If you have been involved in a car accident, whiplash injuries need to be taken very seriously. Because symptoms of a whiplash injury can take weeks or months to manifest, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that you are not as injured as you really are. Too often people don't seek treatment following a car accident because they don't feel hurt. By far, the most common injury to the neck is a whiplash injury. Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement of the head, whether backward, forward, or sideways, that results in the damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back.
Unfortunately, by the time more serious complications develop, some of the damage from the injury may have become permanent. Numerous studies have shown that years after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, roughly half of them state that they still suffer with symptoms from their injuries. If you have been in a motor vehicle or any other kind of accident, don't assume that you escaped injury if you are not currently in pain. Contact us today!
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- Is It Whiplash?
- Whiplash Facts and Myths
- Ten Things to Know If You are Involved in a Motor Vehicle Accident
- FAQs about Oregon's Personal Injury Protection Insurance (PIP)
Is It Whiplash?
Someone is involved in an automobile collision every five seconds. WHAM! You have just been rear-ended. Except for a minor pain in the neck, you seem to be okay. The next morning however, you wake up with pain in your head and neck, and when you try to sit up, you feel intense pain and lightheadedness.
What you are experiencing are the symptoms of whiplash – an injury in which the neck is “whipped” in a rapid backward motion as the car lurches ahead, followed by a rapid forward motion as the seatbelt grabs you and the car slows down.
A person suffering whiplash may not realize the extent of the injury for some time. In fact, research shows that days to weeks to months may elapse before pain presents itself. Common symptoms following whiplash are neck pain and stiffness, upper back pain, headaches, mid-back and lower back pain, pain and weakness of the arms/legs, dizziness, jaw pain (TMJ), hearing or visual changes and difficulty swallowing.
The speed of the collision and damage to the vehicles can be very misleading. Federal motor vehicle safety standards mandate that all cars sold in or imported to the U.S. have either a 2.5 or a 5mph bumper. What happens when two cars, each equipped with 5mph bumpers, collide at 9mph? They would very likely be able to absorb the energy without any apparent damage. However, much of this energy has been shown to be transferred directly to the occupant, and this means whiplash.
Forces generated in whiplash injury have been shown to be 2 1/2 times the forces sustained by the vehicle. And, although insurance industry-funded crash testing has shown that 5mph is the real threshold for neck injuries, you'll never hear them admit it publicly.
Another common myth is that all whiplash injuries will heal spontaneously within a few weeks. There has NEVER been any valid research published which supports this claim.
After a whiplash injury, healing of nerves, ligaments, muscles and tendons occurs with scar tissue formation rather than by regeneration of the damaged tissue. Scar tissue is weaker, less elastic, less pliable and more pain sensitive than healthy tissue. This makes prompt and proper treatment essential for healing and rehabilitation.
So, what is the best treatment for whiplash? Chiropractic care! Make an appointment immediately after the accident so we may begin your treatment quickly. Even the prestigious medical journal Spine states that “early manual therapy [manipulation] has been shown to be superior to rest …in the management of acute whiplash…[and]…only early manual therapy for whiplash has been vindicated in the literature.” The longer you wait to get care, the longer your injury will take to heal. Remember, immediately after an accident, use ice for 20 minutes on the injured areas. Then, call us and start your road to recovery.
Myth: Symptoms become maximal within 24-72 hours. There is much research showing that symptoms may be delayed from days to months or years.
Myth: Heat and rest at home will relieve the symptoms with resolution occurring in a progressive fashion, leaving no residuals. It is not true in most cases of whiplash that heat and rest at home will relieve symptoms. Research stated in the journal Spine that “early manual therapy has been shown to be superior to rest …in the management of acute whiplash…of all the various therapies for neck pain only early manual therapy for whiplash has been vindicated in the literature…collars and other passive measures are not justified if manual therapy is available.” Several other researcher have shown that early mobilization of the injured muscle tissue provides the most favorable outcome.
