Whiplash injuries are some of the most common claims insurers see, many occurring from rear end collisions. These aren’t grisly wrecks though — 75% of rear-end accidents happen at speeds less than 10 mph — but still fast enough to produce injuries.

We’re all aware of the term whiplash, but what exactly does it mean? And if it happens to you, how should you handle an injury insurance claim?

What is whiplash?

Whiplash can occur from many car accident types, including single vehicle ones. Whiplash occurs most commonly when a car is struck from behind, so here, we’ll only explore whiplash bodily injury claims when a car accident involves two or more vehicles, is someone else’s fault, and when you’ll be making a bodily injury claim with the at-fault party’s insurance.

Whiplash occurs when the occupant’s head is quickly jerked forward (hyperflexion), then jerked sideways (hyperextension.) Like most injuries, there are varying degrees of intensity and pain. Side effects include joint dysfunction, disc herniation, faulty movement patterns, chronic pain, and cognitive dysfunction.

Whiplash is a non-medical term, thus many attorneys and insurers don’t use it in claim documents and/or court proceedings. The legally correct term is soft tissue injuries to the neck, neck strain, or neck sprain.

What if I have whiplash?

If you’ve been in a car accident, file a police report, speak to any witnesses, and exchange insurance information with all parties involved. If you’ve experienced whiplash, you may not feel any pain immediately after the accident. It can take a few days to manifest, so don’t rush into settling the accident.

Even if you feel okay, visit the doctor after any car accident immediately. If you don’t the day of, visit as soon as possible. Keep all receipts, and get copies of the doctor’s observations and records. If diagnosed with neck strain, follow doctor orders. You may be prescribed pain medication and/or a neck collar depending on the accident’s and injury’s severity. Listen to your doctor and follow treatment, as they’ll not only help you heal, but this will greatly help when making a bodily injury claim.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

This is a personal decision, and no overarching recommendation regarding when to obtain an attorney. If you obtain a lawyer, he or she can ensure all correct procedures are followed and help you receive the compensation you deserve. If you hire a lawyer, he or she will handle any contact with all involved parties’ insurers. If you plan on filing a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver, it’s highly recommended that you get legal representation.

Making Bodily Injury Whiplash Claims

For such a small body part, neck strain can be an expensive and painful injury. Insurers spend $2.7 billion on average annually on whiplash injures, and the average claim payout is just over $9K.

A crucial – and perhaps most important aspect of making a whiplash claim — is to do so in a timely manner. If the accident occurred two months ago and you’ve been “living with the pain,” the insurer may argue that the injury wasn’t severe, provide less compensation, or deny your claim completely.

There are several aspects insurers consider when you file a bodily injury claim:

  • Legal liability: The insurance company is going to use crash diagrams and witness testimonies to figure out who was legally liable. Many times, in rear end accidents, the second driver is at fault, but sometimes the issue of fault can be cloudier than others.
  • Treatment: How soon you sought treatment and to what extent it was provided is important to insurance companies. If you only went to the emergency room right after the accident, your injuries may not be deemed severe. On the other hand, needing several visits to physical therapy under the advice of a doctor is going to affect your compensation as it shows your injury necessitated more intense treatment.
  • Injuries: The more severe your injuries are, the higher your chances of receiving more and/or adequate compensation. Be sure to document all injuries that occur in addition to whiplash.
  • Recovery Time: If your injuries take much longer to heal, it’s obvious that they are more severe. Sometimes, neck strain can cause permanent damage, and while your insurance company can handle the initial claim, you may want to seek damages from the other party and look into disability.
  • Daily Life: Cases are examined on an individual basis. Your insurance company wants to know how severely your daily life was impacted by the crash. If you can go about your normal day to day activities or job, you may not receive much compensation — but you have your health.

You can expect to speak to insurers multiple times when making a claim. An adjustor will likely come see your car, and medical records will be requested, so document everything. Keep all receipts, and if you’ve missed work, keep track of the income you’ve lost. Keep a daily injury diary tracking pain, doctor visits, prescription drug usage, and treatment, such as if you receive multiple weekly massages or chiropractic care. Since whiplash is a soft tissue injury and can’t be seen on an x-ray like a broken bone, insurers will try to argue this “phantom” injury and paint it as something that’s not real, so documentation from you, your doctors, and following through with treatment is crucial.

Ensuring your head restraint is in the correct position may help prevent whiplash, but it can still happen. Follow proper procedures after an accident to get adequate compensation to cover resulting past medical bills, future medical treatment costs if it will be needed, lost wages, and potentially, pain and suffering compensation. Whiplash from car accidents is bad enough – don’t get whiplash by looking back in hindsight and realizing you didn’t handle things properly.

Follow Desiree Baughman on Twitter @DesireeBaughman.

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