Whiplash, Car Accidents and Settlement Value

If you've suffered whiplash-type injuries after a car accident, it's important to document and legitimize those injuries in order to get a fair settlement from the insurance company.

Since every car accident claim is different, it’s not always easy to predict what kind of settlement you can expect to receive after a whiplash or neck strain injury -- not without knowing the specific facts of your case. But it is possible to explain some of the factors that go into valuing a car accident settlement, and some of the key issues that crop up in cases involving whiplash-type injuries in particular. Read on for the details.

What is Whiplash?

First, it helps to understand what we’re talking about when we use the term “whiplash,” which has for decades now been steadily falling out of favor in both the medical and legal realms.

In a car accident, when muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the neck are suddenly and powerfully contracted -- due to the unexpected force of even a seemingly minor collision -- this connective tissue can stretch unusually far. The resulting neck sprains and neck strains can result in a “soft tissue injury” that is sometimes called "hyperflexion” or “hyperextension," more commonly known as "whiplash."

The main symptoms of whiplash-type injuries include:

  • neck or upper back pain or stiffness
  • shoulder pain or stiffness
  • headache
  • dizziness, and
  • a burning or itching sensation in the neck, shoulders, or arms.

More severe whiplash-type injuries might be accompanied by memory loss, difficulty in concentration, sleep disturbances, or fatigue.

Proving Whiplash and Getting Medical Treatment

Whiplash-type injuries are very common after a car accident, but they’re also problematic from an injury claim perspective. That’s because, like all soft tissue injuries, they do not typically show up on X-rays, MRIs, and other diagnostic tests. That doesn’t mean whiplash-type injuries are any less legitimate or any less painful than other types of car accident injuries. But it does mean that if you are experiencing pain, discomfort, limited movement, stiffness, or any other symptoms of neck injury, it’s important to get medical attention.

Obviously, getting proper medical treatment for your injuries is essential to your health and well-being. But it’s also critical for any injury-related insurance claim you make after a car accident. An insurance adjuster isn’t going to just take you at your word when you say that you are injured, and then cut you a check. All of your losses need to be documented as much as possible. And if you can produce medical records and bills that show the type and extent of medical treatment you received after the car accident, that will go a long way toward legitimizing your injuries.

What Is a Whiplash Case Worth?

It's important to note that damages in a whiplash case are usually on the smaller side. If your injury has been diagnosed as whiplash or neck strain or sprain, it is not generally a severe injury. Whiplash does not generally involve an injury to the intervertebral disks.

So, your claim may not be a big one, but how do you value a car accident case? The first thing to do is to add up your economic damages. Let’s say, for example, that you have $4,000 of medical bills and $1,000 of lost earnings. So, your economic damages are $5,000. That's the first main category of car accident damages to calculate. The second major category is non-economic damages, which includes compensation for pain and suffering.

How to Value Pain and Suffering In a Whiplash Case

This is the big question in a whiplash case. You may have heard or read about a "multiplier" in personal injury cases, meaning that insurance companies calculate pain and suffering as being worth some multiple of your economic damages. The multiplier could be anywhere from 1.5 to 4.

But the multiplier concept is accurate only up to a point. If your case went to trial, the jury would not use a multiplier. In reality, there are so many other factors that increase or decrease a damages award at trial that it probably doesn't make sense to rely too much on the multiplier concept. These factors include:

  • whether the plaintiff is a good or bad witness
  • whether the plaintiff is believable
  • whether the jury understands the plaintiff’s injuries, and
  • the nature and extent of the plaintiff’s medical treatment.

Who the plaintiff treats with is also very important. If the vast majority of the plaintiff’s medical bills are for treatment like physical therapy or chiropractic treatment, as opposed to physician’s or hospital bills, juries (and insurance companies) are likely to discount the plaintiff’s injuries. Juries and insurers tend to believe that, if someone was really injured, they would be seeing doctors, not therapists or chiropractors.

So, to take our earlier example, if your medical bills were $4,000, but $3,800 came from physical therapy, then your award for pain and suffering might be significantly less than the multiplier concept would indicate. On the other hand, if the majority of your medical bills relate to visits to your primary physician plus diagnostic testing, that will likely boost your pain and suffering damages.

Dealing With a Lowball Settlement Offer

If you've got whiplash-type injuries after a car accident, but the insurance company’s injury settlement offer is too low, make sure you call attention to or accentuate the aspects of your claim that show you’re entitled to more compensation for your injuries. If you haven’t done so already, it’s a good idea to make these points (and others) in a detailed demand letter that you’ll send to the insurer. And if you and the insurance company are too far apart on a reasonable resolution of your claim, it may be time to put your case in the hands of an experienced car accident attorney.

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