Whiplash is a common cause of chronic pain after a car accident. Learn more about how this injury relates to your personal injury case.
You’ve probably heard the term “whiplash” before, especially if you have ever been in a rear-end car accident. Whiplash injuries are one of the most common car accident injuries that we see in our law firm. Your notion of whiplash may be that is a minor injury, but it can have devastating effects on car accident victims. Whiplash injuries caused by a car accident increase your chances of serious neck and shoulder pain and they increase the chances that you will have other health problems in the future.
What is Whiplash?
Medically, whiplash is a type of injury that refers to the neck strain that occurs when an impact or blow, such as those from a car accident, causes your head to jerk forward and then backward rapidly so that the force stretches or tears the muscles and tendons in your neck. The term whiplash refers to the actual event that causes the damage. A more clear term to describe the resulting effect would be whiplash injury which more accurately represents the damage that occurs to the bones, ligaments, and soft tissues while also representing the severe and chronic condition that often follows.
Whiplash injuries are often devalued by insurance companies after a car accident. This doubt is most commonly due to the fact that whiplash injuries don’t always have external indicators or show up on diagnostic tests. It is precisely because these injuries are hard to see or pinpoint that they deserve attention. Imagine having chronic neck and back pain and being told that your injury isn’t real and doesn’t deserve proper treatment.
Regardless of the common sentiment of car insurance companies, you are entitled to compensation for whiplash injuries. The amount and type of compensation will vary depending on your specific situation. Victims often can’t seek compensation in Florida courts for minor whiplash injuries, but such claims can still have value depending on how the injury has affected your life.
Often you will not start feeling the symptoms of whiplash until a few hours or even days after your accident, so look for the following symptoms:
- Pain, stiffness, and tightness in your neck (neck strain)
- Pain when moving your neck to the side or back and forward
- Pain or inability to look over your shoulder
- Intense pain when you move your head quickly
- Tenderness in neck and upper back
- Intense back pain
- Headaches at the base of your skull that radiate to your forehead
- Pain and stiffness in the shoulders
- Dizziness, blurred vision, or fatigue
- Jaw pain
- Arm pain and weakness
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
These symptoms may dissipate during the following days or weeks, but depending on your age, whiplash can have a lasting impact. While younger individuals have tendons that will heal and stretch back quickly, older individuals may not have the muscle strength to snap back from such injuries. This may create a permanent or semi-permanent disability if it prevents you from driving or performing your normal daily activities.
The Economic Expense of Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash injuries cause notable economic expenses that have been estimated at 30 billion dollars a year in the U.S. These economic expenses include:
- medical treatment,
- disability payments,
- lost wages from missing work,
- lost productivity after returning to work, and
- the cost of pursuing a claim and going to court.
Florida’s No-Fault Law and Whiplash Injuries
Generally, basic whiplash injuries that are not accompanied by other major injuries from the accident are covered under Florida’s “no-fault” insurance laws. Under Florida law, operators of motor vehicles are required to carry “personal injury protection” insurance of at least $10,000.
This insurance is primary if you are injured in a motor vehicle accident, and your personal medical insurance will only kick in if your no-fault insurance company denies your claims or you exhaust your benefits. No-fault insurance covers your expenses regardless of liability, and generally the $10,000 limit is enough to cover an initial hospital visit, lost wages, medical equipment, and a few weeks of massage and physical therapy necessary to treat a whiplash injury. For these reasons, whiplash injuries alone are seldom litigated in Florida’s courts as a result of Florida “threshold” requirements.
How Florida Injury Thresholds affect Whiplash Cases
Because Florida’s courts are inundated with personal injury litigation, pursuing a personal injury claim in Florida means that your injuries must meet what is referred to as an “injury threshold.” Florida law sets a medical “threshold” for personal injury recovery, meaning that your injuries must meet certain pre-qualifications. Four categories of injuries in Florida meet the “threshold” standard:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important body function
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement
The principle behind the injury threshold is that if the injuries are not significant or permanent, the insurance policy limits should provide sufficient compensation. This is often the case with whiplash injuries. If the policy does not provide sufficient coverage, however, you should be permitted to have your claims adjudicated by a jury of your peers.
Although litigation can take longer than using your no-fault benefits or settling your claim early with the liable insurance company, it may also result in greater recovery for you. You should speak with your Clearwater car accident attorney about your options.
“Aggravation and Exacerbation” of Existing Injuries
As stated above, an otherwise healthy individual who did not suffer additional injuries as the result of a car accident can seldom recover compensation beyond no-fault limits for a whiplash injury. In personal injury cases, however, an accident will commonly cause to you either reinjure a previously healed injury or aggravate a preexisting injury.
The question remains—if you already had a neck injury before your accident, do you still have a valid personal injury claim for whiplash?
The answer is “yes,” because you can recover for “aggravation and exacerbation” of a pre-existing injury. This is based on a theory of law called the “eggshell plaintiff rule,” which holds that a defendant who injuries you is responsible for any injuries that are either magnified by the accident or are unexpected because of the particular characteristics of a plaintiff.
For example, if you had previously injured your neck while playing sports and the resulting whiplash from an accident causes severe tearing of the neck resulting in a permanent disability, this will likely meet the threshold in Florida. Such claims require “before and after” documentation of your injury, however, which is why it is important to always seek medical attention and ensure documentation for any injuries you receive, even if they seem minor at the time of the accident. Documentation is essential because you have to prove that the injury was actually made worse and resulted in a disability due to the accident when it comes to such claims.
Contact a Clearwater Personal Injury Attorney to Discuss your Whiplash Claims
Whether it’s simply applying for no-fault benefits, negotiating for settlements with liable insurance companies, or bringing litigation in Florida courts, a qualified personal injury attorney can help guide you through the legal process so you can determine what your whiplash claim is worth.
You deserve compensation for your injuries and lost wages so that you can live a full life after your car accident, but the amount of compensation for a whiplash injury can greatly vary depending on your age and circumstances. The attorneys at the Dolman Law Group can help analyze the facts of your case and explain your options for financial recovery under Florida law after a whiplash injury. Contact us online or by calling (727) 451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation.