If you're injured in a car accident, chances are you'll know immediately. But in some situations, crash injuries don't crop up or become apparent until days, weeks, even months later. This can be problematic in the context of either an insurance claim or lawsuit after a car accident, but any challenges can also be overcome. Here's what to know:
Almost any injury could take some time to become noticeable. Examples of delayed-onset injuries from car accidents include:
There are two big reasons why you might not be aware of an injury until some time after your car accident. First, accidents are stressful events. This means they are likely to induce a fight-or-flight response. When this occurs, your body releases a lot of hormones, including adrenaline and endorphins. In certain scenarios, these can numb or block the sensation of pain. But once these body chemicals wear off, you may begin feeling pain you hadn't noticed right after the car accident. This is one reason why you might honestly feel fine when a first responder or doctor assesses you after the accident.
The second main issue here is that you might not necessarily connect pain or discomfort with the accident. A good example of this is a headache. Because many people have headaches on a semi-regular basis, they may not give a second thought to a headache after a car accident. But a headache could be a sign of a more serious injury, like a brain bleed, concussion, or traumatic brain injury.
If the other driver is responsible for causing your car accident, the other driver's car insurance company might try to negotiate an insurance settlement with you. These negotiations could begin after you contact the other driver's car insurance company, or the insurer might make the first contact. Either way, the insurance company's goal is to get you to sign a release.
You shouldn't agree to an insurance settlement and sign a release until after a medical professional has given you a full evaluation. You want them to not only identify any injury related to the accident, but also the extent of those injuries and how they will affect your life.
Sometimes, injuries due to a car accident may not show up until after the other driver's insurance company asks you to sign a release and accept a settlement offer. This is why it might help to consult with a car accident lawyer in addition to a doctor. Together, they can confirm the extent of your injuries from the car accident and what kind of injuries might manifest themselves later on.
If you sign the release and accept the settlement before more injuries appear, 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, and your right to take legal action against the at-fault driver. But signing a release isn't the only way a delayed car accident injury could limit your recovery rights.
A statute of limitations is a law that creates a deadline for taking a dispute or other matter—like a personal injury lawsuit—to court. If you try to sue someone after the statute of limitations deadline passes, your case will likely get dismissed.
For most states, the deadline for filing a lawsuit over a car accident will be two or three years. The good news is that most injuries from car accidents will be evident within this time period. One exception is diagnosis of PTSD, which may not be identified and traced back to the car accident until it's too late to take legal action. Even then, there's still a chance to sue the responsible driver. There are situations where a statute of limitations deadline can get extended, including when the plaintiff (the person suing) didn't discover their harm for some time after the underlying accident (and couldn't have been expected to discover it under the circumstances).
It's important to note that a plaintiff will likely have a harder time linking a later-discovered injury to a car accident. This is especially true when months or years have passed. This kind of passage of time gives the defendant more avenues to exploit when it comes to a potential alternate cause of your claimed injury.
If your car accident injuries took some time to become apparent, don't wait to discuss your options with a legal professional. You can connect with a car accident lawyer in your area now, using the chat tools on this page. And learn more about when (and why) you need to hire a car accident lawyer.