You may be eligible for disability benefits if you can't work because you still suffer from physical or mental injuries from a car accident. Car accident injuries can include hip and arm fractures, back problems, soft tissue injuries, and brain injury. You may also experience psychological trauma as the result of a car accident, such as depression and anxiety. If these disorders have persisted for at least a year (or are expected to last for that long), and have prevented you from working, then you should consider applying for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
A straightforward way to be found disabled by Social Security is to meet the medical requirements for a disability listing. These listings are found in the Listing of Impairments (the “Blue Book”). The SSA generally requires strict adherence to the requirements, but in unique circumstances the SSA’s medical expert may find that your condition “medically equals” a listing.
Following are the most common disability listings related to car accident injuries and the criteria needed to qualify for disability benefits under the listings.
A fracture occurs when your bone breaks apart or is cracked as a result of trauma.
SSA's disability listing 1.06 discusses fractures of the thigh, shin, pelvic, or tarsal bones (in the foot). To meet this disability listing, you would need to prove you have:
Listing 1.07 discusses fractures of the arm, wrist, or elbow bones. To meet this disability listing, you would need to prove you have:
To use this listing, you also would need to show the presence of a fracture through use of an x-ray, an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or a bone scan.
A car accident may worsen a pre-existing back problem or cause a new injury. Listing 1.04 discusses disorders of the spine including degenerative disc disease, a slipped disk, or a broken vertebra. To meet this disability listing, you would need to prove you have one of the following conditions:
For more information, see our series of articles on disability benefits for back injuries.
A car accident can cause injuries to tendons, ligaments, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and skin. The SSA defines soft tissue injuries to also include burns.
Listing 1.08 discusses a soft tissue injury or burn of an arm, a leg, the torso, face, or head. To meet this disability listing, you would need to prove both of the following.
Listing 8.08 is specific to burns, but does not require evidence of ongoing surgical treatment. To meet this disability listing, you would need to prove that you have widespread skin lesions, lasting at least 12 months, that:
Listing 5.02 discusses gastrointestinal bleeding (involving the esophagus, stomach, or intestines). To meet this listing, you would need to prove all of the following.
Listing 12.06 discusses when disability benefits are available for anxiety -- generalized anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder are not uncommon after car accidents. For more information on the criteria for getting disability for anxiety-related disorders, see our article on anxiety and disability.
Even if you do not meet one of the disability listings above, the SSA will determine your residual functional capacity (RFC) to see if you have any capacity to work even a simple job. When you have been involved in a car accident, the SSA will review your hospitalization records and consider whether your medical treatment has been successful and whether there were complications. In addition, the SSA will consider whether the medications you take are effectively controlling any symptoms of pain, whether you have complied with all of the treatment recommended by the doctor, and what limitations your doctor has put on your ability to work.
After assessing your ability to stand, walk, handle or carry objects, and interact with other people, the SSA will give you an RFC of sedentary, light, medium, or heavy work. For instance, if one of your arms was fractured and has not recovered, the SSA might give you an RFC limiting you to light work, with only occasional use of the hands.
But you generally need to be medically restricted to less than sedentary work to be found disabled (unless you are over 55 and can't transfer to a new type of work because you have no transferable job skills). If your RFC shows that there are jobs you can do, it is advisable to appeal, assuming you disagree with the SSA’s findings. For instance, if you are currently taking pain medication that affects your ability to concentrate, you might question whether you are able to do even sedentary work on a regular basis. You might also contend that your RFC should limit your fractured arm to no handling or fingering of objects due to weakness of the arm and hand muscles. This would make it unlikely that there are jobs you could do.