Seeking Compensation for a Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Injury

By Roger Foisy on May 8th, 2015

As an Ontario personal injury lawyer, I have helped many clients with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) injuries receive the proper compensation. Through my years of experience, I have seen the serious impact TMJ injuries have on a person’s ability to carry on with their regular activities of living.

What Is a TMJ Injury?

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the joint of the jaw, where your temporal bone (part of your skull) meets your mandible (lower jawbone). You can find it immediately in front of your ears.

As you can imagine, this is an important joint in your body; it is deeply connected to your ability to fully open your jaw and use your mouth. When the TMJ is traumatized, the intricate system that allows the use of your mouth is damaged.

TMJ InjuryHow Do TMJ Injuries Typically Happen?

As a lawyer, the TMJ injuries I see are typically related to trauma because I often deal with accident victims. Motor vehicle accident (MVA) victims, in particular, can sustain TMJ injures due to impact to the head. As such, I often find TMJ injuries combined with head injuries and whiplash injuries.

I specifically see TMJ injuries in cases where my client saw the car accident about to happen and clenched their body in anticipation of the impact – including their jaw. When you clench your body in a collision, it becomes tense and is more prone to damage.

In MVA cases, the victim can seek compensation from their own no-fault accident benefits insurer and/or the owner/driver of the vehicle at fault.

How Severe Are TMJ Injuries?

TMJ injuries are typically fairly severe, due to their location on the body. It’s a very challenging injury because it can seriously restrict the jaw and lead to many issues for the victim. For example, eating, swallowing, and speaking – things most of us do without thinking – can become extremely difficult.

Sometimes, a client with a TMJ injury may require surgery or even a jaw replacement.

Seeking Compensation for TMJ Injuries

If you have sustained a TMJ injury and are seeking compensation, the most important factor in receiving a fair settlement is your ability to accurately demonstrate and explain the impact the injury has had.

A TMJ injury often causes extensive pain and suffering. Many TMJ sufferers report swelling and high levels of pain along the jaw and ear. You may also experience headaches from the pain. Unfortunately, pain from TMJ injuries often lingers, leading to chronic pain and ongoing mouth problems.

You are entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering; therefore, it is important to clearly and accurately describe your pain to your doctors (click here for a video explanation of how to effectively describe pain). The information you provide to your doctors will be used to validate the extent of your injury, so be specific.

As well as your physical symptoms and pain levels, you are entitled to compensation for the detrimental impact the injury has on your life. It is essential to claim damages for what your injury prevents you from being able to do.

A TMJ injury can have a devastating impact on your activities of daily living, including:

  • Occupation

TMJ injuries can inhibit or prevent a return to work because patients often struggle with lingering pain that makes it difficult to sleep and difficult to concentrate.

Furthermore, pain medication which is often prescribed for TMJ pain can also create difficulty with thinking and concentrating.

Any job that requires speaking with others frequently or using the phone may require modification to lessen the strain on the injury throughout the day, even if you are able to return to work.

  • Daily Tasks

If you have sustained a TMJ injury, you will likely have difficulty eating, swallowing, laughing, and possibly speaking.

Food can become expensive, as you may need to spend money out of pocket on specialty items that you are able to consume. This includes supplemental drinks, preplanned meals, and so on. You may also develop hot and cold sensitivities in your mouth, making meal preparation and planning even more critical.

You may also need to see a speech language pathologist, even if you aren’t having trouble speaking. Speech language pathologists are specialists who can work with you to regain some mobility in your jaw. If you are slurring words, a speech language pathologist can help you improve your speech.

When simple activities such as eating and speaking become so taxing, it is difficult to engage in regular household chores and caregiving duties. It’s unlikely the injured person will be able to complete the normal chores and tasks they used to do.

  • Mouth Hygiene

People with TMJ injuries have trouble opening their mouth and experience a large amount of pain. Sometimes, it is even difficult to get a toothbrush into the mouth at all. This makes dental hygiene highly problematic and challenging.

When the teeth and mouth aren’t well taken care of, you begin to see an increase in cavities, gingivitis, halitosis, and more. This leads to increased pain, complications, and dental bills.

Those with chronic TMJ may also need a prosthetic like night splints or night guards.

  • Psychological Wellbeing

If the pain from the TMJ injury becomes chronic, victims may develop psychological problems, such as depression or anxiety. Dealing with constant pain is a continuous strain that is not easy to come to terms with.

Some clients need to see a psychologist to help them find healthy ways to cope with their pain and their new circumstances.

Damages for TMJ injuries can be fairly substantial. Income loss, medical treatments, secondary conditions, and out of pocket expenses are all damages that your personal injury lawyer must quantify in order to fight for a fair settlement.

See below for two TMJ settlement value examples:

  • In 2009, the Court in Russel v Turcott, 2009 ABQB 19 awarded the injured person $115,000 for injuries that included TMJ. Read the full decision.

  • In 1995, the Court in Koukounakis v Stainrod, 1995 CanLII 621 (ON CA) awarded the injured person $180,000 for injuries that included TMJ disc displacement. Read the full decision.

I recommend working with an occupational therapist (OT), who will work with you to create a comprehensive assessment of your life both before and after your accident. The OT will help you return as well as you can to your normal life. They will make modifications to your environment and activities to accommodate your injury.

Furthermore, the OT’s assessment is invaluable to your personal injury lawyer, because it helps them better quantify your claims and precisely demonstrate your damages.

A personal injury lawyer who takes the time to fully understand your life and responsibilities before and after your accident will achieve a better settlement for your case. Everything should be quantified, even your transportation costs to and from your appointments (you would not need to spend the gas or put the wear-and-tear on your vehicle if not for the injury).

With a thorough lawyer who gives your TMJ case the time and attention it deserves, you should receive a fair settlement that will help to ease your financial burden during your recovery.

>> If you have sustained a TMJ injury or other personal injury at another party’s fault, please do not hesitate to contact me and my team of experienced personal injury lawyers for a free consultation.

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