Few traffic accidents inflict more consistently life-threatening injuries than those in which a car strikes a pedestrian. Nothing protects the pedestrian from the initial collision with the vehicle, and the equally-devastating impact with other objects or the road surface that follows. Many pedestrians do not survive these accidents. Those that do often contend with severe injuries, including complex fractures and orthopedic injuries, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and a host of lacerations and abrasions.
Needless to say, these injuries tend to send the injured pedestrian to the hospital for emergency care. After the initial hospital stay ends, the pedestrian victim often faces months of at-home healing and physical therapy to return to some semblance of “normal” life. Sometimes maximum recovery means adapting to a “new normal” life burdened with a permanent disability or impairment. Whatever the circumstances, the task of healing and recovery gobbles up most of the injured pedestrian’s time and energy.
The injured pedestrian’s job, frequently, gets left by the wayside. As between the competing demands of getting better and getting back to work, the former has to win out most of the time. Still, at some point, pedestrian accident victims want to get back to work. For one thing, they need an income to support themselves and their families. For another, a job gives them a sense of purpose and helps them get back into a routine.
So, when should that happen? After sustaining severe injuries as a pedestrian who got struck by a car, how long before you should return to work? That is the question this blog post aims to answer.
Are You Able to Work?
To state the obvious, you cannot return to work until you can work. Your ability to work depends on several factors. First, what kind of injury did you sustain in the car accident? Second, what do you need to do to reach maximum recovery? Third, what is the nature of your job?
What Is Your Injury?
Car accidents leave victims struggling with a wide variety of injuries that could affect your ability to return to work. Here are some of the most common:
- Spinal cord injuries. Damage to the bundle of nerves that transmits signals from your brain to your body represents one of the most life-altering and severe types of injury a person can sustain in a car accident. Depending upon the nature of the damage, the effects of a spinal cord injury can be permanent and leave you partially or totally paralyzed.
- Brain injuries. Car accident victims frequently sustain some type of brain injury, from “mild” concussions to “major” traumatic brain injury (TBI). Even “getting your bell rung” in a car accident can force you to contend with long-lasting symptoms that can interfere with your ability to work, such as headaches and “brain fog.” The more severe type of brain injury, TBI, often results in major cognitive, emotional, and/or physical impairment.
- Neck and back injuries. Separate and apart from spinal cord injuries, damage to the soft tissue and structures (discs and vertebrae) in the neck and back frequently leave car accident victims incapacitated and in chronic pain. These injuries can make it difficult to remain in one position, be it sitting or standing, for any length of time. Car accident victims struggling to manage the relentless pain associated with these injuries also run a higher-than-average risk of becoming dependent on prescription medications, particularly opioids.
- Broken bones and orthopedic injuries. Virtually any type of car accident can cause broken bones or damage to joints, tendons, and ligaments. Like neck and back injuries, these conditions can leave an accident victim struggling with chronic pain and physical limitations, and all of the complications that go along with managing those ailments.
- Contusions, lacerations, and abrasions. Broken glass and twisted metal often leave car accident victims cut, bruised, and bleeding. For the “lucky” accident victims, these injuries are only skin-deep and will heal with proper care. For the less fortunate, a deep laceration or a major contusion can cause long-lasting physical impairments and secondary health complications, such as nerve damage that causes permanent physical impairment, or damage to internal organs that leads to chronic conditions that must be managed through diet and medication.
These are just some of the types of injuries that a car accident can cause, of course. Virtually any injury imaginable can happen in a car accident and can keep someone out of work.
How Long Do You Need to Recover?
There is no fixed amount of time it takes for an injury to heal. How long it takes to recover from the trauma of a car accident depends on the type and severity of your injury, your age and state of health before the accident happened, and the amount of support you have in your healing process, among other factors. At Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman, our advice to all clients and potential clients who want to get back to work is the same: listen to your doctor. Rushing your recovery from a car accident injury puts you at risk of further harm. It also potentially jeopardizes your legal rights to compensation for your injuries. You do not want to give an insurance company or a jury any reason to think you bear the blame for injuries that would have healed if only you had listened to your doctor.
We understand the financial strain created by taking time off from work. But until a doctor clears you, the costs of doing yourself additional harm should outweigh the benefits of a paycheck. At the very least, if you absolutely, positively, must return to work as soon as possible, discuss any potential limitations with your doctor (and lawyer) ahead of time, so that you can request appropriate work accommodations from your employer.
What Kind of Job Do You Have?
