If you have neck pain after a car accident, you may be wondering if you’ve suffered whiplash, also known as Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD). It’s caused by a sudden jolting of the neck and shoulders. Whiplash is most often associated with rear-end car accidents, but can happen in almost any kind of collision.
In rear-end accidents, the force of impact suddenly and rapidly propels your body forward. While the body is moving forward, the head follows just an instant behind.
Inertia from the impact forces the head to keep moving, while the body is caught by the seat belt. That’s where the whip effect occurs. At that instant, your neck and shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments, can become sprained or torn.
Know the Symptoms of Whiplash
Whiplash injuries can be deceiving. Symptoms may not occur right away, appearing anywhere from a few hours, to a few days after the collision. If you’ve been in an accident, especially if you were rear-ended, do not refuse medical attention. A car accident is a traumatic event. The severity is just a matter of degree.
Seconds after a collision, your adrenal gland releases adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. These are hormones that mask pain so your body can react to what the brain perceives as danger.
Because of this numbing effect, immediately after a collision, you may think you’re okay. That’s where the danger lies. Adrenaline and cortisol eventually leave your system, and when they do, the pain of your injury appears. The damage was there since the collision, but the adrenaline and cortisol masked the pain.
Normally, there’s a space between muscles and nerve endings. When swelling occurs from injury, the space shrinks, eventually resulting in direct contact. When contact occurs, the nerve endings send a message of pain to the brain. The pain can be anywhere from mildly unpleasant, to severe and debilitating.
Common symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck or shoulder pain and stiffness
- Soreness or pain in the jaw
- Weakness in one or both arms
- Dizziness and vomiting
- Blurred vision
- Back pain or discomfort
- Ringing of the ears (tinnitus)
This potential for delayed pain is the reason that accepting medical care from paramedics is so important. If paramedics think you should go to the hospital for an evaluation by emergency room physicians, say yes.
ER doctors often order MRIs and CAT scans for accident victims. These doctors fully understand the nature and effect of adrenaline and cortisol, and their ability to mask injuries. The results of an MRI or CAT scan can immediately identify sprained or torn muscles, tendons, or ligaments.
Building Your Personal Injury Claim for Whiplash
No one wants to get involved in a personal injury claim with an insurance company. But when a driver’s negligence results in your mounting medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, and lost wages, you have no choice. Either you file a personal injury claim, or suffer the financial consequences.
Always Seek Medical Attention
If paramedics aren’t dispatched to the scene of your collision, it’s still vital for you to seek medical attention soon afterward. One of the biggest mistakes made by personal injury victims is delaying medical treatment. Treating your injuries should be your first priority.
Convincing a claims adjuster of the seriousness of your injury will be more difficult if you wait several days to seek medical care. The longer you wait, the more likely an adjuster will allege your injury wasn’t serious, or was caused by some other incident. The faster you seek medical attention, the more credible and provable your claim will be.
Choose a Qualified Medical Professional
A credible physician and chiropractor is important. Don’t be influenced by medical clinics or doctors who publicize they can help you win your personal injury claim. Insurance adjusters know about attorneys who work with doctors to run up medical and chiropractic bills. Many of these lawyers and doctors are not looking out for your best interests.
Padding medical and chiropractic bills is common practice. Unfortunately, the only people who profit are the attorneys and doctors. After your attorney’s fees and medical bills have been paid, you may wind up with very little settlement money. You may even owe money for excess bills the settlement didn’t cover.
If you think you may have whiplash, see your primary care physician first. If your doctor can’t treat your injuries, she can refer you to an orthopedist or other specialist. Using credible, independent physicians and chiropractors will help the adjuster take your claim seriously.
Gather Medical Documentation
To have a successful claim, you must establish a paper trail of medical documentation (along with other evidence). The adjuster must see medical proof of your neck injury before she can pay out any money on your personal injury claim. Your medical documentation should include as much of the following as possible:
- Emergency room (or urgent care) admission forms and medical charts, x-rays, MRIs, CT scans, blood tests, doctors’ notes, and any other proof of treatment
- Further records showing unbroken follow-up treatment, as ordered by your doctor, along with subsequent tests, doctor’s notes, and your future prognosis
Seeking chiropractic treatment on your own, days or weeks after the accident, is a recipe for claim denial. You must seek medical attention immediately after the collision, and continue a pattern of unbroken, consistent treatment afterward.
Beware of Independent Medical Exams
If a physician (especially an orthopedist) diagnoses you with whiplash, and orders specific, necessary treatment, it will be hard for the adjuster to disagree. Nonetheless, adjusters often question medical treatment, regardless of who ordered it.
If the adjuster doesn’t agree with your doctor’s assessment, she may ask you to submit to an Independent Medical Exam, also known as an IME. This is basically a medical evaluation performed by a physician chosen by her insurance company.
You don’t have to agree to the exam, and probably shouldn’t. If the insurance company chooses a physician, it will be one who has consistently agreed with them. The only time you must submit to an exam by an insurance company’s doctor, is if your claim is with your own insurance company, such as in a no-fault state, or if your claim goes to trial.
See an example of a whiplash injury demand letter here.
Multiple Plaintiffs Injured in Taxi Van
In this court case, husband and wife plaintiffs are seeking damages for whiplash neck injuries sustained in a shuttle van accident, but they can’t prove they have “serious injuries” as defined by law.
