Learn the Dos and Don’ts of whiplash injury claims to protect your rights and get full compensation from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.
Millions of Americans are injured in motor vehicle accidents every year, and a large percentage of those insurance claims are for neck injuries.
Insurance companies see whiplash injury claims every day. That doesn’t mean the companies pay those claims every day. On the contrary, insurance adjusters know all the tricks to avoid paying claimants.
If you want to get the maximum compensation for your neck injury, you need to know how to build a strong insurance claim. Just as important, you need to know how to avoid costly mistakes that will undermine your claim. This guide will help.
Signs and Symptoms of Whiplash
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). Neck injuries are common after a sudden jolting of the neck and shoulders. Whiplash happens most often in rear-end car accidents but can happen in almost any kind of collision.
Whiplash neck injuries happen when your head is violently and abruptly thrown backward and then forward from the impact of a car wreck, or other types of trauma.
The forceful whiplash motion can injure bones in the cervical spine, disks between the vertebrae, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and other soft tissues in the neck and back.
Symptoms of whiplash usually appear within a day of the accident, but some symptoms may crop up later.
Most common symptoms of whiplash are:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Increased pain with neck movement
- Inability to move the neck freely
- Pain in the upper back, shoulder, or arms
- Tingling or Numbness in arms
Some whiplash victims also experience:
- Blurred vision
- Ringing of the ears (tinnitus)
- Sleep problems
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
Most whiplash victims recover within a few weeks or months. Some people continue to suffer for years from severe pain, headaches, and physical limitations.
Those most likely to endure whiplash complications are people who had severe symptoms from the start, older adults, and accident victims who had a prior whiplash injury.
Immediate Medical Care is Critical to Your Claim
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, seek immediate medical attention. Failing to see a doctor the day of the crash can undermine your insurance claim.
A car accident is a traumatic event. The severity is just a matter of degree.
Protect Yourself After a Car Accident
Call 911 to report the accident and ask for help. Tell the dispatcher your location and that you’re injured. The dispatcher will also want to know if there are dangers at the scene, like leaking fuel or traffic problems.
Be careful what you say. Don’t tell the 911 dispatcher, the police, or anyone involved in the crash that you’re fine, that you’ll be okay, that you shouldn’t have stopped so fast, or any other comments that will come back to bite you.
Be careful what you do. Don’t try to push your car, pry apart bumpers, or any other activity that can worsen your injuries. Unless your activities are saving a life, they can hurt your insurance claim.
Seconds after a collision, your adrenal gland releases adrenaline and cortisol into your bloodstream. These hormones mask pain so your body can react to what the brain perceives as danger. You may be in agony before long.
Let the paramedics examine you. Refusing medical attention at the scene can sink your insurance claim.
Tell the paramedics how your body was jolted by the crash, if you hit your head, or slammed into your safety belts. Tell them about every symptom, no matter how mild. Don’t make excuses for your pain, like blaming it on old age or a prior injury.
This isn’t the time to be tough. Let rescue workers stabilize your neck and spine. If they want to transport you to the hospital, let them take you.
Have a full medical evaluation. If you aren’t taken directly to the hospital from the scene, you still need to be evaluated. If your doctor isn’t available the day of the crash, go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care center.
The faster you seek medical attention; the more credible and provable your claim will be. Refusing or delaying medical care for whiplash injuries can ruin your chance for compensation. The insurance adjuster will jump at the chance to deny your claim, arguing that your injuries weren’t caused by the accident.
Notify the insurance companies. You are obligated to notify your insurance company of a vehicle accident, no matter who was at fault. Your insurance company may be able to help you with immediate medical expenses and car repairs. Your insurer will also defend you if anyone in the crash files a lawsuit against you.
Put the other driver’s company on notice that you intend to file claims for personal injuries and property damage. It’s best to notify the other driver, as well.
Take advantage of our free sample Letter of Notification to an Insurance Company.
Choose Qualified Medical Professionals
A reputable, qualified physician should treat serious neck injuries. Most likely your first medical evaluation will be done by an emergency room doctor or your primary care physician. Many whiplash injuries are soft-tissue types of sprain and strains. You may be treated with over-the-counter meds, maybe some muscle relaxers, and told to rest a few days.
