One of the most common injuries associated with motor vehicle accidents is whiplash, which affects the head and neck and causes debilitating pain and stiffness.
Whiplash can keep you out of work and require expensive medical care and physical therapy to treat.
But if you suffered whiplash because of an accident that someone else caused, you might have a legal claim to recover compensation for your injuries.
The value of your whiplash injury in a lawsuit may depend on the severity of your injury, the cost of your medical care, and the effects on your earnings.
Understanding Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash is an injury to the head, neck, and upper shoulders. Although medical science still does not fully understand the mechanisms that cause whiplash, the injury usually results from trauma to muscles, tendons, ligaments, spinal discs, and nerves in the neck and upper shoulders.
Whiplash causes symptoms that typically last several weeks and improve with treatment. However, some cases can cause chronic neck pain or other prolonged complications.
Some of the most common symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck pain or stiffness
- Increased pain triggered by movement
- Reduced range of motion in the neck
- Persistent headaches, usually emanating from the base of the skull
- Pain or tenderness in the shoulders, upper back, or arms
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Concentration or memory problems
The Mechanism Behind Whiplash
Whiplash occurs when a person’s head and neck violently snap back and forth or side to side in a whipping motion that gives the injury its name.
Any sudden acceleration or deceleration can cause rapid jerking of the head and neck. This motion can damage soft tissues in the head, neck, upper back, and shoulders, causing pain, tenderness, or stiffness until the tissues heal. This damage might also cause inflammation that worsens symptoms of whiplash.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Whiplash
Unfortunately, whiplash often evades imaging tests. Even if they suspect whiplash, doctors may still order X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to rule out other injuries or medical conditions that cause the same symptoms, such as bone fractures, dislocations, herniated discs, or torn ligaments/tendons.
Doctors will also perform physical exams to diagnose whiplash by checking your range of motion, feeling for tenderness or pain, and testing your strength and sensation.
Treatment for whiplash usually involves pain management and physical therapy to reduce pain, tenderness, or stiffness and improve range of motion and strength in the neck and arms.
Pain management may include:
- Hot/cold compresses
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Prescription pain medication/muscle relaxers
- Lidocaine injections
A doctor or physical therapist may also prescribe stretching or movement exercises to restore strength and range of motion or recommend outpatient physical therapy.
In some cases, injury victims may undergo surgery to repair disc herniations or relieve nerve pressure to alleviate the symptoms of a whiplash injury.
Proving Someone Else Caused Your Whiplash
To recover compensation for a whiplash injury you suffered in an accident, your attorney must establish several facts.
- First, they must show that someone else caused the accident.
- Next, they must show the injury you suffered is real and has harmed your life in specific ways.
- Finally, they must prove that the injury happened as a direct result of the accident.
Evidence may prove fault for the accident, such as:
- Police crash reports
- Accident/incident reports
- Accident scene photos/videos
- Surveillance/traffic camera footage
- Vehicle event data recorder (“black box”) logs
- Eyewitness testimony
- Accident reconstruction expert reports and testimony
Your attorney will also need compelling medical evidence to prove that you’ve sustained a whiplash injury and suffered that injury in the accident. This is where your attorney’s skill and experience come into play. The imaging tests used to prove other injuries like broken bones or torn ligaments/tendons typically will not show signs of whiplash.
Instead, your lawyer can rely on other medical evidence, such as:
- Medical records of treatment you sought after the accident
- Your treating provider’s notes
- Results of physical examinations
- Reports and testimony from independent medical experts who’ve examined you
What Can Your Whiplash-related Compensation Cover?
The amount of money you might recover for a whiplash injury will depend on the financial and personal losses you’ve incurred due to that injury.
Your compensation could cover:
- Costs of medical treatment or rehabilitation, including visits to the emergency room/urgent care clinic/doctor’s office, prescription pain medications, pain management care (including lidocaine or trigger point injections), and physical therapy
- Loss of income if you miss time from work while treating your whiplash or injuries
- Physical pain, emotional distress, and reduced quality of life
While your attorney can calculate your medical expenses and lost income via bills, invoices, receipts, and pay stubs/income statements, quantifying your pain and suffering is a more subjective process.
Your lawyer may seek testimony from your treating providers and medical experts to explain the physical limitations imposed by your whiplash injury. They might also rely on your testimony or testimony from family members, friends, and co-workers regarding your injury’s restrictions on your life.
Factors Affecting Financial Recovery for Whiplash
The amount of compensation you could receive for whiplash depends on:
- The severity of your injury: An accident victim who sustains a severe whiplash injury could recover more compensation in a legal claim or lawsuit. Whiplash victims who experience additional injury complications, such as nerve damage or cervical spinal injury, may have a stronger claim for compensation.
