DAMAGES IN AUTO ACCIDENT CASE
Auto accidents can cause a myriad of injuries and damages. The most common injuries are soft tissue injuries, popularly referred to as a “whiplash.” The symptoms of a whiplash injury are serious and disabling, but a victim can embellish the symptoms and make complaints to the doctors that do not truly exist. Insurance adjusters and juries are often biased to believe all whiplash injuries are imagined and not genuine. If the severity of the injuries does not match up with the severity of the damage done to the victim’s car, insurance adjusters and juries have a hard time believing the victim is seriously injured. For example, if the victim claims serious whiplash injury and the damage to the rear of his/her car is minimal, it will be very difficult to convince the insurance adjuster or a jury that the victim sustained the claimed injuries in the auto accident.
The mechanism of a whiplash is the sudden acceleration-deceleration of the head or the upper torso. In a rear-end collision, the passengers’ bodies and their cars are accelerated forward while their head remains still. The head remaining still is bent rearward with respect to the car and their body, and then the head gets whipped forward from having been rearward. That whip like action of the head can tear ligaments, tendons, muscles, and disks in the cervical spine or lumbar spine. In some cases, vertebra can sustain fractures.
When one tears ligaments, tendons, muscles, and disks in the cervical spine or lumbar spine, the whole area goes into spasm to protect the tears. The muscle spasms force the spine to become misaligned. When that happens, there is extreme pain and limitation of mobility.
When the injury occurs, the victim does not really notice it. The interval between the occurrence of the injury and the spine being pulled out of alignment by muscle spasm usually takes from 24 to 48 hours. Many victims go home thinking they are not hurt. The next day is a different story: they cannot get out of bed or move their head or bend their back.
A trip to the doctor usually results in x-rays to rule out fractures and an examination to confirm the spasms. The victim usually gets muscle relaxants and pain medication and told to wait and see what happens next.
What happens next depends on many factors, including but not limited to the victim’s age, physical condition, and the seriousness of the injury. No two are identical, but they all follow certain patterns.
Once there are tears in ligaments, tendons, or muscles in the cervical spine or lumbar spine, those tears heal by forming scar tissue. The spinal alignment may never return to the pre-accident condition. There may be lingering pain and limitation of motion for the rest of the victim’s life. There may have been a tear in a disk. Scar tissue or protruding disk material may press against a nerve root or the spinal cord, causing pain, weakness, or numbness down into a leg or an arm, which may necessitate treatment ranging from epidural steroid injections to nerve root decompression surgery.
A victim may have a pre-existing bad back or neck, and the injuries from the auto accident may worsen and aggravate the pre-existing condition.
The challenge for the victim’s lawyer is to document the injuries by obtaining all of the medical records, billing records, and diagnostic imaging studies that prove the existence of the injuries. The documentation is essentially the opinion of physicians. If a board-certified spinal specialist has done a thorough workup with proper and complete documentation, such documentation is usually more credible and given more weight than if all the treatment and documentation is from a chiropractor or a family practice doctor.