Do you panic just a little when you stop at a New Port Richey intersection and the car behind you doesn’t slow down? You probably understand that’s how rear-end accidents occur. The collision is usually a simple matter of a driver not paying attention, failing to maintain a safe distance, or failing to stop in time. Unfortunately, the whiplash injury that sometimes follows a rear-end collision isn’t quite so simple at all.
Whiplash injuries are real and painful. Those who suffer from the condition sometimes endure long term medical treatment, physical therapy, and pain management. And still, some of them find no relief. Doctors use a variety of old and new therapies trying to treat the pain that may never away.
The term whiplash comes from the motion a person’s neck and spine makes when subjected to the forces of a rear-end collision. The rear-end impact jolts the car forward, impelling the occupant’s neck and upper spine into a forward/backward, flexion-extension motion. It’s a rapid unnatural transition that strains the neck and back muscles and skeletal structures. The vehicle’s speed isn’t always a factor. The whiplash motion occurs whether the striking vehicle crashes into a car at high or low speeds.
Even with such a drastic physical trauma, the injured person often doesn’t feel immediate pain or discomfort. After they’ve rejected emergency treatment a whiplash patient is often surprised when pain settles in and takes over. As the pain increases, the injured person’s anxiety sometimes grows, especially if they’ve already told the police officer, their relatives, and insurance company representatives that they weren’t injured.
Whiplash Injuries Have a Bad Reputation
Whiplash is a sneaky condition and people who can’t identify with the pain don’t trust the diagnosis. That’s somewhat understandable when you step back and look a whiplash injury’s unpredictable dynamics and timeline.
- Symptoms don’t always surface right away.
- No two whiplash conditions are alike.
- Treatments vary from one doctor to the next.
- Doctors can’t predict healing times or treatment effectiveness.
- The symptoms are often subjective. A doctor has no way to verify them.
- Treatment often continues indefinitely.
- Medical bills and wage losses add up quickly.
- Some whiplash patients heal quickly while other’s conditions grow progressively worse.
- Insurance company adjusters don’t know what to do with them.
Despite these concerns, whiplash injuries are real. They’re painful and they do shift from zero symptoms to debilitating even while under a physician’s care. Unfortunately, that doesn’t prevent insurance companies, medical professionals, and even employers from perpetuating the injury’s bad reputation.
One example is the article, A critical appraisal of the chronic whiplash syndrome, published by the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry. It was written several years ago, but the sentiment still exists. The article discusses the term whiplash and how it’s used to designate both the injury mechanism and the symptoms. The author concludes that chronic whiplash is the result of one of several issues:
- Organic damage (often pre-existing)
- Psychological illness
- Unreported pre-accident symptoms
- Conscious exaggeration
How Other People’s Whiplash Concerns Can Affect You
It matters when friends and family question a person’s injury. It devalues their honest concerns and diminishes their self-confidence. It’s a bigger deal when an employer sees a whiplash injury as fake. An employer decides when and if an injured person qualifies for company sick pay benefits. If the person can’t work because of valid whiplash injuries and the employer discontinues their sick pay, it diminishes their credibility and worsens their financial situation.
Whiplash’s bad reputation also affects pending insurance claims. When the insurance company handling your PIP claim questions your injury, your treatment, or your pain, they’re hinting that you’re committing insurance fraud.
When you have a claim pending against a negligent driver, the insurance adjuster automatically doubts your injury. A verifiable disability can a critical element of proving your damages. If an adjuster perceives your injury as fake and does everything possible to prove it, it diminishes your chance of recovering your damages.
Why Is Each Whiplash Injury so Different?
Whiplash is no different from any other injury in that no two people experience the condition in the same way. As the NIH Whiplash Information Page explains, whiplash injury is usually a soft tissue neck sprain or strain that involves ...a collection of symptoms… The initial head and neck trauma cause problems with nerves, intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, muscles, and nerve roots.
Whiplash victims also experience a mix of headaches, inflammation, neck pain, stiffness, dizziness and a range of additional symptoms. Some have cognitive and psychological problems and even a condition called referred pain, where a patient feels pain in an uninjured extremity. Physicians expect a recovery within weeks or months. When treatment moves beyond these time frames, it’s often a sign of an unidentified chronic condition.
When the Whiplash Pain Doesn’t Go Away
Doctors initially inform whiplash patients that their pain and discomfort will subside within 6 to 10 weeks. In many cases, patients do recover from whiplash injuries during that idealistic timeframe. If symptoms last beyond 6 to 10 weeks and/or pain worsens, it’s usually a sign of a more serious condition often designated as chronic whiplash.
The spine is the body’s foundation. It’s a complex structure comprised primarily of interlocking bone sections that allow the body to move the way it does. The spine also incorporates functioning systems, including pain-sensitive nerves. When a whiplash patient feels chronic pain, theKnowYourBack.com Whiplash Page suggests that it’s as a sign of one or more of these common problems:
- Torn annulus: The annulus is part of the outer spinal disc wall which contains nerve endings.
- Disc problem: When discs are injured and don’t heal properly, they cause pain.
- Muscle sprain: Muscles become irritated, inflamed, and painful from working overtime guarding injured discs, nerves, and joints.
- Herniated disc: When a disc protrudes from between vertebrae, it irritates spinal nerves and causes arm and neck pain, numbness, and weakness.
- Facet joint pain: Facet joints are located at the rear sides of each vertebra. They enhance and limit the spine’s forward, backward, and rotating motion. When a facet joint is damaged, it often causes neck pain.
How Do Doctors Treat Whiplash Injuries?
