Injuries after a car accident are extremely common.
It is estimated that every single year, three million Americans are injured in automobile accidents. These injuries can range from minor bumps and bruises, to serious life-altering injuries.
Some of these injuries are readily apparent within the first few minutes after an accident. But other times, the injury can be harder to spot. And even if the symptoms do manifest right away, car accident victims are typically pumped full of adrenaline, which is designed to make you push on in spite of your injuries.
A few million years ago, when we were hunting lions, this fight or flight mode was a lifesaver. But today, it can get in the way of a successful personal injury case, for reasons we’re about to go into.
Even once the adrenaline has worn off, some injuries don’t manifest until hours or days after an accident. The victim may walk away feeling fine, but over the next few days, they may begin to feel worse and worse, until they finally realize that something is seriously wrong.
Unfortunately, when this happens, it can frequently get in the way of a personal injury lawsuit. You see, if you file a lawsuit, medical bills are important. They’re one of the central types of damages that you can recover.
However, the insurance adjuster who is assigned to your case doesn’t want to have to pay those medical bills. They will try their hardest to deny your claim, and if you don’t see a doctor right away after your accident, they will use this against you, because there will be no record that you were ever injured.
That’s why we at Torklaw advise you to go to the doctor immediately after an accident! You should do this even if you don’t believe that you were injured, or if your injuries were only minor. We know we’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. Go to the doctor, get checked out, and save all of your medical bills and records, so that you have solid evidence to use in court later.
What exactly are you looking for? Here are a few injuries which tend to exhibit delayed symptoms:
A concussion is a mild form of traumatic brain injury (TBI) which occurs when the brain reverberates inside the skull. Concussions usually only take a few days for the sufferer to recover, but in rare cases they may cause long-term problems.
Some people believe that a concussion may only occur after a direct blow to the head.
This isn’t true!
Concussions often happen after a blow to the head, but they may also happen after a sudden change in momentum which causes the neck to jerk violently back and forth and the brain to bounce against the skull. Even if you weren’t directly hit in the head in an accident, you may still be at risk!
The symptoms of a concussion may include dizziness, confusion, changes in mood including anger or irritability, changes in eating or sleeping habits, decreased response time, and sensitivity to bright lights or loud noises.The most obvious symptom of a concussion is loss of consciousness, although not all concussion victims are knocked out, so don’t think you’re in the clear just because you stayed awake. Loss of memory is also common, but not universal, and you may also experience a headache.
Typical Time of Symptoms: Concussion symptoms can appear immediately after an accident, or they can take hours, or even days, to appear. Most often, the symptoms of a concussion will have appeared within three days of the injury. Typically, concussion symptoms will dissipate within a few weeks; if they last longer, this may be a sign of a more serious brain injury.
After a concussion, the patient should rest for a few days. This includes refraining from physical activity, but it also includes taking a break from any activity which may strain the brain.
Even seemingly low-key activities like reading, watching TV, using the internet, or listening to music can sometimes be too much for the brain after a concussion. Because concussions can interfere with coordination and response time, it is also best to avoid driving for a few days.
Usually, you will be able to recover from a concussion in about a week or so. You should take this time off of work or school, or at least try to decrease the hours you spend working during the day. Over time, you can begin slowly easing back into your regular activities.
Whiplash Injury Description
Whiplash is an injury to the neck which frequently occurs in car accidents, especially rear-end accidents. Like a concussion, it often occurs when the victim experiences a sharp back-and-forth jerking motion in the neck (hence the name whiplash).
Concussions and whiplash can sometimes be caused by the same accident, and their symptoms can be similar, so sometimes it is difficult to determine which injury you actually have. However, unlike a concussion, whiplash is primarily an injury to the neck and not the head. It occurs when the nerves, muscles, and joints in the neck are overextended beyond their usual range of motion.
Whiplash is one of the most common types of car accident injuries with delayed symptoms, so be on the lookout for this!
After suffering whiplash, almost all patients experience pain in their neck. This pain is usually felt at the back of the neck, although it can also extend to the upper back, shoulders, and even the head. In addition, the patient may experience headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, changes in sleep patterns, or other symptoms such as ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
Typical Time of Symptoms: The symptoms of whiplash are usually delayed. They often appear within a day of the injury, and almost always within a few days. Minor cases of whiplash do not take too long to recover, typically several days to a few weeks.
More severe cases of whiplash, however, can take several months to recover fully, and occasionally whiplash can lead to permanent pain. This can cause problems with personal injury settlements, because you might end up needing even more treatment than you settled for.
Minor cases of whiplash often do not need extensive medical attention; you can treat these at home with ice and over-the-counter pain medications. However, you should always see a doctor if you start to experience whiplash symptoms. The damage may be more severe than you think, and, as we mentioned above, it’s important to get as thorough medical records of your injuries as you possibly can.
