"Whiplash" is the common term for the kinds of soft tissue injuries that often result from an abrupt back-and-forth flexion of the neck, which is common in car accidents. Chances are you've seen whiplash portrayed on television, usually involving a less-than-reputable plaintiff's attorney fitting a client with a neck brace for a fake injury. This kind of negative association is one reason why the term "whiplash" has fallen out of favor—these days more specific terms like "cervical muscle strain" or "neck strain" are often used. Whatever the name, the reality is that whiplash-type injuries can be very painful and disruptive, and filing a personal injury lawsuit could be your best chance to get fair compensation.
If you've been in a car accident, it's important to get medical treatment immediately if you feel even the slightest suggestion of pain or discomfort. Many soft tissue injuries—including cervical strains and other whiplash-type injuries—do not become immediately symptomatic after an accident.
Treating physicians, when presented with the facts surrounding a particular accident, will know to look for signs of whiplash that may otherwise go unnoticed by a layperson. If you end up filing a personal injury claim over the accident, it is essential to your claimed injuries be backed up by medical records. Insurance adjusters look at whiplash-type injury cases with suspicion in the best of circumstances. So seek medical attention, and let your records tell the story.
If you have a medically-documented whiplash-type injury, do not delay in starting the personal injury claim process. If your injuries stem from a car accident and you live in a no-fault car insurance state, notify your insurance carrier. If you live in a state that allows liability claims for personal injuries after a car accident, notify the at-fault driver's insurance company—in writing—of your injuries and your intent to file an insurance claim or lawsuit. Your injuries may get worse; they may get better. The sooner you notify a potential payee of your claim, the more serious the consideration you'll receive. Keep in mind that starting the claims process ASAP does not mean accepting a settlement ASAP. You need to make sure you understand the nature and extent of your injuries and all other damages arising from the accident. Learn more about the personal injury settlement process.
If you are making a claim with an insurance carrier, be sure to document all of the expenses you incur relating to your injuries, your medical treatment, and other losses. These include economic damages such as lost wages, medical bills, prescription costs and insurance co-pays, even miles driven. Any out-of-pocket expenditure could potentially be a reimbursable cost. Insurance adjusters need proof of loss for every dollar they pay out, and they appreciate documentation for any and all expenses. If you make their lives easier by keeping complete records, you may find that money starts coming your way sooner rather than later.
There is no guarantee that an insurance adjuster will pay out on your claim. There is no guarantee that the person who caused the accident will even have insurance. You may have to file a personal injury lawsuit to facilitate collection of your losses.
In no-fault states, pursuing a lawsuit for a whiplash injury can be difficult due to threshold injury and damage requirements. In states not governed by no-fault law, you may be able to file a lawsuit as a matter of right. Should your case go to suit, you may be able to recover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering in addition to your economic damages. A local personal injury attorney is best positioned to advise you on the laws of your jurisdiction and the potential outcome of your case.
Bottom line: Whiplash-type injuries are often derided as "fake claims," but they are legitimate soft tissue injuries. A sudden, violent extension and retraction of your neck can cause serious physical problems, and can impair your ability to function on a day-to-day basis. Following a few simple steps should boost your chances of getting a fair personal injury settlement.