Previous Ruling Dismissing Case is Overturned
In this case, the plaintiff’s lawyer seeks damages for multiple personal injuries that occurred as the result of a collision. Medical testimony of several doctors is crucial in the outcome.
How Much is Your Injury Claim Worth?
Find out now with a FREE case review from an attorney…
Visitor Questions on Car Accidents
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I was rear-ended while stopped at a red light. The impact of the crash was significant enough to total my car. I went to a chiropractor for treatment of neck pain. At the first visit, he had me sign an “Assignment of Benefits” document with no explanation except to say it allows them to be... Read More.
I had just signed a medical release form thinking that I had felt better after being treated for injuries. Lately my neck and shoulder had started hurting again and I realized I had not fully recovered like I had thought. Because I signed the medical release form, does this mean I can no longer seek... Read More.
I was rear ended while stopped. The boy who hit me did not accept responsibility until 4 weeks after the accident. For a month, I was having to chase down his insurance, while scheduling repairs for my car and seeking medical treatment. In the middle of my 4 month treatment, I developed shingles. I haven’t... Read More.
I was in a car accident three weeks ago, on a Monday. I was rear ended while sitting at a stop sign. The driver started to take off after I was hit, but the police came and gave him a ticket. An ambulance arrived at the scene and I was “looked over”. At the time... Read More.
I was in a car accident in 2001, which made me a quadriplegic. Fast forward to August 2014, my son and I were at a red light and a car rear ended the car behind us, which hit us and knocked my wheelchair out of its station. I was caught up in my seat belt.... Read More.
I was waiting at a red light, my car completely stopped, and suddenly was hit very hard from behind by a driver going at least 30 mph. After getting hit very hard from behind, my car lunged forward and hit the car in front of me. I suffered a concussion and now have whiplash. The... Read More.
My husband and I were rear ended by a dump truck driven by someone with a suspended license. My husband sustained neck and shoulder pain. I also sustained neck and shoulder injuries. Neither of us went to the ER that day, but we both went three days later. (The accident happened Friday evening, we went... Read More.
I was sitting in my car at a red light in Stark county Ohio when another car hit my car in the rear, causing me a whiplash injury. The injury causes me back, neck and headache pain on a scale of 7-9 out of 10. After 9 weeks of physical therapy (PT) and neuromuscular massage... Read More.
My 17 year old son was a passenger in a vehicle that got hit from behind. He was not wearing his seat belt and was injured. He has some memory loss and doesn’t remember the accident. He had a concussion and whiplash injuries, and was sore for about a week after the accident. The question... Read More.
We were rear-ended at a stoplight. The doctor said I got basic whiplash. Have still have pain in my neck and headaches. I also have elevated blood pressure since the accident. There was not much damage to the car. The adjuster wants to settle the personal injury for us for $500.00 each. What is a... Read More.
I was heading home on a dry sunny day and the car in front of me pulled into a gas station, probably a mile from my house. Well, the lady behind me decided not to pay attention and rear ended me going at least 40mph. The speed limit is 55mph on this road. She had... Read More.
I was a passenger in a taxi cab at the back by the left door. The car was stationary, having given way to oncoming traffic. An oncoming car turning right onto the road that we were on, rammed right into us. I got an instant headache from the jolt, which although dulled now, has spread... Read More.
Yesterday, August 2, we were rear ended while waiting to make a left hand turn. The car hit us so hard it took our friend’s minivan halfway up the street. I was transported to the hospital via ambulance and sent home with pain killers and an anti-inflammatory. Both my friend and I are having shoulder... Read More.
I have an automobile accident insurance claim question. I was in my vehicle at a complete stop at a red light. My 19 year old son was on the passenger side and 3 of my grand kids (14, 8 & 4 yrs old) were in the back seat when a pickup truck plowed into the... Read More.
I was rear ended on the interstate by a woman going at least 60mph while I was at a stand still. I was pushed into the car stopped in front of me and got severe auto accident whiplash. The damage to my car is beyond totaled. The Kelly Blue Book value of my car is... Read More.
One day in February 2011 I was sitting at a stop light waiting for the light to change when I felt a rear end impact. I was hit from behind by someone driving approximately 35 to 40 mph. This vehicle hit me so hard that I hit the car in front of me. I have... Read More.
I was stopped at a red light when I was rear ended by a truck. It was a commercial food truck. I have a whiplash injury due to the accident. What type of settlement should I expect? Read More.
I was stopped in the road about to make a left turn when a car rear ended me. I’ve suffered from whiplash, post concussion, neck pain, back pain and headaches for 3 weeks now. I’ve been to the emergency room 3 times for these pains and I’m seeing a chiropractor for my neck and back.... Read More.
Another vehicle made a left hand turn at an intersection and struck my car, which received front end damage. The other vehicle’s driver’s insurance carrier accepted liability. The speed was less than 30mph. I sustained a neck injury which was treated with physical therapy and X-rays. The accident also aggravated a prior injury to my... Read More.
I was struck about 7 months ago from a car driving behind me. I attended physio twice a week for about 5 months. I had whiplash and severe muscle spasm in my back. My first offer was $9,000. I wanted somewhere around $1,200, I asked for $1,500, how much more can they offer if there... Read More.