Whiplash victims often wear a collar immediately after the injury. However, doctors do not prescribe collars quite as much as they used to, because they can actually impede healing if you wear them for too long. You should only wear a collar for the first few days after the injury, and only for a few hours at a time. After this, it is good to move your neck gently.
You will likely be prescribed physical therapy, which will give you exercises that will help you heal, and you may also need to take heavier prescription painkillers if the injury is more serious.
Soft Tissue Injuries
Soft Tissue Injury Description
Soft tissue injuries involve damage to the muscles, ligaments, or tendons of the body. This is a fairly broad category, and can include a lot of different types of injuries. Whiplash, mentioned above, is a type of soft tissue injury, but it is not the only type. They can affect any area of the body, and can include strains, sprains, and contusions (also known as bruises).
Sprains are injuries to the ligaments, or the bands of tissue which connect the bones with each other, while strains are injuries to the muscles or tendons, or the tissues which connect the muscles with the bones.
Contusions occur when the muscle fibers are damaged by a blow; they can involve any of the muscles of the body, although contusions are also known to affect the brain, and may even be considered a form of traumatic brain injury.
Strains and sprains are measured on a three-tiered scale. Grade 1 strains and sprains are the most mild, whereas Grade 2 strains and sprains are somewhat worse and Grade 3 are the most serious.
Bone fractures, by the way, are not a form of soft tissue injury. It is also rare for pain from a fracture to be delayed; the sufferer usually experiences sharp pain immediately following the injury.
Soft Tissue Injury Symptoms
After a soft tissue injury, the sufferer will usually notice some form of pain, although the precise nature and level of the pain can vary depending on the injury. It is also common to notice swelling in the area of the injury, as well as stiffness, discoloration, and difficulty bearing weight.
Typical Time of Symptoms: Soft tissue injuries can be missed in the initial evaluation after a car accident, but they typically make themselves apparent within a few days. Sometimes, a soft tissue injury may take a week or more for you to start noticing symptoms.
It’s rare, but not unheard of, for a soft tissue injury to take much longer than this to appear. Unfortunately, if your injury appears too long after the car accident, you may have difficulty tying it to your accident.
Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
In the first few days after an injury, it is best to give the injured area plenty of rest, apply ice to the area intermittently, wear a compression glove or bandage, and elevate the injured area above your heart, if possible.
This protocol is often remembered by the acronym RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). During this period, you should avoid heat, exercise of the injured area, or drinking alcohol (although later you may want to use heat and start to do some gentle exercises).
Soft tissue injuries can vary in their healing time depending on how serious they are. Grade 1 injuries (the most minor) tend to heal on their own within a few weeks, while Grade 3 injuries (the most severe) may need much more thorough medical treatment, and sometimes even surgery.
If the injury is serious, you will need to immobilize it for an extended period of time. You may also benefit from physical therapy or stretching exercises, although the precise nature of these will vary depending on exactly how you were injured.
Psychological Trauma Description
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that develops after people are exposed to a serious trauma. PTSD is commonly associated with groups such as combat veterans and victims of sexual assault, but it can and does occur to other groups of people, including victims of devastating car accidents. PTSD symptoms can take a while to develop, but they can be devastating and can seriously impact a person’s basic quality of life.
Car accidents can happen out of nowhere and can be extremely shocking, and this sort of event has the potential to shatter a person’s sense of security and confidence. Even the strongest and most resilient people can be affected.
Remember, our brains didn’t evolve to deal with car accidents, so they are far outside of our range of biological experience. Until about 100 years ago, none of our ancestors would have had to deal with a car accident, and this makes them difficult to sort through psychologically.
It may be tempting to dismiss psychological harms as less serious than physical harms, or even to see yourself as weak because you are suffering from this trauma. In fact, PTSD is widely recognized within the medical community as a legitimate disorder, and there is a strong body of evidence linking it to car accidents.
Not only that, but the legal system has long allowed for damages to be recovered in an accident for psychological injuries, as well as physical ones. If you are suffering, you should feel no qualms about seeking damages for your trauma.
Psychological Trauma Symptoms
Individuals who suffer from PTSD often suffer flashbacks of the incident. These are more than just memories; they make the sufferer feel like they are reliving the incident, and can be extremely terrifying. They are often triggered by an outside event which reminds you of the trauma, such as driving by a car accident or seeing a news article about a crash. PTSD sufferers may avoid going near places or things which remind them of the accident.
This can be extremely debilitating and can interfere with your everyday life, especially if you have been in a car accident and become afraid of driving or going near cars. Individuals may also experience changes in mood, eating, or sleeping, start to exhibit negative thinking and hopelessness, suffer from constant severe anxiety or else go the opposite way and start to disregard their own safety entirely, be unable to concentrate, or startle easily.