Myth: There will be no residual symptoms after whiplash. This could not be further from the truth. Over the last 36 years, there have been dozens of papers written on the long-term prognosis of whiplash trauma. These studies show that the prognosis for full recovery hovers around only 54-61%. The follow-up periods in these studies ranged from 1 to 10.8 years. A 1993 paper based on the long-term outcome of whiplash trauma found that after more than 10 years, 86 percent of the subjects were still symptomatic. One orthopaedic surgeon was so convinced of the trivial nature of whiplash injuries that he volunteered to sit in a car that was struck from the rear by another car at 10 and 20 mph. Six months later he confided to a colleague that his neck still hurt.
It is important to understand the commonly accepted classification of the inflammatory response. It is divided into 3 phases. Phase I- acute inflammatory phase- lasts up to 72 hours. Phase II- repair phase- lasts from 48 hours to 6 weeks. Phase III- remodeling phase- lasts from 3 weeks to 12 months or more. Thus, symptoms may last for 1 year or more.
Both ligaments and muscles are weaker after healing from a whiplash type strain/sprain. Healing of ligaments, muscles, and other soft tissues occurs with fibrous repair (scar tissue) rather than by regeneration of damaged tissue. Healed ligaments contain immature type III collagen which is deficient in cross-links and the quantity of fibers is less than in normal ligaments which are composed chiefly of type I collagen. Muscle is made weaker, less elastic, less pliable, and often more sensitive by scar formation.
Myth: A low speed collision causes little to no harm to the occupant(s) of the vehicle. The speed of the vehicles involved and the amount of damage to the vehicles is often called to question. Federal motor vehicle safety standards mandate that all cars sold in or imported to the U.S. have either a 2.5 or 5 mph bumper. That means that these cars must withstand a collision at these speeds with a fixed barrier. What happens when two cars, each equipped with 5 mph bumpers, collide at 9 mph? They would very likely be able to absorb the energy without any apparent permanent damage. Much of this energy has been shown to be transferred directly to the occupant, hence the soft tissue injury.
Fact: Forces generated in whiplash trauma are surprisingly high. One G is the acceleration due to the earth's gravity. Typically, it is described at 9.81 m/sec or 32 ft/sec. In numerous studies, it has been found that forces sustained by both humans and dummies in rear impact collisions were shown to be 2 1/2 times the forces sustained by the vehicle. In other words, the occupant of the vehicle was exposed to greater acceleration and deceleration forces than was the vehicle itself.
Fact: Patients injured in whiplash accidents develop spondylosis approximately six times more frequently than age and gender-matched controls. Other studies have found that patients with pre-existing spondylosis generally fared worse in whiplash injuries.
Fact: The incidence of loss or reversal of the normal lordosis in the asymptomatic, atraumatic population is only 9%.
Fact: While it is true that seatbelts and shoulder harnesses have decreased the number of fatalities and serious facial and chest trauma, they have significantly increased the number of sometimes disabling cervical injuries.
Fact: Chiropractic experts in the field of whiplash recommend early manipulative intervention with treatment daily during the first one to three weeks. Treatment may then be performed on an every other day basis. It is not true that chiropractic manipulation performed more than 3 times per week will cause injury. Just the opposite; early, regular care will allow more expedient healing.
1. Gather Information.
Information is critical to protecting your legal interests and for preserving any claims you may have arising out of the accident. Make certain you write down vehicle license plates, names of the parties involved, driver's license numbers, insurance policy information, and witness names. It is also helpful to take pictures of the scene, the damage to the cars, and of any visible injuries. Immediately writing down your recollection of the accident is helpful since memories fade. Write down your recollection of how the accident occurred and who said what. This will help refresh your recollection later.
2. Call the Police.
If anybody is injured or if there is a dispute regarding fault then call the police immediately. Call the police even if there is room for ambiguity regarding fault, even if there does not appear to be an immediate dispute over liability. It is not uncommon for an at-fault driver to admit liability at the scene only to deny it later.
3. Report to the DMV.
Within 72 hours, you are required to report the accident to the Department of Motor Vehicles if an injury resulted from the accident or if the property damage from the accident exceeds $1,200.00.
