Car Accident Injuries

Injuries in car accidents are as stressful as they are common. The type of accident and the extent of injury can determine the compensation accident victims can expect to receive in a process that sometimes gets complicated.

Car accident injuries, like surgery, can only be considered minor when they happen to someone else.

Except for the occasional no-harm-no-foul fender bender, the majority of auto accidents tracked by the National Transportation Safety Administration and the National Safety Council exact some physical toll (and sometimes psychological) on drivers as well as passengers.

If you’re the one involved in a non-life threatening accident that nevertheless requires medical attention, there’s nothing minor about it – especially your doctor bills.

“It’s important to seek medical attention as soon as possible,” said Edward J. Rebenack, attorney and founding partner of RAM Law in New Brunswick, New Jersey. “This will not only help ensure that you receive appropriate treatment for your injuries, but it will also help document your medical expenses.”

You might be dealing with a range of post-accident injuries, from nagging back issues that aren’t easily resolved to internal injuries that don’t immediately show up on hospital X-rays.

“I have yet to see an accident with any degree of seriousness where there wasn’t an injury,” Emanuel Galimidi, founding partner at Galimidi Law in Miami, said. “Possibly minor/soft tissue injuries but they happen, and it’s always better to be cautious (by seeking medical attention.)”

The National Safety Council estimated that nearly 4.8 million people were seriously injured in car accidents in 2020. While more and more cars are equipped with safety features such as blind spot detection, lane departure warnings and adaptive cruise control, accidents involving serious injuries and fatalities haven’t decreased.

Neither have the costs involved in car accidents. Total motor-vehicle injury costs in 2020 were estimated at $474.2 billion, according to the National Safety Council. Those costs included medical expenses, wage and productivity losses, administrative expenses, employer costs and vehicle property damage.

The takeaway: car accidents are costly, both physically and financially.

Common Injuries from a Car Accident

Impact injuries, occurring when drivers or passengers strike any component of the inside of the car, are among the most common injuries suffered in car accidents.

They most commonly result in whiplash and other soft tissue injuries but can also include broken bones, chest contusions and internal damage. Injuries considered “penetrating” can involve scrapes and cuts from broken glass or impacts with loose objects inside the car.

“Neck strains are very common as are upper body contusions from steering wheel impact,” Galimidi said. “Back-related issues are notoriously slow to develop sometimes.”

Soft Tissue Injuries

Soft tissue injuries can’t be pigeon-holed. Soft tissue includes muscles, ligaments, tendons, skin, blood vessels – almost everything except the hard tissue that comprises bones.

Whiplash, or what the medical folks know as neck strain or sprain, is one of the most common soft tissue injuries typically associated with rear-end collisions.

Other soft tissue injuries happen when drivers or passengers contact hard surfaces inside the car such as the steering wheel, side doors or dashboard.  Or, in the dangerous case of someone ejected from a car, the ground.

Roll-over accidents and rear-end accidents are often the cause of other soft-tissue injuries such as lower back strains, ACL and MCL tears and shoulder impingements.

Bone Fractures

Impact with an airbag can cause facial fractures in some car accidents. Pelvic bone fractures, while more common in motorcycle accidents, are hardly atypical in car accidents.

Broken leg bones are another common injury in car accidents. So, too, broken sternums and ribs since car accidents often pit lurching body parts against seat belt restraints and steering wheels.

Head and Brain Injuries

Serious accidents, especially those that happen at high-speed, are often the cause of head and brain injuries but almost any significant contact with a component inside a car can be the cause.

Head injuries can be anything from mild to serious concussions, brain bruises, skull fractures and brain hemorrhaging.

Car accidents have sometimes even caused secondary brain injuries, where a person’s brain suffers the consequences of serious injuries elsewhere in the body. An injury that causes a lack of oxygen to the brain is an example.

Back Injuries

Back injuries often happen in car accidents for the same reason as neck sprains. But rear-end collisions aren’t always the culprit. Any sudden jolt can stretch the ligaments and tendons of the lower back, or, in worst-case scenarios, damage the spinal cord.

Strains to tendons connecting muscle to bone are among the common back injuries suffered in car accidents. Muscle tears, too, can result from higher impact collisions.

Soft tissue bruising, fractures, dislocations and herniated disks can not only set you back in the short term but sometimes lead to nagging conditions that can be slow to develop and difficult to resolve.

Other Types of Car Accident Injuries

Car accidents cause a variety of injuries related to a number of factors: the speed the cars are traveling, direction, where the car is impacted, safety features of the cars involved, number of passengers and vehicles in the accident.

Neck Injuries – A common car accident injury that most often involves whiplash, neck injuries require time and treatment. While typically associated with rear-end collisions, neck sprains can result from any impact that causes the head and body to suddenly change direction.

