Neck injury in Auto accident? What’s the average worth?
Our firm regularly handles car wreck cases that involve multiple injuries, including the most common complaint of all: whiplash or neck injury. The severity of the injury can be anywhere from just a few days of soreness relieved by over-the-counter medicine, to major neck surgery resulting in a nasty scar and permanent disability. Step one in the process is to make sure the treating physician relates the injury to the accident. Step two is adequately documenting all the medical expenses, lost wages, etc. for the insurance adjuster or trial court (if it proceeds that far). As a full-service injury firm, we handle all this for the client. But, it is helpful for the client to understand all the procedural and legal issues that may arise during the process.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is defined as a neck injury that occurs when the head suddenly moves in one direction, then back, causing damage to either the neck and shoulder muscles or the cervical spine. These commonly occur in rear-end collisions but can result from any crash, depending on the sequence of impact(s).
What are the hurdles that you may face?
Despite what the television lawyer ads may say, insurance companies do not just throw money at anyone who is rear-ended on an Alabama street. There are several common defenses used by the insurance industry and their attorneys to either avoid or mitigate paying damages to the injured party. To understand better these defenses and how they can be overcome, it is important to understand the legal elements that need to be in place or proven in order to win your case.
There are three basic requirements that need to be met in order to recover compensation for a neck injury: Liability, causation and damages.
- Liability – This simply means the other driver is legally at fault for the crash, whether due to violating a rule of the road, following too closely, failing to yield, etc.
- Causation – You can only recover for whiplash if it was “caused” by the wreck. Fortunately, this can mean it was directly a result of the accident or aggravated a pre-existing condition such as degenerative disc disease or arthritis. Assuming fault is not an issue, this is the “go-to” defense for most insurance adjusters. They frequently argue that the property damage and minimal severity of the crash could not have caused the injury or that the claimant had previous chiropractic care for the neck. In this instance, the treating doctor must relate the neck complaints to the accident to prevail at trial.
- Damages – Alabama law allows recovery for all those items resulting from the collision, such as out-of-pocket expenses, mileage reimbursement and medical bills. Also included are the more general claims like mental anguish, pain and suffering, loss of earning capacity and so on.
Assuming all the elements are met, there is another other consideration and potential hurdle which is the amount of insurance coverage available. Alabama only requires that drivers have $25,000 in coverage. This may mean you might have to tap into your underinsured coverage on your policy. After any car accident, always check your own policy and see what coverage can be claimed in the event the at-fault driver is either uninsured or underinsured.
How do adjusters place a value on the case?
The typical starting point is to determine the amount of accident-related medical bills, whether they were paid by health insurance and whether there will be future medical expenditures. Juries commonly consider the amount of medical bills as a starting point for determining how much to give for mental anguish and suffering. Where your accident occurred can matter…some counties may only award two times the bills while others are more generous.
In cases where no surgery is needed and the whiplash resolves with time, medication and therapy, average settlements can range from a few thousand dollars to $15,000 – $25,000 depending on the amount of medicals, the presence of lost wages and other factors. Be warned: it is not uncommon for adjusters to offer nothing or even deny the claim if the property damage is minimal to non-existent. This is true even though almost all spine doctors agree that even a minimal impact can cause serious neck problems.
When surgery is performed or there is a permanency or disability associated with the whiplash, the settlement value ranges rise dramatically. This is where the amount of insurance available becomes even more critical. Unless you were hit by a commercial vehicle or have unusually large underinsured coverage, chances are good that there may be inadequate insurance. Assuming sufficient coverage, these cases can settle from anywhere from $75,000 to $450,000 and higher in special circumstances.
What to do after a neck injury in a car wreck?
Step one, if you are having neck pain right after a car accident, is to seek immediate treatment from a doctor who specializes in spinal injury. Long delays in treatment or only having limited treatment is seen by the insurance adjuster as a negative factor. While whiplash injuries can resolve on their own, it’s best to at least consult with a specialist and have a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine whether there is a potential problem down the road with a bulging or herniated disc.
Step two is to keep up with all your out-of-pocket expenses and lost wages in order to document them when the time comes.
At the end of the day, every claim is different and must be evaluated based on many factors such as your age, the county where it happened, pre-existing health issues, the severity of the impact, the other driver’s conduct, etc. We advise all potential clients to refrain from signing a release or settling until they have had a consultation with an experienced lawyer who regularly handles auto claims involving neck concerns.