If you are seriously injured in a car accident, emergency services will probably come to the scene and take you to the closest hospital, where you will receive all the medical care you need. But what about seemingly minor car accidents, where there is no immediate pain or noticeable discomfort?
Many times, people involved in car accidents don't even know they have been injured. One reason for this is that your body responds to pain signals and the stress of the accident by producing morphine-like hormones called endorphins. Endorphins (and adrenaline) mask the pain until your body and mind have had time to recover from the stress of the accident. (Learn more about car accident injuries that don't show up right away.)
In this article, we'll explain why it's important to get proper medical care after a car accident -- obviously for your health, but also for any personal injury claim you might make at some point down the line.
A lot of personal injury attorneys have stories about clients coming into their offices saying they felt no pain at the scene of their accident, or later the same day. But the following morning they woke up feeling like they had been run over by a truck. These stories are credible -- they're not examples of healthy people looking for a payout via a lawsuit. It can take several hours, several days or even a week for injuries or serious discomfort to register with a car accident victim. (Learn more about common car accident injuries.)
So, the lesson is this: whenever you feel symptoms of injury after a car accident -- pain, numbness, dizziness, not feeling like yourself, whatever it is -- get medical care. Don't assume that your injuries will clear up on their own. Do the safe thing and get checked out.
After a car accident, if your doctor diagnoses an injury and begins treatment, continue the course of treatment until your doctor releases you from it.
There are two main reasons why it is important that you follow through with your treatment. The obvious reason is that your doctor is in the best position to determine how seriously you are injured, and to prescribe the best treatment for you -- to help you recover more quickly, and to make you as comfortable as possible while you are recovering. The second reason: your doctor's records of your visits are the best way to document and verify the nature and extent of your injuries, as well as the course and duration of your treatment. This verification is essential if you later make a car accident injury claim. Medical treatment and medical bills are a large component of damages in a personal injury case.
If you're being treated for injuries stemming from a car accident, ask your doctor for copies of your medical records. Read them over carefully, and have your doctor correct any errors that you find.
When you review your records, pay attention to the description of your car accident. This is usually part of the first entry in the records. Did the doctor get it right when describing the accident, or did she misunderstand the facts? Does the report say that your car was struck on the passenger's side, when actually the impact was on the driver's side? Does it say that you were going around 35 mph when you were really going 25, as it says in the police report that was prepared after the accident? Discrepancies like these need to be identified and corrected, since insurance adjusters and defense lawyers who are on the other driver's side will use them to try to prove that the accident didn't happen the way you say it did.
Also make sure that the medical records accurately state your symptoms.
Finally, check to make sure that your doctor got your medical history right. If your doctor has written that you have a history of neck problems like the one she is treating, but you've never had any neck problems in the past, or the doctor's notes don't tell the complete story, you need to have that information corrected or clarified. If you make an injury claim, the defense always looks at your medical history to find something (such as a pre-existing condition) that they can point to as the "real" cause of your current symptoms. So, make sure that your medical history is accurate, especially when it comes to pre-existing conditions.
Get more tips on negotiating with the insurance company when you're making a personal injury claim.