- The type of medical care you receive: The duration and expense of medical care for a whiplash injury will also affect the value of your claim. Undergoing more intensive treatment like trigger point injections or physical therapy could entitle you to more substantial compensation to reimburse you for that care.
- Whether you need future medical care: You might recover more money if your evidence shows that you will need additional medical care after your injury case ends.
- Whether your whiplash affects your job or earning potential: The more time you missed from work, the more lost earnings you deserve compensation for. Furthermore, if you needed to temporarily transfer to a lower-paying modified-duty role due to the medical restrictions imposed by your whiplash injury, your compensation could make up the difference between your current income and the income you should have made.
- The availability of insurance coverage or other financial resources to compensate you: Your financial recovery might depend in part on the policy limits of applicable insurance coverage or the financial resources of the liable party or parties.
Challenges to Overcome When Pursuing Compensation for Whiplash
Unfortunately, many whiplash victims struggle to recover fair compensation for their injuries. Medical experts still poorly understand the mechanism behind whiplash or what kind of prognosis a particular whiplash case might have. As such, proving the existence of a whiplash injury and the effect it has on a claimant’s life can become a complex process.
Moreover, insurance companies sometimes conveniently disbelieve claimants who say they have suffered a whiplash injury, or discount the severity of such an injury. They might argue that a whiplash injury doesn’t require intensive treatment like pain management injections, physical therapy, or surgery.
When imaging tests don’t reveal structural damage, they can point to this as evidence that no underlying injury exists, regardless of the very real pain and limitations the claimant might experience.
Insurers and the medical experts they hire might try to connect a claimant’s symptoms to pre-existing injuries or degenerative conditions. Adjusters might ask a claimant to sign a medical release allowing the insurance company access to the claimant’s medical history.
If they subsequently find evidence of prior injury or degenerative conditions, such as complaints about neck, upper back, or shoulder pain from before the accident, the company will cite that evidence as proof that a claimant hasn’t suffered a whiplash injury.
Insurers fight hard to avoid liability for any claim they think they shouldn’t have to pay, and the medical uncertainty over whiplash presents just the excuse they need to deny an otherwise valid claim.
An injured victim may need substantial evidence and an experienced personal injury lawyer to prove their injury’s existence and connect it to the accident.
How Legal Representation Can Help with Your Whiplash Case
Given the challenges of recovering compensation for a whiplash injury in an insurance or legal claim, accident victims should not pursue financial relief alone.
An experienced personal injury attorney can improve their chances of successfully recovering compensation for their medical care, lost income, and pain and suffering.
Here are some of the specific benefits of hiring an attorney to handle your whiplash case.
- Your attorney can investigate your claim: An experienced personal injury lawyer knows how to investigate the accident that caused your whiplash to secure evidence showing who is to blame.
- A lawyer can document your injury and ongoing/future expenses: Your attorney understands what kinds of evidence, records, and expert testimony can establish that you’ve suffered whiplash and link your injury to the accident.
- An attorney can identify liable parties and legal options for financial recovery: A lawyer can identify the parties responsible for your injuries, the full range of their effects, and the avenues for obtaining compensation, such as insurance policies or personal assets. That way, they pursue maximum compensation on your behalf. Whiplash victims who handle their own cases often leave valuable money lying on the negotiating table.
- Your lawyer can file your claim and deal with the insurance companies for you: While you focus on treatment and rehabilitation, let your personal injury attorney deal with insurance adjusters. Your lawyer can protect your rights and interests from the tactics these companies deploy to minimize your financial recovery.
- A personal injury lawyer can vigorously pursue compensation for you: Whether through a settlement or at trial, your attorney can advocate for the compensation you need effectively, aggressively, and at no upfront cost to you.
You Deserve Compensation for a Whiplash Injury Someone Else Caused
Whiplash is one of the most common injuries people suffer in accidents, especially motor vehicle crashes. Some people recover from a whiplash injury within a few weeks or months. However, many whiplash victims require extensive medical care, such as pain management and physical therapy. In some cases, whiplash can lead to chronic pain and physical limitations.
If you suffered a whiplash injury for which someone else is to blame, they might owe you compensation for your medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering.
The value of your financial recovery depends on the severity of your injury, the type of medical care you receive, and whether whiplash affects your ability to work.
However, insurers can make it challenging for whiplash injury victims to get the financial recovery they need and deserve. That’s because whiplash injuries do not always appear on X-rays or MRIs, which gives insurance companies the excuse to discount the severity of these injuries and the effects they have on their victims.
An experienced personal injury attorney can help you fight back against their tactics and seek financial recovery for your injury and losses. They can do so by investigating your claim and building a compelling case with evidence from the accident, medical records, and expert testimony to explain the nature of your whiplash injury and prove that it occurred due to another party’s fault.