Chest Injuries – Seat belts and airbags save lives. But they’re sometimes the cause of muscle strains, chest contusions and bruised ribs. Better that, though, than blunt force impact with a steering wheel causing fractured ribs and internal organ damage.

Leg Injuries – Broken bones, most commonly the tibia, femur and fibula bones, can result from serious accidents where the driver’s or passenger’s legs are lodged between the car floor and the dashboard.

Wrist and Hand Injuries – Hands and wrists pay the price for the natural inclination to brace for impact. They commonly include fractures, ligament tears and dislocations.

Foot Injuries – The feet can absorb the force of shifting body weight in a car accident as people tense up and brace themselves for impact. With muscles, tendons, ligaments and the number of bones in the feet (26), it’s no wonder the lower extremities get injured disproportionately in a car accident.

Facial Injuries – Shattered glass and other flying objects from inside the car can cause facial injuries. But even more common are facial fractures resulting from blunt force contact with steering wheels and airbags.

Shoulder Injuries – Shoulder injuries occur from accidents where people are forced against hard interior surfaces, such as doors, windows, steering wheels and dashboards. Fractures, rotator cuff tears and shoulder strains are common.

Knee Injuries – Knees are even more likely to find hard interior surfaces than shoulders. Knee injuries in car accidents can be anything from patella fractures and dislocations to ACL, MCL and meniscus tears.

Hip Injuries – Hip pain is a common complaint after car accidents. The usual causes are hip fracture, dislocation, labral tears and ligament sprains.

Internal Injuries – Any organ damaged in a high-impact accident can cause internal bleeding and become life threatening. Kidney and liver damage are common internal injuries associated with accidents.

Loss of Limb – High-impact injuries can result in loss of limb in accidents where extremities are crushed or severed. Head-on collisions in particular can crush the legs and feet.

Burns – Burns in car accidents don’t necessitate a car fire. A first-degree burn can result from high-impact contact with a seat belt or air bag. More serious burns result from contact with dangerous chemicals or exposure to hot metal or steam.

Scrapes and Cuts – Shattered glass and other objects in a car’s interior can cause serious scrapes and cuts. Scrapes and cuts are often (and wrongly) overlooked in accidents where people suffer broken bones and worse.

Psychological Injuries – Even minor accidents can be stressful. But physical injuries in car accidents can have serious psychological repercussions as people deal with pain and suffering, often along with financial stress and hardship from medical bills.

How to Get Compensated for a Car Accident Injury

Getting properly compensated for car accident injuries begins with checking your state’s car accident laws. Some states have laws requiring car accident victims to seek medical attention within a specific period of time in order to receive Personal Injury Protection benefits. In Florida, for instance, it’s two weeks.

Also keep in mind the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident varies by state. In many, there is a two-year statute of limitations for filing a personal injury.

Reviewing state laws is easily done in a free consultation with an accident attorney. A consultation can also help claimants with evidence preservation and insurance company interactions that sometimes turn contentious. It can provide peace of mind at a time of high stress.

“You don’t have to commit to hiring an attorney right away, but a consultation can help you understand what to expect and how to protect your rights,” Rebenack said.

Galimidi advises taking advantage of multiple free consultations.

“Accident victims should look to hire a lawyer quickly but not rush into it either,” he said. “It is good to speak with several attorneys, specifically the one who will be handling your case. Often, large firms will have an intake person seek to sign you up who then passes it on to a paralegal who works with a junior lawyer.”

An experienced accident attorney can help navigate medical expense reimbursement, which is a major concern for accident victims who smartly seek prompt medical attention.

The best route to receive medical compensation depends on a number of factors, including the type of car accident.

If you carry PIP or MedPay you might be able to file a claim with your own insurance company for medical expense reimbursements. Another option is to seek reimbursement through the at-fault driver’s insurance.

Filing a claim through your own health insurance is a possibility in some circumstances but some medical providers may balk at billing health insurance companies for treatment resulting from an auto accident.

If paying medical expenses out of pocket is too daunting, which is understandable especially for injuries that require ongoing medical attention, an accident attorney may suggest a letter of protection. Such a step assures a medical provider payment will be made out of compensation recovered from a claim or lawsuit that is still pending.

Car accidents can be stressful even if no one is seriously injured. When medical reimbursement is a part of an accident claim, as is often the case, an accident attorney can help you understand the reimbursement process and the expectations for certain types of injuries.

Few injuries qualify as minor if they happen to you.

Robert Shaw

Robert Shaw is a writer based in Ohio who brings decades of newspaper experience as a reporter, columnist and editor to his freelance work. Shaw has written on topics as diverse as the city of Atlanta's successful bid to secure the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, to the educational challenges faced by an urban Cleveland school during the Covid-19 pandemic, to federal home buying loan programs designed to help teachers, firefighters, police and emergency personnel get a foothold in the housing market. Whatever the topic, Shaw strives to bring a sharp focus and clear understanding to the issues affecting people's everyday lives.

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