The story is fairly common. You have a minor accident and walk away. Maybe you wake up the next morning a little stiff. Weeks or even months after this “minor” car accident, you start to develop back pain, weakness in your muscles and joints, neurological symptoms, or even partial paralysis. These long-term injuries could be from that “minor” car accident. So, what can you do? This article looks at seemingly minor injuries after a car accident, and how to protect yourself.
Injuries are not Always Immediately Evident
In most car accidents, regardless of the severity of the impact, the driver’s and passengers’ bodies will be jolted and jostled in various directions, all while being restrained by a seat belt -- a safety device that saves countless lives but can still take its own toll on the human body during an accident.
Maybe the accident just left a few dents and scrapes on the vehicles, or perhaps there’s no sign of damage at all. Often, people who have been in a car accident equate minor vehicle damage with minor physical injuries. The driver and/or passengers may not experience any immediate symptoms given the adrenaline of the accident. However, they often awake the next day stiff and in pain. Even then, they may just take some over-the-counter medication and go about their lives, unaware of the severity of the injury their bodies may have sustained.
Document Your Injuries
No injury from a car accident should be ignored. Even if the damage to your vehicle is minor and even if you have only aches and pains, consult a physician and document your medical condition. Ask your physician if x-rays are indicated.
Take pictures of your bruises and any other physical signs of injury, and take pictures of your damaged vehicle. You know the old saying: “One picture is worth a thousand words.” Not only will pictures corroborate the accident, but they may later be used by an expert to establish a causal connection between the accident and any long-term injuries that you may develop.
Learn more: Tips for Taking Car Accident Scene Photos.
Finally, in any discussions with an insurance adjuster (whether it’s an agent from your own insurance company or from the other driver’s carrier), be sure to mention any physical discomfort or symptoms of injury you’re experiencing, no matter how minor they may seem at the time. Getting any injury (even a potential one) or physical effects from the accident on record as soon as possible is one of the best ways to protect your legal rights down the road. (Tips on Contacting Your Car Insurance Company After a Car Accident.)
Don’t Give Up Your Legal Rights
At first, when your injuries may appear to be minor, you probably won’t be thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit or an insurance claim for physical harm.
Don't fall into the trap of complacency. What appear to be minor injuries at the time of the accident may in fact cause debilitating and even life-long health problems. You should, at the very least, have a heightened awareness of what’s going on with your body in the days after a car accident, and document any pain or discomfort rather than ignore it.
This way, if your condition worsens and you have the documentation to support a causal connection between the accident and your injuries, you’ll be able to receive compensation for even a long-term debilitating condition -- everything from past and future medical expenses to lost income and pain and suffering damages.
Watch the Statute of Limitations
Finally, if you’ve suffered any kind of injury or negative health effects from a car accident, be mindful of the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in your state. These are state laws that set a time limit on how long a person has to file a lawsuit after suffering some kind of harm. For car accident lawsuits, in some states you have as little as one year after the accident to file your lawsuit in court. If you miss the deadline imposed by the statute of limitations, you’ll likely lose your right to file a lawsuit over the accident and recover for your injuries.
The lesson here: For even the slightest injury after a car accident, if the deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit is approaching, it may be wise to file your case now, even before the extent of your injuries is fully known. Better to be safe than to forever lose your right to receive compensation for your injuries.