A patient’s pain is the driving force behind a doctor’s treatment choices. As each whiplash patient experiences pain in different ways, doctors respond with a range of treatment options. They often begin with simple measures such as anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, and muscle relaxers. If a patient experiences weak neck muscles, some doctors prescribe cervical collars for support.
With the new emphasis on minimal drug use, doctors try both medication and non-medication pain management methods. As pain worsens, they transition to innovative pain therapies and surgical remedies.
- Low-dose opioids
- Physical therapy
- Massage therapy and
- Relaxation techniques
- Back braces
- Pet therapy
- Cervical traction
- Spinal fusion
- Laser surgery
- Facet joint injections
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
- Medial branch blocks
Should I Talk to My Insurance Company?
In most cases, you have no choice. You must talk to your insurance company about your PIP benefits, but be careful what you say. In rear-end accidents, the driver who crashes into your vehicle is at fault. Although you may eventually have a legal right to make a claim against the other driver, you must still submit your medical bills to your own insurance carrier for payment. While dealing with the PIP adjuster, you must guard against making statements that jeopardize your rights.
Your Personal Injury Protection benefits pay 80 percent of your medical bills, 60 percent of your lost wages, and necessary household and personal services. You have a legal right to make a claim against the other driver if you meet a threshold as outlined in Florida §627.737. These include:
- 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.
Even when your whiplash injury seems minor and you don’t anticipate extended disabilities or injuries that meet Florida’s PIP tort threshold, it’s important to know your options. A consultation with a New Port Richey attorney is a prudent idea for several reasons.
- Your injuries may be more serious than you think.
- If the other driver is uninsured, insured out of state, or not driving a motor vehicle as defined by Florida statutes, you have additional legal rights.
- You also have potential coverage under your uninsured or underinsured motorist with your own insurance company.
- In certain circumstances, you may have a right to make a claim against the responsible driver even if your injuries don’t meet a PIP tort threshold.
Insurance Companies and Whiplash Claims
Insurance claim adjusters are your direct line to your insurance company and the other driver’s liability insurer. As insurance fraud is a high priority, they’re charged with questioning everything. It’s a process that flows downward as some insurance companies don’t trust their adjusters. For this reason and others, adjusters sometimes find it easier to simply not pay a claim.
- Insurance companies teach their adjusters to be wary of whiplash claims. Long before an adjuster confronts their first whiplash injury case, they learn that whiplash injuries are questionable. They learn that there is often no visible proof of an injury as there are with fractures or lacerations and the complaints are often subjective.
- Some adjusters are novices, they don’t know how to recognize a legitimate claim. They have little to no experience with injury validity and evaluation.
- Seasoned adjusters know a great deal, so they weigh every detail, challenge medical treatments, diagnoses, costs, and settlement values.
- Some insurance companies use claim evaluation software like Colossus® These programs evaluate claims similarly to property damage software. Injury evaluation programs focus on consistency and eliminating payout variance. Essentially, this means that they treat all whiplash injuries the same regardless of the facts, regardless of the pain.
- Some adjusters don’t have settlement authority. For those that do, a management chain of supervisors, managers, and home office auditors question every payment. For those adjusters, it’s often better to make small payouts or none at all.
How Insurance Companies Fight Whiplash Claims
When an insurance company decides to defend a case in court based on a disputed whiplash, the process begins long before the injured person files a lawsuit. The adjuster actively seeks information that disputes the liability, the diagnosis, the medical bills, and the lost wages incurred due to temporary disability.
It gets complicated when an insurance company suspects that a PIP claim is fraudulent. They must follow Florida’s statutory requirements. As long as the injured person sees an appropriate medical professional within 14 days of the accident, the insurance company must pay the bills or prove that they are problematic. If they suspect PIP fraud, they must inform the insured within 30 days and complete their investigation within 90 days. If they pay beyond the 30 day period, they owe interest.
When the negligent driver’s insurance company questions the liability or the value of a potentially high-dollar whiplash claim, they sometimes invest time and effort into disputing damages and liability, especially when the policy limits are high.
- Activities checks: Some companies hire independent investigators to spy on injured claimants. It’s an old but reliable process. The investigator watches the injured person, photographs and videos them. Sometimes they check with neighbors to see if one of them will talk about the person’s injury. (This is one big reason not to tell people you’re not hurt.)
- Social media investigations: More often, adjusters conduct their activities checks online. They troll injured people’s social media accounts for information that helps dispute their claims.
- Credit reviews: Some insurance companies subscribe to credit company services. They view a person’s financial status as a potential fraud indicator and use it to judge an injured person’s possible response to a settlement.
- Independent medical exams: When a whiplash condition continues longer than an insurance company anticipates, adjusters request an independent medical examination. They usually choose a doctor that’s sympathetic to an insurance company’s position.
- Medical reviews: Some insurance companies contract with medical professionals who review medical bills and dispute specific treatments and charges.
A whiplash injury begins simply. It often gets complicated as time passes and the injuries don’t heal. It’s important to discuss your injuries with a lawyer who understands your condition and has the experience to protect your legal rights.
Contact Our New Port Richey Personal Injury Attorneys
If you or a family member received a whiplash injury in a New Port Richey rear-end accident, let us review your case. Our personal injury attorneys have helped many clients recover damages for their injuries. Let us determine if we can help you.
Call Dolman Law Group at (727) 853-6275 or complete our online contact form. We’ll arrange a free consultation to discuss your case. We don’t charge our clients a fee unless we recover compensation on their behalf.
Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL, 34652