4. Do Not Sign Anything or Give a Taped Statement.
You are required to cooperate with your own insurance company, so it is acceptable to sign documents when requested and to give statements when required. However, you have no obligation to cooperate with the insurance company for the other driver. They will often ask you to sign documents and provide taped statements. Do not sign anything or give any taped statements. They only want this information so they can use it against you.
5. You are Covered.
By law, every automobile insurance policy in Oregon is required to provide Personal Injury Protection (“PIP”) coverage. This means that you are entitled to immediate benefits, including payment of medical bills and lost wages, regardless of the circumstance or fault for the accident.
6. Get Help.
If you are injured, visit a medical or health professional as soon as possible following the accident. Be sure to report all injuries, no matter how small. Since PIP provides immediate medical coverage for your injury, there is no excuse for not seeking help for your accident related injuries.
7. Do Not Settle Early.
Do not settle your claim until you are fully recovered, medically stationary, or 100% certain you have no injury.
8. Statute of Limitations.
Oregon has a two year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. This means that you have two years from the date of the accident to settle your claim or file a lawsuit.
9. Right to Repair.
You have the right to have your car repaired at any shop of your choosing.
10. Uninsured Motorist.
You can still recover for your injuries even if you are hit by an uninsured or under-insured motorist.
Consulting with an attorney following an automobile accident is generally a good idea. An attorney can elaborate on the above points as well as assist with protecting your rights and maximizing your recovery. Most attorneys work on a contingent fee basis. This means that the attorney gets paid from the settlement proceeds, and the attorney does not get paid if they do not recover for you. On average, most people find that they recover more, even after paying the attorney, than they would have received on their own. In addition, the attorney will take over handling the claim and dealing with the insurance companies so you can avoid the time and stress associated with handling your claim.
All Oregon non-commercial auto insurance policies have no-fault Personal Injury Protection (PIP) healthcare and wage loss coverage. What this means is that if you are injured in an auto, bicycle, or pedestrian accident, your auto insurance provides a minimum of one year and $15,000 in no-fault medical coverage. In addition to medical coverage, your personal injury protection insurance provides wage loss coverage. This coverage is mandatory for all auto insurance, but not motorcycle insurance.
What if I am on my bicycle or a pedestrian?
Even if you are on a bicycle or a pedestrian, your personal injury protection should pay your medical expenses if you are struck by a motor vehicle. If you do not have auto insurance and do not have health insurance, than the other driver's insurance should pay your medical bills.
How much wage loss will my personal injury protection insurance pay?
Your PIP insurance will pay up to 52 weeks of wage loss up to the maximum monthly amount of $1,250.
Will my insurance company pay all of my medical bills?
Your insurance company is required to pay all of your medical expenses within the first year that are reasonable and related to the accident, up to your policy limit ($15,000 for most people). This does not mean that they will pay these bills. Insurance companies do not pay bills if they don't have to. They can deny payment and send you to an insurance company doctor. The vast majority of the time these doctors say that your treatment is not necessary, that is why the insurance companies use these doctors rather than talking to your treating doctor.
What can I do if they refuse to pay my medical bills?
If the accident was not your fault, the best course of action is to pursue the at fault driver's insurance company for your medical expenses as well as your pain and suffering. If you were at fault, your only choice is to sue your insurance company or request arbitration.
Do I have to pay my insurance company back for my personal injury protection benefits?
Whether or not you have to pay the benefits back out of any settlement or award depends largely on what your attorney does early on in your case. Most of the time I can force the insurance companies to elect to pay me a fee to recover the medical expenses or waive recovery out of my client's settlement or award. Insurance companies do not want to pay me a fee, so the vast majority of the time the insurance companies do not require any repayment by my clients.
What happens if my medical expenses exceed my personal injury protection coverage?
If you have healthcare insurance, your healthcare insurance will usually pay any additional amounts. If you do not have healthcare insurance, you will be billed personally for any amounts in excess of your PIP coverage. Oftentimes I can work with providers to get them to wait for payment until the case is resolved.
How much personal injury protection insurance should I buy?
That depends on whether or not you have healthcare insurance. If you have good healthcare insurance with low co-pays, than buying more than the minimum PIP coverage is not as important. If you do not have healthcare insurance, than you should buy more than the minimum PIP coverage.