When your whiplash appears to be a limited soft-tissue injury, you may decide to see a chiropractor for follow-up care. Chiropractors use hands-on spinal manipulation and other alternative treatments to bring the spine back into “alignment.”
While many patients swear by the relief they’ve gotten from chiropractic care, be aware that insurance companies aren’t so impressed. The insurance company may not be willing to pay for weeks and months of chiropractic treatments.
If your whiplash symptoms start out severe or don’t improve in a few days, you will likely be sent for imaging studies, like a CT or MRI scan, and referred to a specialist.
Orthopedic doctors specialize in bone and joint injuries. Orthopedists are often called to treat trauma patients and sports injuries and are qualified to perform surgical procedures.
Depending on your symptoms, your neck injury may need to be evaluated by a neurologist – doctors who treat disorders of the brain and nervous system. For example, a neurologist can conduct nerve studies to determine if your injury has affected your arms or legs.
Watch Out for Insurance Scammers
A credible medical care provider is important for your claim. Questionable treatments and bills will hurt your claim and do nothing for your health and well-being.
The value of your insurance claim is based largely on the total of your medical bills. However, the insurance company is only required to accept reasonable costs for treatments that are in-line with approved “standards of care” as defined by the American Medical Association.
Don’t be influenced by medical clinics or doctors who advertise they can help you win your injury claim. Jacking up your medical costs with unnecessary tests and procedures won’t improve the value of your claim. In fact, it can backfire on you.
Insurance adjusters know about schemes to run up treatment bills. Padding medical and chiropractic bills is a common practice that insurance companies watch for. They don’t have to pay unreasonable medical costs, and they won’t. You may even owe money for excess bills the settlement didn’t cover.
Using reputable, independent physicians and chiropractors will help the adjuster take your claim seriously.
Beware of Insurance Company Doctors
When your qualified physician orders necessary medical tests and treatments for your neck injuries, it’s hard for the adjuster to disagree. Nonetheless, adjusters often question medical treatment, regardless of who ordered it.
Whiplash injuries don’t always show up on X-rays or scans. Diagnosis is based on the patient’s complaints of pain, stiffness, and other symptoms. Insurance companies tend to be suspicious of injury claims that can’t be objectively verified.
The adjuster may have doubts about your neck injury diagnosis or treatments, especially if you’ve been in treatment for months without improvement. When that happens, the adjuster will ask you to submit to an Independent Medical Exam (IME) with a doctor chosen by the insurance company.
Don’t let them bully you into an IME before exploring your options.
Insurance companies often resort to IMEs in car accident and workers comp cases when they want to limit or deny coverage for the claim. If the insurance company chooses a physician, it will be one who has consistently agreed with them.
The insurance company’s doctor is not interested in what’s best for you. Anything you do and say to the IME doctor or the office staff can be used against you. The IME doctor will not treat your pain or prescribe medications or therapy. The exam is mainly to see if you’re a liar and your treating physician is wrong about the extent of your whiplash injury.
The only time you have to agree 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. However, refusing to submit to an IME will make the adjuster that much more determined to limit your compensation.
Are you worried about an IME? You should be. Anytime an insurance company asks you to see a doctor they’ve selected; it’s because they want to challenge your injury claim. Don’t agree to anything until you’ve talked with a personal injury attorney about how to protect your right to compensation.
What You Need for a Strong Whiplash Claim
No one wants to battle 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.
A successful insurance claim requires good evidence to prove:
- The other driver caused the accident
- You suffered a whiplash injury in the accident
- The value of your neck injury claim
Start with the Accident Scene
Evidence to prove the other driver did something wrong or failed to drive responsibly can come from the accident scene. Crucial evidence of the at-fault driver’s liability includes:
Police report: Police on the accident scene will investigate the crash and file an official police report. The report will have diagrams of the crash, the officer’s opinion of fault, witness information, and details of any citations issued. Police reports heavily influence insurance adjusters.
It helps to understand the laws in your area. Look for your location on our Car Accident Guides and Relevant Laws by State.
