Rotator Cuff Injuries in a Personal Injury Claim

Many different types of accidents or intentional injuries can cause a damaged or torn rotator cuff. This article reviews what kind of proof is necessary in a personal injury claim involving rotator cuffs, and gives some examples of reported settlements for rotator cuff injuries, which might give you a ballpark idea of what your claim might be worth.

Rotator Cuff Injuries are “Soft Tissue” Injuries

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons connected to muscles in the shoulder. As with other  soft tissue injuries, damage to a rotator cuff does not show up on devices like x-rays, although tendon damage may show up on an MRI.

A particular rotator cuff injury may or may not be easy to diagnose, but a plaintiff’s claim of a rotator cuff injury without further proof will not go very far in reaching a satisfactory settlement or winning at trial. A plaintiff should visit an orthopedic specialist to receive proper treatment and to accurately diagnose and document the injury.

Damages in Rotator Cuff Cases

Although a rotator cuff injury is soft tissue, a serious enough tear can cause long-term pain and disability. Surgery is often required for extensive rotator cuff injuries, and rehabilitation can be prolonged, involved and expensive.

As with all personal injury lawsuits, a losing defendant in a case involving a rotator cuff injury must pay the plaintiff’s medical and rehabilitation expenses, both past and future, as well as lost wages. The defendant must also compensate the plaintiff for all past and future physical and emotional pain and suffering.

Aside from lasting physical pain, a severe rotator cuff injury can permanently alter a plaintiff’s quality of life by, for example, prohibiting athletic activity, picking up children or grandchildren, engaging in the plaintiff’s chosen trade or profession, etc. Emotional pain and suffering damages are meant to compensate the plaintiff for the emotional consequences, like depression, that can come from that kind of permanent or temporary disability. Learn more about  types of compensation in injury cases.

The Median Settlement Amount

As of 2006, the last time the data appears to have been compiled, the median rotator cuff injury settlement was just over $72,500.

As with all personal injury cases, the amount of a settlement is limited to what the defendant can actually pay -- either out of pocket or based on his or her insurance policy limits. Even though a jury verdict may be quite high, that number does not necessarily represent what the plaintiff was able to ultimately collect from the defendant. In automobile accidents in particular, the applicable policy limit for personal injuries may be quite low. Also keep in mind that verdicts and settlements are likely to be higher in parts of the country with a higher cost of living.

Example Settlments and Verdicts Involving Rotator Cuff Injury

  • A plaintiff’s rotator cuff in her non-dominant shoulder was torn in a bus accident. The jury awarded her $190,000 for pain and suffering.
  • A delivery driver had all the tendons in his rotator cuff torn when the defendant struck his truck. The driver required multiple surgeries that did not completely restore function to the rotator cuff. The case settled for $750,000.
  • The plaintiff suffered a torn rotator cuff in a car accident caused by the defendant. The plaintiff could not continue working afterwards as a sign painter. He received a $500,000 settlement.
  • The plaintiff was rear-ended and required surgery on her dominant shoulder. She regained 90% mobility, but still experienced pain and difficulty with some activities after the surgery. The case settled for $200,000.
  • A tenant received a $450,000 settlement after the apartment ceiling fell on her, tore her rotator cuff and injured a disc in her neck.
  • A plaintiff’s rotator cuff was torn when a pulley slipped at her workplace. Her surgery was relatively successful, but she was likely to have continued orthopedic issues. The case settled for $208,000.


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