Auto Accident Whiplash Injuries

by | Mar 10, 2023

Much of the following information is derived from an article in the Chinese Journal of Traumatology 2009.

Whiplash injuries are generally considered soft tissue injuries of the neck with symptoms such as neck pain and stiffness, shoulder weakness, dizziness, headache, and memory loss. 

Three Stages of Neck Injury

Based on studies, three distinct periods have the potential to cause injury to the neck. 

In the first stage, flexural deformation of the neck is observed, along with a loss of the cervical natural curve.

In the second stage, the cervical spine assumes an S-shaped curve as the lower neck vertebrae begin to extend and gradually cause the upper neck vertebrae to extend.

During the final stage, the entire neck is extended due to the extension at both ends.

Whiplash Injuries Most Common in Rear-End Auto Accidents

The most common injuries in rear-end motor vehicle accidents are neck injuries, commonly called “whiplash” injuries. These injuries are also referred to as “acceleration/deceleration” injuries.  

Other lingo is also used, but whatever the moniker, most people know this injury as “whiplash.”

What are the more specific mechanics of whiplash injuries? 

Let’s look at this common injury from a timeline progression. In the first stage, upon impact from the rear in the first 100 milliseconds, flexural deformation of the neck occurs with a loss of cervical lordosis (normal curvature of the spine.) 

The initial curve of the neck at 20 milliseconds becomes straight. After 50 milliseconds, the upper and lower cervical (neck) spine is subjected to a flexion (curving) moment. The shear force is transmitted initially through the lower neck levels and eventually through the upper neck levels but does not reach the top end of the cervical spine. The force then changes from compressive to tensile (stretching) at about the 60-millisecond mark.

In the second stage, from 100 milliseconds to 130 milliseconds, the cervical spine assumes an S-shaped curve as the lower neck vertebrae begin to extend and gradually cause the upper vertebrae to extend.  

Eventually, the neck becomes straightened from its proper normal curvature. An extension moment acts at the lower neck vertebrae, while a flexion moment acts at the upper neck levels. Shear forces act at all levels, along with a stretching axial force.

Finally, During the last stage, after 130 milliseconds, the entire neck is in extension moments at both ends. Shear forces and stretching forces continue to act at all levels.  

The shear forces throughout the loading phase may subject the lower facet joints (joints between vertebrae at the back of the spine) to locally compress and slide along the joint. The rear-most regions of the joint compress more than the front-most regions, exhibiting a “pinching” mechanism.  

Excessive joint compression/sliding may also induce pain if these joints contain pain-sensitive structures (nerves.)

What does all this mean? “OUCH!”

All this means that ligaments connecting your vertebrae to each other, holding them together, and providing flexibility become overstretched and sprained/strained.  

Depending on the forces incurred, the age of the person, the preconditions of the person, the gender of the person, and the initial position of the person’s neck (facing forward or turned in another direction), these injuries can be temporary or lead to permanent disabilities.

Let’s relate this to pursuing damages for a rear-end motor vehicle accident.

“Soft tissue” whiplash neck injuries most frequently do not show objective (seeable) findings on an x-ray or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging.)  

Ex-rays mostly only show bony structures, and an MRI can reveal much more but still cannot usually detect ligament sprains/strains.  

Most commonly, these injuries can only be documented through medical records of the patient’s complaints of pain, stiffness, headaches, shoulder pain, etc. If medical records do not reflect complaints of neck pain, etcetera, then an insurance company adjusting the claim will conclude that there was no such injury. 

So, what do you need to do if you have been in a rear-end motor vehicle accident? 

Good guess. Get checked out medically, and make sure to express to your medical provider any such pains, even if not extreme at the moment.  

Also, if the pain persists for several days, you must return to your doctor.  Your doctor should take over the course of treatment at that point.  

Such treatment may include pain medicines, muscle spasm medicines, physical therapy, and/or chiropractic treatment. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist if treatment does not resolve your issues within a reasonable time.

Two problems cause trouble getting an insurance company to pay for “soft tissue” injuries: 

  1. Delays in treatment
  2. Gaps in treatment.  

Such problems are the death knell for recovering what you deserve because of someone else’s negligence resulting in you having chronic pain and functional limitations.

When do you need legal help after being rear-ended?

If you have had a soft tissue neck injury in a rear-end car accident, then shortly thereafter, you need legal guidance.

Don’t delay! At Garrison Law Firm, we have helped clients dealing with soft tissue, neck, and back injuries more times than we can count.  

Whether you have health insurance, auto policy medical payment insurance coverage, or no insurance at all, we at Garrison Law Firm can guide you through the treatment process to protect your rights.  

