a first offense, the minimum fine is $50 and maximum fine is $150.

For a second offense, committed within 18 months, the minimum fine is $50 and the maximum fine increases to $200.

For a third or subsequent offense committed within 18 months, the minimum fine is $50 and the maximum fine increases to $400.

The surcharge for these violations that occur on or after July 26th is up to $93.

Motor Carriers and Commercial Vehicle Drivers

For violations committed by commercial vehicle drivers:

A motor carrier must not allow or require their drivers to use cell phones or texting devices while driving.

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A mobile telephone used by a person who operates a commercial motor vehicle is not a “hands-free mobile telephone” when the driver presses more than a single button to dial or answer the phone.

A commercial vehicle driver is not allowedto make a phone call or use a texting device while the vehicle is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays.

A commercial vehicle driver who holds a mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of, his or her ear while the vehicle is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays is also presumed to be engaged in a call.

A commercial vehicle driver who holds a portable electronic device in a conspicuous manner while the vehicle is temporarily stationary because of traffic, a traffic control device, or other momentary delays is presumed to be using the device.

I am safe talking hands free, right?

Wrong!  Cell phones cause a visual distraction, obviously, but even more significant is the mental, or cognitive, distraction they create.  Cell phones can cause distracted drivers to take their minds off of what they should be solely focused on . . . the primary task of driving!  Drivers talking on cell phones miss half of the information in their surroundings.  This could include objects, other cars, exits, and red lights.  This places your life and your property in danger, should you be around a negligent driver on a cell phone.

Consequences

Many lawsuits in recent years have held employers liable for employees who have crashed while using cell phones or texting.

Because of these events, most businesses in New York State have banned employees from using cell phones while driving altogether.  The National Safety Council recommends for businesses to record a voice mail telling callers they are driving at the moment, and that it is not safe to make or receive calls while driving.

What should I do if a distracted driver hits me?

Should you be unfortunate enough to become injured in an automobile accident by distracted cell phone user, you should know your rights, and seek the advice of an attorney immediately.  If you believe a distracted cell phone user has struck you, there are records that can prove this.

If you were a passenger who was injured riding with a distracted driver and become injured in an accident, you have rights.  You did not have control over the operations of the vehicle you were in, so you are not at fault!

In New York State, you have the right to make a claim for compensation to cover your automobile damage and/or personal injury medical bills, work hours lost, pain and suffering and other expenses.  You also have the right to make a claim against the person who was using the phone who caused the accident.

If you or a loved one has been in a car accident because someone was talking on their cell phone or texting, immediately call Dan Lukasik at 674-2424 for a free consultation in one of our convenient offices located in Lockport, Niagara Falls, Amherst, West Seneca, Buffalo or Olean.

Our Commitment to You: Personal Injury?  Personal Attention.

 


Are You Insured For Social Security Disability?

The Social Security Disability program is structured to act as a safety net for workers who become disabled before they reach their full retirement age.  As you work, you earn credits, or quarters of coverage.  The majority of workers will attain insured status for SSD when they have earned at least 20 quarters of coverage in a 40-quarter period.

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To find out if you are insured for SSD and to view your up-to-date Social Security statement, you can follow this link :

https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.do

Creating an account on ssa.gov is a quick and secure way to find out your insured status and the approximate amount of benefits that you will receive when you retire or if you become disabled.

If you have filed for Social Security Disability, or if you intend to file, our experienced attorneys and staff may be able help.  Don’t hesitate to call us at Bernhardi & Lukasik, PLLC at (716) 674-2424 or contact us at mailto:info@bernhardilukasik.com.


Thank you for your professional and thorough work. It is with great appreciation to all of you, that I send these special thanks for my successful outcome.

Thank you each and every one for the assistance given to me on my SSD case. You've been very patient with my calls and questions and a pleasure to work with.

Thank you so much for all you have done. Thanks also for being patient during these hard economic times. I will recommend you and your staff to all who may need assistance

Thank you so much for everything you have done for me. It will never be forgotten!