How to get compensation for a disc bulge injury

A disc bulge injury can commonly be referred to as a herniated disc, slipped disc or a protruding disc. It can affect the lumbar spine, thoracic spine or the cervical spine. More severe cases involve sciatica, leg pain, pins and needles or numbness and weakness.


If you suffer back pain after your accident, the insurance company might point to an old X-ray or MRI and say that you had “age related degeneration” in your spine even before the accident took place.


It sounds so scientific, it must be true. Except it isn’t. Most people have some age-related degenerative changes in the spine. But if you had no pain before but now you suffer pain, you are entitled to compensation.


A disc bulge injury often happens at work when the employer’s workplace is unsafe. Many workers are forced to lift heavy objects repetitively, or in an awkward position, or without proper training.  It is also common to suffer a disc bulge injury after a slip and fall.  Many people just assume that a disc bulge is a normal consequence of ageing, whereas very often it is actually caused by a negligent employer or an unsafe floor surface (sometimes both!).


Examples of real life cases for just some of our clients

Example 1: Icy floor surface


The first example involves our client who was  a worker employed in a catering business. He suffered serious back injuries when he slipped on the floor surface at work. But it wasn’t just your “normal” floor surface. It had so much ice on it that workers had to use salt (bags of it) to prevent slips – this of course did not prevent the ice build-up. Curiously, the employer still denied that there was anything wrong with their system of work.


A common theme (and this case was no exception) is that the doctor whom the insurance company hired to review our client’s condition stated that our client had absolutely zero impairment arising from this accident, and that if he had continuing issues (which the doctor doubted) then that’s only because of some pre-existing spine degeneration. This is for a worker in his late 30s who was perfectly capable of doing his job pre-accident but who couldn’t return to work after the accident.


During the legal claim, we obtained the company’s internal documents which clearly demonstrated that they didn’t take any steps (such as risk assessments at the like) to prevent injuries arising from the slippery floor surface. We also obtained our own spinal specialist report which confirmed our client did in fact sustain a permanent injury in the accident. It took about 18 months, but our client received a settlement on very favourable terms.


Example 2: Back pain due to lack of training and performance KPIs


Our client suffered a lumbar disc bulge and an aggravation of a previously non-symptomatic injury when she was lifting significant amount of stock from the back of the supermarket to the shelves.


The employer gave its employees 20 minutes per pallet to complete this task, whereby a pallet had to be moved from the back of the store and the trays of stock unloaded onto the shelves within 20 minutes. This process had to be repeated for several hours.


Not only was our client required to undertake heavy lifting on a strict timeframe, she was also not given adequate training in safe manual handling techniques and specifically on how to lift and shelve stock which involves frequent bending forward, lifting above shoulder reach, and twisting of the spine.


Example 3: Back pain due to repetitive heavy lifting


Our client worked in a food processing plant. The injury occurred over time, as our client was required to repeatedly lift heavy crates over the course of an 8-hour shift. The insurer’s position was that the crates, when properly loaded, were not excessively heavy and complied with industry safety standards.


However, evidence was obtained about everyday work processes and the employer’s knowledge that the crates, when full, were usually heavier than is acceptable (because as weight increases, the percentage of adults who can safely lift, lower or carry the weight, decreases).


Example 4: Heavy lifting unaided


Our client was instructed by his employer to attend a construction site and install a heavy safety rail. Our client was not given any manual assistance. Despite this, given that our client was a very conscientious worker, he went ahead and completed the job on his own.


However, he gradually developed lower back pain. He started taking pain medication. However, the pain didn’t go away. After a few months our client required surgery. Eventually, he was unable to return to work, even after surgery.


Unfortunately, our client lost his ability to work in jobs which require physical effort – even though all his life he had been doing physically demanding work.


We thoroughly investigated the circumstances of this incident. The employer should have given our client assistance (for example, another person to help with lifting). But on top of that, we established that when our client suffered his injury, there was another company, which was in control of the construction site, which had promised to provide assistance to our client and despite their promise they did not provide another person to help.



Treatment and costs

In minor cases, once the initial inflammation settles, the injury is treated by a physiotherapist. More severe cases may require medications, epidural injections or even spinal surgery to repair some herniated discs.


While treatment for back pain is funded by Medicare, there may be a waiting list (especially for some surgeries). It is possible to speed up the process if you have private health insurance. Alternatively, if you have a workers’ compensation claim on foot then usually WorkCover Queensland would fund the necessary treatment.


In many cases, people who suffer from back pain are unable to work for a period of time or even if they are able to work, they may not be able to work as much as they used to. If you are unable to work, it is important to check if you can claim insurance through your superannuation or through an income protection insurance policy. (We can help with this.) Keep in mind, your employer may have organised an insurance protection policy for your benefit, and so it is worth making those enquiries. We can assist you with all of these issues.