Witness statements: The police report may have witness statements. You or your attorney can reach out to known witnesses to obtain detailed written statements.
Witness accounts can be extremely helpful to your claim, especially if they saw the other driver doing something wrong, like texting before the crash. Sometimes witnesses hear admissions of fault from the other driver, like “I’m sorry, I only looked away for a minute!”
Photographs: Any videos or photographs taken at the accident scene can be very helpful to your claim. Pictures and video footage of vehicle wreckage, accident victims, and impaired drivers can be very compelling evidence.
Film footage of the accident may have been captured on security cameras from local businesses. You might get a business owner to give you a copy of footage from their security camera, or your attorney may have to issue a subpoena.
Continue Adding Crucial Evidence to Your Claim
You’ll need to prove your neck was injured in the accident, how the injury has limited your daily activities, and the cost and necessity of your medical care.
Medical records: Medical costs are a large part of any settlement calculation. Collect all your medical bills and records from the emergency room, your primary care provider, medical specialists, and physical therapy. The records of treatment will link your whiplash injury to the accident, document the physical effects of your injury, and validate the time it’s taking you to recover.
Be sure to save all receipts for out-of-pocket expenses like medicines, cervical collars, heating pads, and topical treatments. Track your mileage and parking fees for trips to the doctor or therapy.
The insurance adjuster will want copies of your records. Always keep the originals and send copies.
You’ll be asked to sign a medical release so that the insurance company can get your bills and records directly from your medical providers. Carefully review any forms provided by the insurance company. Know your rights before signing anything.
Don’t sign a general medical release. The insurance company has no right to your private medical history before the accident. They have no right to any non-whiplash related medical or pharmacy records after the crash, either.
Only sign a medical release that specifically limits the insurance company to records after the accident date, and only from providers who treated your whiplash injury. Talk to an attorney about your rights, especially if the adjuster threatens to deny your claim if you won’t sign their form.
Vehicle damage: Be ready to provide pictures of your car after the collision. Get good photographs of the damages to your vehicle.
Keep copies of the repair bills listing the damage to your car. Insurance adjusters know that even low-speed impacts can cause whiplash injuries. Adjusters also know that the more damage to your car, the higher the likelihood of a more severe neck injury.
The police report may also indicate the estimated speed of the cars at the time of the crash.
Journaling: As soon as possible after the crash, write down what you were doing before the collision, what happened during the crash, and everything you remember afterward. Continue to make detailed notes on a regular basis about your whiplash diagnosis, your pain and other symptoms, and how the injury is affecting daily life.
Your diary of life after the crash can be important evidence of your limitations, and justify your demand for pain and suffering.
Include entries that show when you needed help from friends or relatives. Write about when you needed help to get dressed, bathe, wash your hair or anything else that changed because of the injury.
Most whiplash claims settle without the need for litigation. But just in case your claim ends up in court, don’t write anything you wouldn’t want to explain to a judge.
When an Attorney Can Boost Your Compensation
Many whiplash injury claims can be negotiated successfully without the help of an attorney.
If you’ve recovered from a mild soft-tissue injury, you should be able to calculate a fair amount of compensation by totaling your medical costs, out-of-pocket expenses, and a few weeks of lost wages. Add one or two times that amount for pain and suffering.
Then send a demand letter with enclosed copies of your bills, costs, and a wage statement from your employer.
Look like a pro when you ask for compensation using this sample Whiplash Injury Demand Letter.
Some neck injuries are more severe and potentially debilitating. If you’re suffering from a serious or complicated whiplash injury, you’ll need a personal injury attorney to get anywhere near the amount of compensation you deserve.
Insurance companies aggressively fight whiplash claims that involve high medical costs and potential long-term disability. Adjusters are notorious for making “take it or leave it” offers to whiplash victims who are not represented by an attorney. They know you probably won’t have the legal savvy or the energy to fight for more money.
There’s too much at stake with a complicated injury claim. Don’t risk facing the insurance company alone. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what a skilled personal injury attorney can do for you.
Video: Critical Tips for Whiplash Injury Claims
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