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.
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