Learn the basics of whiplash symptoms, detection, diagnosis, and how to build a case
Experiencing neck pain after a car accident is very common, and it can be severe enough to disrupt your life.
If you are suffering from whiplash, you are not alone. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calculated that the cost of neck pain from car accidents was $8.8 billion in 2007. That accounted for 25% of all payouts for crash injuries that year.
Whiplash is one of those invisible car crash injuries that can make it hard to work, sleep and generally enjoy life.
Common symptoms of whiplash after a car accident
Pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders
Muscles will tighten after the crash to protect the injured area.
Jaw stiffness and soreness
Pain from a sore neck and back can radiate to the jaw area. Alternatively, you might be clenching your teeth because of pain, which can cause TMJ.
Look for pain at the base of your skull, which shoots up the back of the head and to your ears.
Arm pain or weakness on one or both sides
This is a sign of nerve damage in the neck.
Dizziness, nausea and vomiting
This can be caused by nerve damage in the neck.
If it happened because of an accident, you may be entitled to compensation from the liable party.
Whiplash overview – how it happens
When another car hits yours, inertia from the tremendous impact will make your head continue to move while your body is restrained by the seatbelt.
The soft tissue in your neck can be sprained or torn in a split second.
Whiplash injuries can happen in any type of car accident, but it is most common in rear-end crashes.
Whiplash detection and diagnosis
Whiplash can be tricky to detect and diagnose. Many people may not feel significant symptoms at first; they could appear hours or even a few days after the car wreck.
This happens because your adrenal glands pump adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream right after a car crash. Because of this numbing effect, you might think you're fine after the initial impact. This fight-or-flight response will mask your pain temporarily, but when the effect wears off, the pain could be severe.
A whiplash injury that does not appear immediately after the crash is one of the biggest reasons you should always see a doctor after an accident. You want to have your possible whiplash injury diagnosed and treated immediately.
Getting prompt medical treatment may lessen the severity of your injury. Also, getting seen by a doctor right away will give you more ammunition in a personal injury claim or lawsuit later.
The most common symptoms of a whiplash injury after a car accident are:
- Pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders – muscles will tighten after the crash to protect the injured area.
- Jaw stiffness and soreness – pain from a sore neck and back can radiate to the jaw area. Alternatively, you might be clenching your teeth because of pain, which can cause TMJ.
- Headache – look for pain at the base of your skull, which shoots up the back of the head and to your ears.
- Arm pain or weakness on one or both sides – this is a sign of nerve damage in the neck.
- Dizziness, nausea and vomiting – this can be caused by nerve damage in the neck.
When you visit the doctor or ER after the accident, doctors will usually order MRIs and CT scans to check for whiplash and other injuries. An MRI or CT scan can find muscles, tendons and ligaments in your neck that are sprained or torn.
How to build your whiplash personal injury case
Building a strong case for compensation for your whiplash injuries is different than clearly visible accident injuries. With non-visible injuries, it is really important to build a strong case on paper right from the start.
Here's how to construct a rock-solid whiplash personal injury claim:
- Go to the doctor now: Right after the accident, be evaluated by a doctor. If there is even a day's delay in going to see the doctor, the insurance company will try to deny that your injuries are related to the accident. And good luck trying to convince a claims adjuster about your injuries if you wait longer than that to be seen by the doctor!
- Choose a good doctor: Go to the ER right after the crash, and then follow up the same day or the next day with your primary care doctor. It is critical to select a respected doctor for your medical evaluations. You do not want to work with medical professionals who are going to pad your medical bills with extra expenses. If your doctor is not able to help you, go to a good orthopedist.
- Collect documentation: Any whiplash injury will have to be well documented to get you compensated. The insurance adjuster wants to see medical proof of a neck injury before she will pay you. You should keep all records, including your ER forms, medical charts, X-Rays, MRIs, blood tests, notes from the doctor, etc.
Independent medical examinations (IMEs)
If your doctor diagnoses your injuries as whiplash and orders treatment, it is tough for the insurance company to balk. But it does happen from time to time.
The adjuster could tell you to submit to an independent medical examination, or IME. This is a physical that is conducted by a doctor from the insurance company.
Independent medical exams are inherently biased, but they are still part of the routine. Courts and arbiters take into consideration the fact that they are biased because there are some parts the insurance company cannot spin, such as actual test results.
Many insurance policies actually mandate that the insured submit to IMEs or risk forfeiting their payout. Courts can also compel the plaintiff to submit to an IME as well, so don't try to skip that appointment. It will reflect poorly on you and your case.
We suggest that you treat this like any other doctor's appointment. Arrive on time, treat the doctor with respect and try to forget that he is being paid by your adversary.
Whether your lawsuit will be successful or not depends upon many factors. If you are in a no-fault state, filing a lawsuit for whiplash can be hard because of the injury threshold and damage requirements.
Under the no-fault laws for many states, you can only sue for injuries and pain and suffering under certain conditions. In other cases, your own auto insurance policy is supposed to cover your damages.
If you are not in a no-fault state, you may have more success filing this type of lawsuit.