How much compensation can I get?

The reality is, no two cases are identical. Generally, 12 to 18 months pass between the injury and settlement, although in serious cases, it can take longer. This is quite a useful period because we can determine what the medical bills add up to, whether there are any future medical expenses, and if there is ongoing permanent disability. Determining the value of the case is a complex process and we use this time period to obtain evidence (medical and/or forensic evidence) about the injuries and their long-term impact.


That said, the typical measures of the value of the case are these categories: general damages (or pain and suffering) past and future medical and other expenses, past and future income loss, the value of services received for free (for example care received from family members), interest and costs.


General damages (aka pain and suffering)

The amount of compensation you can receive as general damages depends on the nature and severity of your injuries and the extent of your pain and suffering. In many cases, the compensation amount is fixed by legislation. In some other cases, the court has broad discretion.


Where general damages is capped by legislation, experts will rate the severity of your injuries on a scale of 1 to 100. For example, a moderate spinal injury may be rated 5 to 15. The applicable general damages award is between $7,200 and $25,800.


If there is no cap, then the court can award you more for general damages.


How do you know if there is a cap in your case? We advise about this once we have investigated your claim. If we find that more than one company may be liable to pay you compensation (which often happens on construction sites) then chances are your claim is not capped.


Past and future medical expenses

Past medical expenses refers to expenses which you incur between the date of the injury and the date of settlement or judgement. Think of X-Rays, MRI scans, GP visits etc. To ensure that you receive compensation for all expenses incurred, it is important to keep receipts.


In addition to medical expenses, you can also recover travel expenses, and in some cases other other things as well such as accommodation costs.


Future expenses are those which you will incur after the date of settlement or judgement. These expenses are based on estimates provided by medical and other experts. The estimates take into account any need for further surgery, likely medication expenses, likely further travel expenses, any special equipment (think of reclining chairs, special shoes etc).


Loss of earnings (also future earnings)

You can be compensated for earnings you lose because you are not able to work due to your injuries.


Past earnings loss (loss between the date of injury and settlement or judgment) is generally proven based on tax returns and other financial documents.


Compensation for future economic loss (loss you incur up to retirement age) depends on your age, your residual earning capacity, but other factors may also be taken into account. Please note: we can recover lump sum compensation now for losses you might incur in the future.


It’s important to realise you are also entitled to be compensated for superannuation contributions which you would have received but for your injuries.


The value of services received for free from family

You are generally entitled to be compensated for the value of services received for free, such as care received from family members. Again, you are entitled to compensation for services received between the injury and settlement or judgement, as well as the value of future services. However, there are some legislative thresholds which may apply to your case and which may limit your entitlements. We can advise further during the initial consultation.


25% cap on legal costs


In Queensland, most compensation firms will charge you 50% of your compensation amount – the maximum allowed at law. This is very expensive. Our fee is different. We will cap our fee at 25%.  Remember also, these are the maximum fees we will charge. If our fee in your claim is less, then we charge the lesser amount.


Before you engage us, we will provide you a written Disclosure Notice and a Client Service Agreement. These documents set out in detail the service we provide, as well as our fees and outlays. Before you sign anything, you can take these documents home with you, and study them with your family. You can take as long as you need, there is never any pressure from us. If anything in these documents doesn’t make sense to you, we can discuss it with you and you are free to ask another lawyer to give you advice.  And remember, no win – no fee agreements come with a 5 day cooling off period for extra peace of mind.


Free book offer: what to expect in your injury claim


If you have been injured in an accident, you may be able to make a compensation claim. But the law in relation to personal injury compensation in Queensland is very complex. Strict time limits apply. And importantly: while most cases settle, the amount you receive largely depends on how well your claim is prepared for the settlement negotiations with the insurance company.


At Denes Lawyers, we think the best thing you can do is to initially research your situation to understand the legal process and what you can expect. This is why we make our FREE hard copy book available to everyone who has a genuine enquiry about a potential personal injury claim. Even if you choose not to hire us, we think you will find the information in this book very useful.


The book is written by Oszkar Denes, and it covers the following topics:


  • What is a personal injury claim?
  • How much money can you expect to receive?
  • What is the claim process?
  • What is a no win – no fee agreement and how do they vary between law firms?
  • How to select the right lawyer for your case?
  • Seven Deadly Sins you should avoid at all cost
  • Specific real life case examples


To receive your free hard copy book in the mail, please call us on (07) 3063 2268 or complete the form below and we will be happy to post it to you.


Please complete this form to receive your FREE hard copy book.