The term “whiplash” is used to describe injury to the soft tissues of the neck, specifically, the vertebrae of the spine, the disks between the vertebrae, ligaments, muscles, nerves and other tissues of the neck. Whiplash occurs when a sudden, jerking force pushes the head rapidly back-and-forth in a motion that is like the cracking of a whip (thus, its name). Or, in other words, the head is rapidly thrown backward and then forward.
This type of neck strain can happen in auto accidents, especially rear-end crashes. But it can also result from accidents involving amusement park rides and boating accidents. Whiplash can also possibly result from sports accidents, physical abuse and other types of trauma, such as a fall.
Symptoms range from mild to severe and can appear immediately or even days and weeks later. This delay in the onset of pain can be medically dangerous for the victim, and it can also pose a problem for any potential legal claim to recover damages. The sooner a person can visit a doctor, the better it is, both medically and legally.
A whiplash injury is generally not visible on standard medical imaging tests, such as X-rays. A person’s doctor is likely to order one or more imaging tests in any event in order to rule out the involvement of other conditions that might make a person’s neck pain worse, e.g. the fracture of a vertebra. Imaging tests include:
- X-rays: X-rays can identify bone fractures, dislocations or arthritis;
- Computerized tomography (CT): This is a special type of X-ray that produces cross-sectional images of bone and shows possible bone damage;
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Using radio waves and a magnetic field to produce detailed 3D images, MRI scans can detect some soft tissue injuries, such as damage to the spinal cord, disks or ligaments.
From a legal perspective the fact that the soft-tissue injury involved in whiplash is not visible in most medical imaging may make recovering damages for whiplash injury challenging.
What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash Injuries?
The symptoms of a whiplash injury may include the following:
- Pain and stiffness in the neck;
- Loss of range of motion in the neck and upper back, e.g. an inability to turn one’s head;
- Tenderness in the neck, upper back, arms, or shoulders
- Headaches that often start at the base of the skull;
- Unusual fatigue;
- Numbness or tingling in the arms;
- Pain that worsens with neck movement.
Some victims can experience additional whiplash symptoms such as:
- Ringing in the ears;
- Memory problems;
- Sleep disturbances;
- Blurred vision;
- Depression and irritability.
How Much Is My Lawsuit for Whiplash Injuries Worth?
The amount of damages that a person may recover for a whiplash injury depends on several factors. If a person believes that they were not at fault in causing the accident in which they were injured, they would file a personal injury lawsuit for negligence, naming as the defendant the person primarily to blame for causing the accident.
Courts will usually consider the following when it comes to calculating the amount of damages:
- The Injury: The nature and extent of a person’s injuries affects the amount of damages. The more extensive the injury, the more costly it would be to treat it. If the injuries cause permanent disability, then damages must compensate for that;
- Fault: A person who suffers whiplash in an accident can recover damages from the person who was at fault in causing the accident. If the victim contributed to causing the accident, then in some states, their damages would be reduced;
- Location: The law of the state in which an accident happens can have an impact on how damages are calculated;
- Economic Losses: The most significant factor in calculating damages is the value of the loss that a victim sustains. This would include wages lost, money paid for medical treatment such as doctors, hospitalization, medication, physical therapy, rehabilitation and the cost of treating potential future medical expenses as well. If a person suffers effects that can be expected to be permanent, such as a loss of earning capacity due to injury, then that should be compensated also.
- Pain and Suffering: There should be some amount for pain and suffering;
- Punitive Damages: In rare cases, the facts may justify an award of punitive damages.
It is important to keep in mind that insurance companies are most often the ones who pay damages on behalf of a person who has an auto insurance policy. Again, the fact that the physical effects of whiplash are not visible makes many insurance companies skeptical of whiplash. Insurance companies may doubt the seriousness of whiplash and its effects. For this reason, it is important to carefully document the injury for legal purposes.
What Should I Do If I Suffer Whiplash in an Accident?
If a person suffers a whiplash injury, they should seek immediate medical attention. If injuries are not properly diagnosed and are left untreated, they may have worse long-term neck problems than they would have if they had received the right treatment right away. Of course, a person’s first priority is to get the best possible medical care for their injuries.
In addition, after a person is sent home from the doctor or emergency room, they should seek immediate medical attention, if they develop new symptoms or symptoms that do not go away.
If a person suffered a whiplash injury in an accident which was not their fault, they should contact an experienced personal injury attorney in their area for guidance as to how to proceed.
It is very important to gather evidence for a possible lawsuit. A person should be sure to keep detailed records of the accident, their symptoms, the impact the symptoms have on their lifestyle and the treatment they receive for their injuries. The person should also gather all documentation related to their medical treatment and the expenses they incur that are related to the accident. For example, if they have to pay for child care when they receive treatment, they want to keep a record of those child care expenses.
As noted above, insurance companies often doubt the seriousness of whiplash injuries. But the fact is that when a person undergoes a sudden backward and forward movement, or jolt, of the head, in addition to whiplash, it can cause a closed head injury that takes place within the skull. And any type of injury where your head is forcefully shaken can cause a concussion.
Not all victims of whiplash will sustain a concussion. Whether a person suffers a concussion or not depends on how the head moves in the accident. However, if a person has suffered a concussion in a car accident, they have probably also suffered some degree of whiplash. Concussions and whiplash often happen together, but not always.
So, if a person suffers from significant whiplash with or without a concussion, their injuries can be serious and proving them challenging. Again, an experienced personal injury attorney can help prove the significance of whiplash or concussion injury.
Do I Need an Attorney If I Suffered a Whiplash Injury?
If you have suffered a whiplash injury, you should speak with an experienced local car accident attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer will help you build your case, and negotiate with insurance companies. In the event that your case goes to court, your attorney can also represent your best interests and help you collect an amount of damages that will compensate you completely for your injuries.