Typical Time of Symptoms: You won’t notice PTSD in the immediate moments after an accident. Symptoms will start to appear over the course of the next few days or weeks. Sometimes, PTSD symptoms take a lot longer to manifest, and may show up months or years later.
Psychological Trauma Treatment
Because it is a psychological disorder, PTSD can be complicated to treat. There are various therapeutic techniques that have been shown to help, including talk therapy, exposure to the traumatic stimulus, writing about the traumatic experience and forming it into a coherent narrative, and working with eye movements to decrease one’s stress reaction.
Everyone is a little different, so your particular treatment plan for PTSD will likely be unique to you, and you may use any or all of these techniques, or else something entirely different.
In addition, many sufferers of PTSD take antidepressant medications, such as Prozac and Zoloft, to treat their symptoms. These medications are often an effective tool in tackling PTSD. They can be used on their own, or in conjunction with the above mentioned therapeutic techniques.
Other Types of Injuries
The above is a partial list of injuries with delayed symptoms which may show up after a car accident. However, it is by no means an exhaustive list. There are many other types of injuries in which pain and other symptoms are delayed until after a car accident, and some of these are even more serious than the ones listed above.
For instance, one of the most serious types of delayed pain can be abdominal pain. This may be a sign that your internal organs have been damaged, which, if it is not treated early enough, may be life-threatening. Serious and permanent traumatic brain injuries (far worse than concussions) can also go unnoticed until months after an accident.
But REMEMBER: we at Torklaw may be legal experts, but we are not medical experts. Nothing we say here is official medical advice, and we can never replace your doctor’s knowledge and expertise.
That is why, no matter how big or small your injuries, you should always see a doctor after an accident! Consider this a routine part of the procedure after a car accident, just like exchanging information with the other driver, reporting the accident to your insurance, or getting your car fixed.
Your body, after all, is at least as important as your car, and perhaps even a tiny bit more so. It can be a bit surprising how many people are quick to take their car to the shop but don’t even think of taking themselves to the shop.
How to Protect Yourself Legally
Aside from seeing a doctor, what other steps should you take after an accident, to help your case and see that you receive compensation for any delayed injuries?
The most important thing you can do is to not settle early. If you have been in an accident and the other driver was at fault, the other driver’s insurance will often try to get you to sign a release of liability. The release of liability might look tempting, and even have a fairly large amount of money attached to it.
Don’t be fooled! The other party’s insurance is trying to get you to go away, and the settlement, although it may seem reasonable or even generous at first, might turn out to be much smaller than what you really deserve. This is particularly true if you have an injury with delayed symptoms.
So don’t sign any releases without your lawyer, and certainly don’t sign anything without getting a medical evaluation first. Once you’ve signed something, you can’t get any more damages for any injuries that appear later. Even if your injuries are serious, and clearly traceable back to the car accident, the other insurance adjusters will just point to the release of liability you signed and tell you no.
Fair? Hardly, but that’s why you have to be smart about this sort of thing.
Because of injuries that take a while to manifest, it may be best to not rush into your personal injury settlement too quickly. Of course, you shouldn’t wait too long, either. If you take too long (more than a year or two), you might run up against the statute of limitations, and there are other good reasons to move a case along without unnecessary delay.
But you shouldn’t settle without giving yourself a chance to discover all your injuries. That’s why it’s best to wait, at the very least, until your doctors have given you a thorough assessment of your injuries and an estimate of how long they will take to heal, and how much they are expected to cost.
How long should you give for this? There’s no hard line, but it may be best to wait a couple of months after an accident to allow all your injuries to manifest.
Sometimes, it might do well to wait even further: until the point when you have reached what is known in medical lingo as maximum medical improvement. This is the point where you have healed fully, or, if your injuries are permanent, you have at least recovered to the point where you can recover no more. At this point in your case, it will be much easier for your attorneys to calculate a fair settlement for you.
Fortunately, knowing when to settle your case isn’t entirely on your shoulders; it’s a decision you should make with your lawyer’s input. So if you’re confused by all this, don’t worry! You’ll likely have help.
Finally, we’d like to include one more piece of advice: don’t worry too much! Accident injuries that take a while to show up can be uniquely scary and unnerving. You’ve been in an accident, and that’s bad enough. But just when you believe that you’re in the clear, and you’ve come to terms with the situation, an entirely new (and potentially very serious) injury pops up and makes things confusing all over again.
To some clients who suffer this, it can feel like getting in a car accident twice, and it can increase their sense of frustration with the situation, not to mention anxiety about what comes next. This is perfectly understandable. After all, in situations like these it’s often the uncertainty that can be the hardest thing to deal with.
Our advice, difficult though it may be to follow, is to not get too stressed about this. Most of the injuries that we listed above are treatable with the right medical intervention. So take your own body seriously, and report any problems you experience to the doctor, but leave all your woes with your lawyer and spend all your energy on helping yourself to heal.