You are undoubtedly familiar with the term “whiplash.” But, if you are like many other people, you might not know exactly what whiplash is. That is no surprise: whiplash can be difficult to diagnose, and the symptoms may differ from person to person. In fact, there is no clear estimate of the number of people who suffer whiplash injuries each year. Some experts put the number at about one million, but other estimates are much higher.
This lack of understanding can hurt. Too often people who have suffered whiplash don’t recognize the injury and don’t seek medical care promptly. This overview will help you understand what whiplash is, how it happens, how an injury like this can affect your life, and your options if you have suffered a whiplash injury.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a type of injury that occurs when the victim’s head snaps forward and back. Unlike many common neck and back injuries, it affects the soft tissue in the neck. Because whiplash injuries involve muscle and ligaments, they do not show up in diagnostic tests like x-rays and CT scans. That sometimes leads to difficulty in authoritatively diagnosing the injury, and can be an obstacle when it is time to seek potential compensation for your injuries. So, it is important to work with an experienced Miami accident attorney if you have suffered a serious whiplash injury.
Common Whiplash Causes
Car accidents are among the most common causes of whiplash. While the jerking motion that causes whiplash may bring to mind a high-speed collision, even low speed crashes can cause whiplash. In fact, rear-end accidents often result in whiplash injuries, though these collisions often occur at stop signs or stoplights where one vehicle is stopped and the other is already reducing speed.
Other instances include sports accidents, hard falls, and physical abuse such as being struck in the head.
Recognizing a Whiplash Injury
Many people who suffer whiplash injuries do not realize it right away. It is natural to be stiff and sore after a jarring accident, and whiplash injuries often occur alongside other injuries. If you have been in a car accident or other incident that may have caused trauma to your neck, it is a good idea to get assessed by a physician as soon as possible.
Some symptoms of whiplash include:
- Stiffness in the neck
- Neck pain
- Limited range of motion in the neck
- Shoulder pain
- Back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
Most people would connect these symptoms to a recent automobile accident or hard collision on the football field, or at least recognize that they might be connected and should probably be checked out. But, some other symptoms of whiplash are not as obvious. These include:
- Visual disturbances, such as blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood changes, such as irritability
This list is not exhaustive, and whiplash is not the only injury that may not be immediately obvious. So, if you have any symptoms in the wake of a car crash or other accident, play it safe and have a medical professional assess you for injuries.
How is Whiplash Diagnosed?
Because there is no imaging test or other clear diagnostic test for whiplash, a physician will typically diagnose the injury based on symptoms reported and an assessment of things like range of motion in the neck.
The goals of treatment are to manage pain and to improve range of motion in the neck. How that gets accomplished varies, depending in part on the seriousness of the injury. The treating physician may prescribe:
- Pain medication, ranging from over the counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers to muscle relaxers or other prescription medications
- Use of a soft cervical collar to support the neck
- Periodic application of heat and/or cold
- Exercises to gradually improve range of motion
In more serious cases, physical therapy may be required.
Many cases of whiplash resolve over a few days or a few weeks with only minor treatment. But, others may cause long-term pain or limited range of motion. According to one study, people with certain symptoms shortly after the injury are more likely to suffer long-term effects. These include neck pain, headache, shoulder and arm pain, lower back pain and significant psychological impact.
Protecting Your Health is Protecting Your Claim
When you have been through a traumatic experience like a car accident, it is natural to want to go home and rest in your bed. The idea of long hours in an emergency room or having to go back out in a few hours to see your doctor can be daunting. The temptation to wait and hope it goes away may be strong. But, it can also be harmful.
Some injuries get worse if you delay treatment, meaning anything from a longer recovery period to a less-than-full recovery. The same is true if you see a doctor, but then fail to keep up with the prescribed exercises or show up for follow-up appointments. The risk to your health should be reason enough to seek medical attention and then follow your physician’s instructions to the letter. But, it is not the only one.
If someone else was responsible for your injury, neglecting your health can cut into your claim. For example, if your doctor refers you to a physical therapist and you do not go, the responsible party’s attorney may argue that it was your own fault your pain and limitations lasted longer than they should have. That could reduce the compensation amount you might be entitled to.
Damages in a Whiplash Injury Case
When you have been injured through someone else’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Florida’s no-fault automobile insurance system makes your own motor vehicle insurance policy the first source of coverage for medical expenses. However, if your expenses exceed the $10,000 in personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, you may be able to pursue additional compensation from the responsible party’s insurance carrier.
Damages differ from case to case, but some common types of damages awarded in Miami personal injury cases include:
- Reimbursement for medical expenses
- Coverage for projected future medical expenses
- Reimbursement for lost income
- Coverage for projected ongoing loss of income
In some cases, the injured person may also pursue compensation for intangible losses, such as pain and suffering or loss of enjoyment of life. These damages are known as “non-economic damages,” because they do not represent actual financial losses. It is important to note that not every injury victim is eligible for non-economic damages. Under Florida law, only people who have suffered certain types of permanent injuries can potentially recover these damages.
Building a Strong Miami Whiplash Injury Case
Establishing a claim for damages is a two-part process. First, you will have to demonstrate that the other party’s negligence caused your injuries. Then, you will likely have to prove the extent of your injuries and the losses triggered by those injuries.
This can be difficult in a whiplash injury case, since there is no test that definitively proves that you suffered a whiplash injury, or that you are continuing to have pain and other limitations from the injury. But, there are a few things you can do to help establish your claim:
- Be consistent with your medical care, both for the sake of your health and to build a complete and consistent medical record
- Keep notes as you go through treatment and recovery, because your claim may depend on details about how you felt and what you were and were not able to do that you may not remember when the time comes
- Be careful who you talk to about your injury, and limit social media posts and other comments that might come up later
- Connect with an experienced Miami personal injury attorney as soon as you are able to
Consult with a Miami Personal Injury Attorney
There are many reasons it is to your advantage to retain an experienced attorney as soon as possible after the accident. These include:
- Ensuring that you do not miss any important deadlines, since there are some exceptions to the statute of limitations or special notice requirements you may be unaware of
- Protecting yourself against potentially being misled by insurance company tactics designed to diminish the value of your claim or settle before you understand the full extent of your injuries
- Gathering more information about the potential value of your claim, including possible sources of compensation
- Giving your attorney the best opportunity to build a strong case on your behalf by investigating before memories fade and physical evidence is lost or destroyed
- Securing guidance that will help you avoid inadvertently damaging your claim
Attorney Brian L. Elstein fights for the rights of injured people in and around Miami, Florida. He understands how important it is for you to have reliable information in the aftermath of an injury. That is why he offers free consultations to injury victims and those who have lost family members to someone else’s negligence.
Give yourself the advantage of knowledgeable guidance. Schedule your free consultation with Elstein Legal right now.