Defining Whiplash: The Medical ExplanationMany people hear the term whiplash, and they think it is a simple condition that causes temporary neck soreness. However, the medical definition of whiplash lets people know it is often a bit more complex than a bit of soreness. Whiplash is an injury caused by a sudden back and forth movement to the neck. Pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, and arms often accompanies these injuries. Treatment for whiplash can be as simple as resting and icing the neck. However, victims must often wear a neck brace and undergo chiropractic care, electrical stimulation, physical therapy, and more. According to the NIH National Institute on Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), car accidents are the leading cause of whiplash. Associated issues and complications include nerve damage, injury to intervertebral joints, and muscle injuries. Victims can expect at least a few weeks' recovery time, and in some cases, this may be optimistic. According to Mayo Clinic, to diagnose whiplash, doctors review the patient's ability to move their neck freely without pain and diagnostic testing like MRIs or CT scans, or by an X-ray. Treatments for whiplash can be simple such as rest and ice—or the level of discomfort a victim suffers may require additional treatment, including exercise, pain management, and the use of a foam collar. Complicated factors could interfere with your recovery from a whiplash injury. Age, prior neck and back injuries, and high-speed car accidents can all lengthen the time it will take a whiplash victim to recover.
Understanding the Importance of Medical Care for WhiplashWhen you file a claim for your injury, the insurance company will ask when and where you received treatment. Thus, after any car accident, immediately visit a doctor, even if you are not experiencing any signs of discomfort. Let them know you were in a car accident and the circumstances of the accident. Whiplash is a common injury in car accidents, particularly in rear-end collisions. If you are given a clean bill of health immediately following an accident, that is great news. However, that clean bill of health could deceive you—often, a victim with a whiplash injury may not show symptoms for a day or two following an accident. Symptoms may include:
- Unexplained pain - Victims may feel pain in their arms, neck, shoulder, or their hand. In some cases, a whiplash victim may feel pain in their lower back. Anytime you suffer unexplained pain after a car accident, you should follow up with your doctor to make sure you are not seriously injured. Remember, an adrenaline rush following an accident can mask injury symptoms.
- Numbness - Victims of whiplash often complain they have numb spots. This numbness can occur in the arms, hands, or shoulder areas. Do not ignore this because it can be dangerous, and you may run the risk of a more serious injury caused by the numbness.
- Other unusual symptoms - Dizziness, irritability, sleeplessness, blurred vision, and ringing ears are not symptoms one would automatically associate with whiplash, but these are all possible signs you have suffered a whiplash injury following a car accident.
Doctors Instructions: Following Orders is ImportantFollow your doctors' instructions after any injury. If you need to file an insurance claim to get compensation for your injury after an accident, the insurance company will want to see your medical records. If you are ignoring doctor's orders, chances are they will deny your claim based on that information alone. Recovering from an injury is frustrating. You may feel fine one day and feel poorly the next. When a doctor says you will have to be out of work for two weeks, three weeks, or three months, they are doing this to ensure you have a full recovery. Despite your financial concerns, your long-term health is more important. Your car accident attorney can help you understand your options when you are out of work.
Proving Fault: Negligence Following a Car AccidentIf you are injured in a car accident and you intend to file a car accident lawsuit against the responsible driver, you must first prove they were negligent. Regardless of what state you live in, every driver on the road owes a duty of care to others. The four elements of proving negligence are:
- Duty to injured party - In a car accident, the driver who caused the accident does owe everyone they share the road with a duty of care. Therefore, the first element is easy to establish.
- Breach of duty - When an accident results from speeding, drunk driving, or because the driver was distracted, they have breached the duty owed to others on the road, including the accident victim.
- Cause of injury - If you suffered an injury because a driver failed to exercise appropriate caution, you demonstrate the cause of injury.
- The victim suffered damages - When you suffer an injury because of the breach of duty owed to you by another driver, this is considered the final element in proving negligence.
Insurance Settlement Offers Following a Whiplash InjuryBefore you accept a settlement offer from the insurance company, you should make sure you understand what accepting an offer means. Generally, accepting a settlement will prohibit any future claims. It is important to understand what this means: If the settlement offer includes wages lost, then any wages you may lose following the settlement are gone with no chance of recovery. If you incur medical bills after you accept a settlement offer from an insurer, you need to pay those bills with no chance of recovering additional funds. Keep in mind, insurance company adjusters have this information—what they are hoping is you are not aware of the information and that you will not take the time to read the fine print in the settlement agreement. They also know you are facing a time of financial uncertainty since you are out of work, and they are hoping you will not ask an accident injury attorney to review the agreement before you sign and settle. Never accept the offer without reviewing the agreement with an experienced lawyer.
Potential Damages in a Whiplash Claim CaseEvery accident is different. In a low-speed accident, your whiplash injury may be considered mild. In a high-speed accident, your whiplash injury could be severe. Additionally, every victim is different. Younger victims tend to bounce back faster than older victims. Some people who suffer a whiplash injury recover in a matter of days—others can face neck, back, and shoulder problems for months. The amount of your claim will depend on several factors. Some potential damages you may include in your claim are:
- Medical expenses - Most people think about medical expenses as merely the cost of their care. However, you may include prescriptions for pain, medical equipment such as a collar for whiplash, transportation to and from the doctor's office, and rehabilitation costs.
- Wages today and tomorrow - Some victims must deal with a whiplash injury for months. While you are out of work recovering, you may be entitled to claim your lost wages. If your recovery will take longer, you may include a claim for estimated future wages. Remember, your paycheck is only a portion of wages—you might have received benefits while on the job that you miss during your recovery. Ask your auto accident lawyer about these benefits and if you can include them in your claim.
- Non-economic claims - In some cases, victims may also include non-economic items in their claims. These would include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment, and other similar items. Your attorney can explain more about this and how it would work in your specific case.
Hiring a Lawyer Matters for Your CaseOften, victims of whiplash injuries believe they can file their own claim because they think can prove the accident was not their fault. However, even when you can prove someone else caused your injuries, you must overcome other obstacles. Insurance companies will not just accept a claim—even when the accident was clearly not your fault—they will assert any number of things to diminish your claim, including:
- The injury existed - For those who have had pre-existing back, neck, or shoulder issues, the insurance company will likely claim the injury already existed, and therefore try to reduce the claim to one of aggravation.
- Finding fault with the victim - In the case of a rear-end collision, the insurance company will find ways to blame the victim for their injury. They may state the victim failed to use a turn signal, came to a sudden stop, or their brake lights malfunctioned.
- Injury not as bad as claimed - Sometimes the insurance company will claim the victim is not as gravely injured as they are claiming to be, and they are faking pain. This is one reason why you must follow all doctor's orders when you suffer a whiplash injury in a car accident.