For those without any insurance, we can frequently get your treatments and testing done at low costs and without you paying upfront. 

Many medical providers will treat you under the condition that they get paid upon your settlement directly from our firm from your settlement proceeds. That is the best of both worlds in that you get the treatment that maximizes your chances of complete recovery without paying upfront.

What does legal representation do for you?  “Claim Stage”

Initially, we try to settle your case in the “claim stage.” This means opening a claim with the appropriate insurance company without filing a lawsuit.  

If a settlement can be had at this stage, it will save you much in expenses and in attorney fees. We will represent you on a “contingent fee basis,” which means you only pay us if we get a settlement or verdict for you, and that fee is a percentage of the gross settlement or verdict. 

This means the more you get, the more we get. 

How does Garrison Law Firm Represent You in a Rear-End Auto Accident?

First, we notify the negligent party or his or her auto insurance company that we represent you. 

This will stop the insurance adjuster from calling you about your injuries. This is important because “everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,” just like talking to the police in a criminal matter.

The less you say to the personal injury claims adjuster, the better.  

There is only one thing you should tell that adjuster, “Give me your claim number, your name, and phone number, and I’ll have my lawyer contact you.” 

If there are witnesses, then we chase getting their statements at this time. If there is a need for accident reconstruction, then this is the time to do that. Most rear-end accidents don’t result in a liability debate, though.

Secondly, we will explain your rights to you and introduce you to the procedure we will go through together with you. 

Most likely, you have never been in this position before and have some anxiety about how to proceed.  Let our legal team step in and lead you down the personal injury claims path. It is a path we are very familiar with, and we know the potholes, pitfalls, and trapdoors that await the unwary. 

Again, don’t delay!

Next, we follow you and your treatment and compile medical records of your treatments.  

Your only duties here are to follow your medical providers’ course of treatment and to keep us informed of the names of the providers with whom you treat.

Once you are done treating, we gather all your medical records and review them in detail to determine the value of your claim. Many things go into that valuation, but it generally starts with a review of your medical records and compiling your medical expenses.

If you appear to have some permanent functional impairment and/or lingering physical pain, we will endeavor to support those findings in the best way possible and attempt to quantify such limitations.

If you suffered lost income, we would secure that information from your employer.  Self-employed persons suffer more difficulty in proving lost income, but we know how to document such losses.

Once our review and research of your case are complete, we will consult with you to arrive at an initial demand amount to initiate settlement negotiations.  

Case settlement is a process of negotiation, so you need to be aware that the insurance company is usually not going to pay based on your first demand. Our personal injury team has negotiated thousands upon thousands of soft tissue injury cases, so we can enlighten you on the likely reasonable settlement range.

Litigation – Filing a Lawsuit in a Rear-end Auto Accident

If the insurance company will not offer a reasonable settlement, the next step is to file a lawsuit in court.  

You only have two (2) years from the date of your rear-end accident in which to file a lawsuit, or your case will be time-barred.  

Again, time is of the essence, so you need to secure an auto accident lawyer quickly. Once a suit is filed, there is no more worry about your rights being automatically terminated.

In the beginning of this litigation stage, there will likely be “paper discovery” done by you, the plaintiff, and by us, your counsel, and by the defendant(s) by their counsel. 

We will work with you to answer the discovery requested of you in the form of interrogatories (written questions) and request for the production of documents relevant to your claim. 

Once this stage is mostly complete, the defendant’s counsel will want to take your deposition in our office. This is where the lawyer asks you questions, and the questions and your answers are recorded by a private court reporter who will compile that testimony into a physical document.

Generally, once this is completed, the court will require that the parties try to settle the case. This is done at a “mediation.” 

“Mediation” is a term meaning a dedicated settlement conference. A mediator is chosen and hired by the parties, and a day or half-day is scheduled for the parties to try to resolve the case with an agreed settlement. 

The mediator should not be confused with an arbitrator. An arbitrator decides a case, whereas a mediator only acts as a go-between to facilitate settlement.

If the parties agree to a settlement, then the case is over.  If they disagree, the litigation process continues and can potentially result in a jury trial on the case’s merits.

At Garrison Law Firm, the expenses of your case are your responsibility but are paid by our firm on your behalf until those expenses are reimbursed from your settlement or verdict.

The above only gives you a basic outline of the process and only a few of the rules of that road.  

There are thousands of rules in the litigation process that must be followed. Call us now at Garrison Law Firm so we can guide you and your case to the best possible outcome. Call 317-842-8283.