Filing a Claim for a Whiplash Injury After a Car Accident

It can be challenging to get fair compensation for whiplash injuries after a car accident; here's how to boost your chance of a good result.

Whiplash is an injury to the neck that often results from the head moving abruptly and forcefully in a back-and-forth motion. It's one of the more common car accident injuries because upon impact, the head is free to move while the rest of the body remains relatively stationary due to positioning in the seat and the use of seat belts.

Despite their prevalence, it's often difficult to get fair compensation for whiplash-related injuries, especially when this is the sole type of harm suffered by a car accident claimant. In order to position your claim for the best possible result, it's best to take the following steps immediately after a car accident:

  • get medical treatment as soon as possible
  • notify your insurance company of the accident to start the claims process, and
  • gather all relevant evidence and document everything, including medical care.

How to Identify Whiplash Symptoms After a Car Accident

The best way to tell if you have whiplash after a car accident is to see a medical professional as soon as you can, at the first hint of pain or discomfort, especially if you're experiencing any of the following:

  • neck pain
  • stiffness of the neck
  • difficulty sleeping
  • shoulder pain
  • concentration, memory, or other cognitive difficulties
  • blurred vision
  • dizziness
  • lower back pain
  • pain or numbness in the arm or hands
  • irritability
  • fatigue, and
  • ringing in the ears.

Get Medical Attention as Soon as Possible

Soft-tissue and whiplash car accident injuries will often first present themselves as a mild discomfort. Only a few hours or a few days later do they become more painful. If you wait too long to get medical help for your whiplash injury, it can make things worse for you in several ways.

First, it might make it harder for the doctor to diagnose your injury, depending on how much time passed between the medical visit and the accident. The more time passes, the likely something else could contribute to your whiplash injury. So the doctor will need to take extra steps to try and rule out non-accident causes for your injury.

Second, it can make it more difficult to successfully file a whiplash claim with an insurance company. This is particularly true if you're filing a claim with the other driver's car insurance company. The longer you wait to get medical help, the more likely the insurance company will suspect that you're either making up the whiplash injury or it's not as bad as you say it is.

Learn more about the importance of seeing a doctor ASAP after a car accident.

Notify Your Car Insurance Company of the Accident

Contact your car insurance company and let them know about the accident as soon as possible. If you're in a no-fault state, you'll only contact your own car insurance company concerning your whiplash injuries.

In other states, you can choose to contact the other driver's car insurance company directly. If taking this latter approach, make sure you do so in writing, such as by email. This creates a document trail that could prove useful if you have to take legal action against the other driver or the other driver's car insurance company.

Despite the option of contacting the at-fault driver's insurance company, be sure to contact your own car insurance company after any kind of accident. They will be less adversarial with you and can assist you through the claims process. If you decide to file a third-party claim, they will explain how to make a claim for your whiplash injury with the at-fault driver's car insurance company.

As for when you notify the insurance company, you should do so as soon as possible. Ideally, this will be the same day as the accident, but depending on how bad the accident is, it's understandable if it takes a few days to let them know.

If you have an agent, you can also contact them first. They will then contact your car insurance company for you. But after this initial report, you'll likely have to speak directly with your car insurance company at some point during the claim or investigation process.

The sooner you notify your car insurance company of the whiplash injury, the better. It means you can get reimbursement faster and reduces the chances of your insurance company finding a reason to deny your claim.

In some car insurance policies, there's no set deadline to file a claim or report an accident. However, car insurance companies will have provisions in their policies that require policyholders and claimants to notify the insurer of the accident or claim within a reasonable amount of time and in a manner that doesn't prejudice the insurance company.

For example, waiting too long to report the accident means it'll be more difficult for the claims adjuster to investigate your claim. Witnesses could be harder to find and evidence might get destroyed.

Finally, don't forget the psychological aspect of a late report. If a claim gets filed late for no apparent reason, it's easy for the insurance company to approach the claim as a situation where the policyholder is throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks.

Gather Evidence and Document Medical Expenses

When you're making a car insurance claim, the insurance company will need more than just your word about how the accident and your injuries have affected you. When you submit your claim, you'll want to provide the claims adjuster with exact amounts concerning the expenses you incurred due to the accident, and any other (less quantifiable) effects. This means documenting:

  • lost wages
  • medical bills
  • miles driven for medical treatments
  • out-of-pocket prescription drug costs
  • insurance co-pays and deductibles, and
  • the day to day impact of the accident and your injuries.

Not all of these will be applicable in all whiplash insurance claims, but if there are any expenses or lost earning opportunities because of your whiplash injury, you need to document it somehow. Even if there are no documents to support an expense, write it down, noting the time and date of the expense, as well as the reason for it.

When You May Need to File a Lawsuit for a Whiplash Injury

If the car insurance company doesn't reimburse you for your expenses relating to the whiplash injury during the claims settlement process, or doesn't recognize and fairly compensate your physical and mental pain and suffering, you may need to consider taking your case to court by filing a car accident lawsuit.

Sometimes, the two sides are too far apart on claim value, or on fault for the accident. In other situations, there might be no rational basis for denying your claim or refusing to make a fair settlement offer.

In any case, before deciding to file a car accident lawsuit, it's a good idea to contact a car accident lawyer so you can make an informed decision on what to do next.

What Next?

Often, just putting your case in the hands of a lawyer will be enough to resolve the matter. A lawyer calling an adjuster is sometimes enough to convince the insurance company to take a second look at your claim and properly settle it. And if it doesn't, your attorney will be familiar with your case and will already have everything in place to file a car accident lawsuit.

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