Car Accident Injuries

Drivers and passengers might suffer a variety of injuries as a result of a car accident, but most injuries fall into one of several categories.

By , J.D. · Villanova University School of Law

Around 4 million people are injured in car accidents every year. In 2019, 4.5 million people in the U.S. had "medical consulted" injuries after a car crash, according to the National Safety Council. Many of these injuries fall into one of several categories:

  • Soft tissue injuries (including bruising) might not appear on a diagnostic exam, but they can still feel like a big deal.
  • Head injuries—from concussion to traumatic brain injury (TBI)—can have long-lasting effects.
  • Broken bones are obvious right away, but the same can't be said of all car accident injuries.

Car Accident Soft Tissue Injuries

This is a broad term that applies to almost any injury to the connective tissue of the human body. In most accidents, soft tissue injuries will involve muscles, tendons, or ligaments. These can range in severity, from minor discomfort in a joint to chronic, pain that requires multiple surgeries.

Soft tissue injuries aren't usually easy to prove through a medical exam, so it's important to have a "paper trail" if you end up making a car accident claim. That means medical records showing that you:

  • sought medical care soon after your accident, and
  • let a doctor know of your pain and discomfort so that a course of medical treatment could start.

You don't want to give the other side any kind of opening to question the nature and extent of your injuries.

Back Injuries After a Car Accident

With the amount of force involved in car accidents, it's no wonder that back injuries are a common result. Types of back injuries that might be linked to a car crash include:

  • muscle strain and ligament sprain in the lower back, resulting in spasms and inflammation
  • slipping of a vertebrae
  • compression of nerves in vertebrae, and
  • fracture.

Neck Injuries

The neck is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body when it comes to car accidents. While damage to the cervical spine can cause significant injury, most neck injuries stemming from a car crash can often be categorized as whiplash-like strains and sprains.

"Whiplash"-Related Injuries

Whiplash is an injury to the neck or upper back that is often caused by a violent movement of the upper body. Many whiplash injuries are the result of rear-end car accidents.

The body will suddenly move forward due to the force of the seat pressing against the body. But if the head isn't firmly situated against the headrest, it will move backward in a sudden motion. It's this jerk of the head that can cause damage to the soft tissues in the neck and upper back. Learn more about whiplash-type injuries after a car accident.


Even in minor car accidents, it's almost guaranteed that the impact will cause part of the body to hit something in the vehicle. Maybe it's a hand or knee slamming into the car door. Or perhaps it's the seat belt pressing up against the chest. Any of these events can easily leave bruising on the skin. Luckily, most bruising injuries are minor and usually heal on their own without additional medical intervention.

Since bruise injuries don't typically show up through testing, the best way to preserve evidence of what happened is to take pictures of your injuries shortly after the accident.

Head Injuries

With the greater use of airbag technology in vehicles, especially side and curtain airbags, serious head injuries haven't been as common in recent years. But when they do occur, they can be serious.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI)

Among the most serious head injuries are traumatic brain injuries (TBI). These are problematic because even when a person survives a TBI, it can have lasting effects on daily living. A TBI might alter someone's mood and emotions, or create a permanent change in someone's cognitive abilities and motor skills.


Another common brain injury is a concussion, which occurs when the cerebrospinal fluid (which normally protects the brain within the skull) is unable to protect the brain from impact. Depending on the severity of the concussion, effects can be relatively minor, such as headaches. But they can also be more serious, like memory loss, confusion, and mood swings.

Psychological Trauma

For many people, getting into a car accident may leave a psychological or emotional mark, even leading to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Learn more about PTSD in a personal injury claim.

Broken Bones

Broken bones are serious car accident injuries, as they're almost always painful. And depending on where the breaks occur and how many there are, injuries due to broken bones can result in hospitalization, even permanent disfigurement. Broken bones often form the basis for substantial "pain and suffering" compensation in a car accident case.

Cuts and Scrapes

Cuts and scrapes ("abrasions" in medical-speak) are usually considered minor car accident injuries. Most are easily treated, although stitches may be required to close a deeper cut. As with bruising, the best evidence of cuts and scrapes is typically visual, so take pictures of any crash-related abrasions as soon as you can after a car accident.

Late-Appearing Car Accident Injuries

Most car accident injuries are apparent right away, especially if they're serious. But late-appearing injuries do happen. Your best course of action is to get medical treatment after a car accident, at the first sign of pain or discomfort. Don't agree to an insurance settlement or sign a release until after you've been fully evaluated by a medical professional. You want them to identify the nature and extent of your accident-related injuries, and to explain how those injuries will affect your life.

If you sign a release and accept a settlement before late-appearing injuries show up, or the extent of your injuries becomes clearer, you can't ask the other driver's insurance company for more money. You've waived your legal right to additional compensation, as well as your right to take legal action against the at-fault driver.

Finally, if you're concerned about late-appearing injuries, keep an eye on your state's car accident lawsuit filing deadline, called a "statute of limitations." In most states, the deadline will be two or three years. There are situations where the limitation period can be extended. For example, the plaintiff (the person suing) might have more time to file if they didn't discover their injury, and couldn't have discovered it, for some time after the the accident. Speak to a car accident lawyer in your state about how long you have to file your case in court.

Next Steps After a Car Accident

Especially if you've suffered significant injuries as a result of a car accident, the right lawyer can make a big difference in any claim you decide to make. Compensable losses ("damages" in legalese) stemming from a car accident usually include:

An experienced lawyer will know how to put your best case together to ensure the best outcome. Learn more about when to hire a car accident lawyer.

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