Often, people who have been injured in a car accident ask how much their case is worth. No attorney can provide a precise answer to that question in advance. However, an experienced car accident lawyer knows the factors that impact the value of a claim and can provide a general idea of the likely value of a claim.
Whiplash injuries may create special challenges. They are difficult to diagnose, and the outcome can be unpredictable. The injured person may recover quickly, or they may suffer long-term pain and limitations.
This overview will help you understand what whiplash injuries are, the key factors that determine the strength of a whiplash injury claim, and how these cases are typically valued. For more detailed information specific to your case, schedule a consultation with an experienced Florida whiplash injury attorney.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a soft tissue injury to the neck. The injury typically occurs when impact causes the head to abruptly snap forward and backward. You may also hear this type of injury described as a sprain or a strain. Car accidents are among the most common causes of whiplash injuries. This type of injury is especially likely to occur in a rear-end collision, since the sudden impact from behind causes the head to jerk back and forth. Even a low-speed collision can put significant stress on the neck.
Proper adjustment of the headrest can significantly reduce the risk of whiplash injury to the driver and front seat passengers. However, many people don’t know how to or don’t bother to properly adjust their headrests, and headrests in older vehicles may not be designed to provide this protection. To minimize the risk of this type of injury in your own vehicle, check your owner’s manual for tips on how to position your headrest.
People who suffer whiplash injuries in car accidents don’t always know immediately that they’ve been injured. Symptoms may appear shortly after the accident, or may emerge later–even days later. To further complicate matters, whiplash symptoms aren’t always consistent. Of course, most people recognize neck pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion in the neck as possible symptoms of whiplash. But, others are less obvious.
Some of the most common include:
- Shoulder or back pain
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
Still, some symptoms are not even seem to be neck-related, such as:
- Blurred vision
- Cognitive issues
- Depression or irritability
- Ringing in the ears
- Sleep disruptions
Because of the range of symptoms, some people don’t immediately connect the problems they’re experiencing to the accident, and may delay seeing a physician or even fail to mention the car accident when first consulting a physician. After a car accident or any other traumatic event, it is generally best to err on the side of caution and see a medical professional right away if anything seems out of the ordinary.
One challenge in the diagnosis of whiplash injuries is that, as a soft tissue injury, whiplash doesn’t show up in an x-ray or other imaging test. The doctor may run those tests to rule out more serious injuries, but the actual diagnosis of whiplash is based on a combination of the information provided by the patient and the doctor’s observations. For instance, a treating physician will typically ask you to turn your head to assess your range of motion and what type of movement increases your pain.
Unfortunately, insurance companies often use the lack of clear diagnostic proof of a whiplash injury to fight claims or attempt to minimize compensation.
Treatment for Whiplash
Whiplash treatment typically involves both pain management and work to restore the range of motion in the neck. Depending on the pain level, pain management may be as simple as a day or two of rest, some over the counter medication, and the application of heat or cold. In more serious cases, stronger medications may be required. Some possibilities include prescription pain medications, muscle relaxers, or even lidocaine injections.
A person suffering a whiplash injury may also be advised to wear a foam collar. Medical opinions on the use of cervical collars vary, and this is typically determined on a case by case basis. While the collar provides support, it also limits motion, which can be counterproductive.
The treating physician will usually also recommend specific exercises intended to restore range of motion and make it easier for the injured person to go on about his or her regular activities. In some cases, this may require physical therapy.
It’s important to follow the doctor’s recommendations, including following up with physical therapy if recommended. Failing to properly treat a whiplash injury may extend the duration of the injury and increase ongoing pain and limitations. In addition, failure to follow medical advice may hurt any claim for damages, as the responsible party’s insurance carrier may argue that the injury would have been less serious if the injured person had done as instructed.
Valuing a Florida Whiplash Claim
In Florida, your PIP is the primary source of coverage for medical expenses associated with a car accident injury. PIP covers up to $10,000 in medical expenses. That’s enough to cover many whiplash injuries, which means there’s often no litigation with the responsible party. If your medical expenses exceed that limit, you may be able to seek reimbursement from the responsible party. However, Florida law limits who can pursue a claim for intangible damages like pain and suffering, mental anguish and inconvenience.
Generally, a car accident victim is entitled to these additional damages only in cases involving:
- Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function.
- Permanent injury within a reasonable degree of medical probability, other than scarring or disfigurement.
- Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or
Some whiplash injuries are permanent. In one study, researchers found that people who suffered whiplash injuries were more likely than those who suffered other relatively minor injuries to have long-term reduction in quality of life. Still, it may be difficult to establish that the injury is permanent “within a reasonable degree of medical certainty.” Another circumstance in which a whiplash injury victim may be able to pursue this greater range of damages is when the whiplash injury is accompanied by at least one other injury that meets the statutory requirement.
Calculating Damages in a Whiplash Case
You may have heard that damages in a car accident case are determined by a formula, such as three times your economic damages. Economic damages are countable monetary losses, such as medical expenses and lost wages.
While that sort of general rule is sometimes helpful in getting a rough idea of what might be possible, many variables impact the value of a specific claim. Some examples include:
- The seriousness of your injury
- How the injury occurred
- How clear liability is
- Whether the injured person was partly responsible for the accident
- The available insurance coverage
The amount of a car accident settlement or verdict may also be impacted by factors that aren’t directly related to the accident and injury. Some of these may include the quality of your representation, the county in which the accident occurred, and the insurance company involved.
Underinsured Motorist Coverage
While a car accident lawsuit is technically filed against the responsible driver, it is typically that driver’s insurance company that provides an attorney, determines whether to settle the claim and for how much, and makes payment of any settlement or verdict. That’s important because most drivers don’t have money or assets to cover a significant settlement or judgment.
Unfortunately, Florida leads the nation in uninsured drivers. That can leave a seriously injured person without a way to recover fair compensation. However, if the injury victim has purchased uninsured motorist coverage, that policy may provide compensation. While this coverage is optional in Florida, it provides important protection for those who are injured by drivers who aren’t carrying liability insurance.
Consult an Experienced Florida Car Accident Lawyer
If you’ve suffered a whiplash injury or other serious injuries in a Florida car accident, speak with a local motor vehicle accident attorney right away. You may have heard that you have four years to file a car accident claim in Florida, and that is usually true. However, there are exceptions.
Even when you have plenty of time to pursue a claim, it’s to your advantage to act promptly. Shortly after the injury, it will be easier for your attorney to conduct a thorough investigation, assemble evidence, and contact witnesses. Over time, physical evidence may be lost or destroyed and it may be difficult to identify or locate witnesses. Memories will fade–including your own.
The attorneys at LJW Legal understand how important it is that you have access to accurate information and guidance after a serious injury. We offer free consultations to help you educate yourself and make good decisions about your next steps. Contact us to schedule yours right now.