First, it helps to understand what we’re talking about when we use the term "whiplash," which has for decades now been steadily falling out of favor in both the medical and legal realms, especially when it comes to car accident injuries.
In a car accident, when muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the neck are suddenly and powerfully contracted -- due to the unexpected force of even a seemingly minor collision -- this connective tissue can stretch unusually far. The resulting neck sprains and neck strains can result in a "soft tissue injury" that is sometimes called "hyperflexion" or "hyperextension," more commonly known as "whiplash" (at least historically).
The main symptoms of whiplash-type injuries include:
More severe whiplash-type injuries might be accompanied by memory loss, difficulty in concentration, sleep disturbances, or fatigue.
Whiplash-type injuries are very common after a car accident, but they’re also problematic from an injury claim perspective. That’s because, like all soft tissue injuries, they do not typically show up on X-rays, MRIs, and other diagnostic tests. That doesn’t mean whiplash-type injuries are any less legitimate or any less painful than other types of car accident injuries. But it does mean that if you are experiencing pain, discomfort, limited movement, stiffness, or any other symptoms of neck injury, it’s important to get medical attention after a car accident.
Obviously, getting proper medical treatment for your injuries is essential to your health and well-being. But it’s also critical for any injury-related insurance claim you make after a car accident. An insurance adjuster isn't going to just take you at your word when you say that you're injured, and then cut you a check. All your losses need to be documented as much as possible. And if you can produce medical records and bills that show the type and extent of medical treatment you received after the car accident, that will go a long way toward legitimizing your injuries (proving your "damages", in legalese).
It's important to note that damages in a whiplash case are usually on the smaller side. If your injury has been diagnosed as whiplash or neck strain or sprain, it is not generally a severe injury. Whiplash does not generally involve an injury to the intervertebral disks.
So, your claim may not be a big one, but how do you value a car accident case? The first thing to do is to add up your economic damages. Let’s say, for example, that you have $4,000 of medical bills and $1,000 of lost earnings. So, your economic damages are $5,000. That's the first main category of car accident damages to calculate. The second major category is non-economic damages, which includes compensation for pain and suffering.
This is the big question in a whiplash case. You may have heard or read about use of a "multiplier" as part of a mysterious car accident settlement formula, where the insurance companies calculate pain and suffering as being worth some multiple of your economic damages. The multiplier could be anywhere from 1.5 to 4.
But the multiplier concept is accurate only up to a point. If your case went to trial, the jury would not use a multiplier. In reality, there are so many other factors that increase or decrease a damages award at trial that it probably doesn't make sense to rely too much on the multiplier concept. These factors include:
Who the plaintiff treats with is also very important. If the vast majority of the plaintiff’s medical bills are for treatment like physical therapy or chiropractic treatment, as opposed to physician’s or hospital bills, juries (and insurance companies) are likely to discount the plaintiff’s injuries. Right or wrong, juries and insurers tend to believe that if someone was really injured, they would be seeing doctors, not therapists or chiropractors.
So, to take our earlier example, if your medical bills were $4,000, but $3,800 came from physical therapy, then your award for pain and suffering might be significantly less than the multiplier concept would indicate. On the other hand, if the majority of your medical bills relate to visits to your primary physician plus diagnostic testing, that will likely boost your pain and suffering damages.
If you've got whiplash-type injuries after a car accident, but the insurance company’s injury settlement offer is too low, make sure you call attention to or accentuate the aspects of your claim that show you’re entitled to more compensation for your injuries. If you haven’t done so already, it’s a good idea to make these points (and others) in a detailed car accident injury demand letter that you’ll send to the insurer.
And finally, if you and the insurance company are too far apart on a reasonable resolution of your claim, it may be time to put your case in the capable hands of an experienced car accident attorney.