Which brings us to our third factor affecting how long it takes to return to work: the type of job you want to get back to. A back injury may limit your ability to return to a job requiring physical labor for much longer than an office job. A brain injury could keep you away from returning to your professional practice for months or longer, even if you could return to a job washing dishes pretty quickly.
In short, when clients ask us when they can get back to work, we ask them what their job requires them to do, and what alterations or modifications their employer could realistically make to their job responsibilities to enable them to work effectively. For example, if you work a factory job that requires you to stand all day at an assembly line, could you do your job if you had a stool handy to lean against every once in a while to relieve your back pain? If your job requires you to read documents with small print on a screen, and a brain injury affects your ability to see clearly, could your employer modify your screen to accommodate larger print that’s easier to see?
These are not merely theoretical questions. Employment law requires most employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for employees with disabilities in most cases to ensure they have an equal opportunity to work and earn a living. This is a general rule that has lots of exceptions and qualifications to it, however. An experienced lawyer can help you understand your rights under these laws, which may allow you to return to work in some meaningful capacity sooner than later.
What Can You Do in the Meantime?
If the nature of your car accident injury, the expected duration of your recovery, or the nature of your job keep you out of work for an extended period of time, you have options to help you stay afloat financially in the short- and long-term.
Personal Injury Protection, Social Security, Workers’ Comp, and Supplemental Insurance
In the short term, three types of “insurance” may help to provide you with financial support to replace your lost income while you recover from your car accident injuries: social security disability insurance, workers’ compensation insurance, and “supplemental” insurance. Here is a quick overview of each.
- Personal injury protection (no-fault) insurance. In Florida, anyone who registers a vehicle must purchase and maintain PIP insurance coverage. Dubbed “no-fault insurance,” PIP covers the cost of treating your own injuries, and some of your lost wages, resulting from a traffic accident, regardless of who is at fault in the accident. Many people do not realize it, but PIP covers you as a pedestrian injured in a car accident. If you carry PIP as a result of having a registered Florida vehicle, then you must seek medical treatment for a car accident-related pedestrian injury within fourteen days of your accident. Failing to seek treatment could impair your rights to receive any insurance benefits.
- Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is a government program, funded by payroll taxes, that pays financial benefits to certain workers with long-term disabilities that render them unable to work. The federal Social Security Administration oversees SSDI but relies on state government agencies, like the Florida Department of Health, to help make decisions about eligibility for benefits. The Social Security Administration tries to make it easy for people to apply for benefits, but the team here at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman recommends you consult with a lawyer before doing so, because there are pitfalls in the application process that can lead to the rejection of an application.
- Workers’ compensation insurance (workers’ comp) is a form of insurance paid for by your employer that covers you against injuries you sustain on the job. If the car accident that left you injured as a pedestrian happened while you were working, then workers’ comp insurance pays for your medical costs and replaces some of your income while you recover, provided you notify your employer right away about the accident and your injuries. The Florida Division of Workers’ Compensation oversees administration of workers’ comp benefits in Florida. As with SSDI, we encourage anyone injured on the job to consult with an attorney about their entitlement to workers’ comp benefits as soon as possible.
- Supplemental (or long-term disability) insurance is private insurance that you can purchase directly, or that employers sometimes provide as part of an employee’s benefits package. It pays you money to replace income you lose and to pay certain costs while out of work with an injury. Think of it as similar to workers’ comp, only for an injury you suffer anywhere, not just one that occurred on the job. AFLAC (which runs the talking duck TV commercials) is the country’s largest provider of supplemental insurance.
If you do not have these forms of insurance, ask your attorney to help you connect with agencies and organizations in your area that can help provide financial and material support while you heal.
Pursuing Damages Through Legal Action
The solutions above provide short-term fixes and partial relief for people who have lost their income because of a pedestrian accident. They do not necessarily compensate you for the full extent of your injuries and losses stemming from getting hit by a car as a pedestrian. That is where the services of an experienced Florida pedestrian accident injury attorney come into play.
Under Florida law, anyone severely injured in a motor vehicle accident as a pedestrian generally has the right to take legal action for damages against whomever caused the accident. The damages an injured pedestrian can recover usually include present and future lost wages attributable to the accident and injuries. Injured pedestrians can typically pursue action against the driver of the car that hit them, and may also have rights to seek compensation from others whose actions contributed to the collision.
That may include, for example, the driver’s employer who did not train him properly, a road department that did not replace faulty traffic signals, or an automotive manufacturer that produced a car with defective brakes that prevented the driver from stopping before his car hit you.
An experienced Florida pedestrian accident attorney can help you learn more about your rights, and how to pursue compensation to replace income you have lost after getting hit by a car as a pedestrian.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765