Internal injuries from car accidents and other personal injury accidents
People are soft and vehicles are hard.
This simple fact means that internal injuries are a common result of car accidents. While striking the steering wheel, instrument panel, windshield, door panel, airbag or some other part of your vehicle is likely to result in superficial injuries (such as bruises, cuts, or abrasions), internal injuries may not be as obvious and symptoms may not appear until days or even weeks later.
In this article, we’ll take a look at internal injuries, including the most common causes of internal injuries and the compensation you may be able to recover for an internal injury.
What is an internal injury?
In contrast to a superficial (surface) wound, the term “internal injury” refers to any injury to the organs occupying the thoracic, abdominal, or cranial cavities.
The most common internal injuries caused by car accidents and other personal injury accidents include:
- Internal bleeding. Internal bleeding can be caused by blunt trauma (when a body part collides with something else, usually at a high speed) or penetrating trauma (when a foreign object penetrates the body). Almost any organ or blood vessel can bleed. The most serious types of internal bleeding include: bleeding that occurs inside the skull, bleeding around the lungs, bleeding around the heart, and tears in the blood vessels near the center of the body.
- Broken ribs and damaged lungs. Broken ribs can be incredibly painful. What’s worse, if an object (such as a steering wheel) breaks enough ribs, your chest loses its structure and the object may impact your lungs.
- Collarbone fractures. As a consequence of wearing a seatbelt, a driver may fracture their right collarbone in a car accident and a passenger may fracture their left collarbone. Of course, the consequences of not wearing a seatbelt are much worse.
- Spleen and liver damage. If you’re wearing a seatbelt incorrectly and the lap-part extends over your stomach or your abdominal region, a car accident can cause the lap-part to carve into your spleen, liver, or stomach.
How do you know if you suffered an internal injury?
Particularly because internal injuries can result in rapid blood loss, it’s important to recognize the signs as soon as possible. The Stanford Children’s Health Hospital recommends seeing a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain
- Tenderness over the injured area
- Rigid abdomen
- Left arm and shoulder pain (spleen)
- Right-sided abdominal pain and right shoulder pain (liver)
- Blood in the urine (kidney)
- Cold, sweaty skin (early signs of shock)
- Bluish discoloration of the belly
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid pulse
- Low blood pressure
- Loss of consciousness
Common causes of internal injuries
Internal injuries are generally caused by high-speed car accidents.
As explained by Dr. David Logan, Senior Research Fellow from Melbourne’s Monash University Accident Research Centre:
“The whole purpose of a modern car is to absorb as much of the energy in the structure of the car by deforming the structure of the car and preventing that from going into your body. But in higher-speed crashes, it’s inevitable that you will have to absorb some energy in your body. Think of it like a punch to the chest. I can punch you in the chest, and you won’t be injured up to a point, because you’re absorbing energy from my fist into your chest. But beyond a certain threshold, your body can’t absorb a sufficient amount of energy and it will be injured.”
Generally speaking, side-impact crashes result in more serious injuries than front-impact crashes. This is because, in a frontal-crash, the entire front of the car absorbs the energy of the crash. In a side-impact crash, the only thing protecting you is a relatively thin door.
In addition to car accidents, internal injuries may be caused by:
Liability for organ damage and internal injuries
Depending on the cause of your internal injury, you may be able to receive compensation by filing a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence, filing a personal injury lawsuit based on an intentional tort, or filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Let’s explore each of these options in more detail.
If your internal injury was caused by another person’s carelessness (for example, a car accident caused by a drunk driver), you can attempt to recover damages by filing a negligence lawsuit.
To recover damages in a negligence lawsuit, you must prove 3 elements:
- The other person owed you a duty of care (all drivers owe a duty to all other road users to avoid causing harm),
- The other person breached the duty of care (in most cases, this means the person failed to behave as a reasonable person would under the circumstances), and
- You were injured and incurred damages as a result of the other person’s breach.
An intentional tort lawsuit is similar to a negligence lawsuit. The main difference is that an intentional tort occurs when someone intentionally tries to harm you. For example, a robber may have stabbed you in the stomach and caused internal bleeding.
In order to recover damages in an intentional tort lawsuit, your attorney will need to prove that the defendant acted intentionally.
If you suffered an internal injury as a result of a workplace accident, you may be able to receive compensation by filing a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that pays medical expenses and lost wages to employees who are injured while doing their job.
Most injuries are covered so long as the injury occurred during the course of employment. Unlike negligence claims, there’s no need to show that anyone did anything wrong in order to receive workers’ compensation benefits.
Compensation for internal injuries
Internal injuries often result in lengthy hospital stays. According to at least one report, internal injuries are more costly than all other types of injuries. In addition to initial treatment, people who suffer internal injuries may need lifetime care.
In most states, there are 3 basic types of damages available in a personal injury lawsuit involving internal injuries:
- Economic damages are intended to compensate you for the monetary losses associated with your injury. These losses might include: medical expenses (past and future), lost wages (past and future), and any other out-of-pocket expenses you incurred due to your injury.
- Non-economic damages are designed to compensate you for the non-monetary consequences of your injury. For example, the subjective pain and suffering that you experience as a result of your accident.
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant and are generally only available if the defendant’s conduct was grossly negligent or intentional.
What if I’m partially at fault?
Sometimes, you’re partially at fault for your accident. For example, you may have been texting and driving when you were struck by a car that ran a red light. States typically deal with shared fault in 1 of 4 ways:
Fault Systems by State
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Do I need to contact a lawyer?
Internal injuries can be costly. In addition to the immediate medical expenses, you may require a lifetime of care. What’s more, internal injuries can impact your enjoyment of life by limiting your ability to do the activities you once loved.
Though you can increase your chances of recovering the compensation you deserve by keeping track of your medical expenses and keeping a post-accident journal, a personal injury attorney can help identify and calculate your future damages, as well as help make certain that you’re compensated for those damages.
Remember, you only get one chance to sue someone. If you’re compensated and later realize that your injury impacts a part of your life you hadn’t considered (such as your ability to work in the future), you can’t go back to court and sue again.