Whiplash is the most common injury associated with auto accidents. It is estimated 83 percent of passengers injured in a collision suffer from some degree of whiplash. It’s estimated four out of every 1,000 people annually are treated for whiplash.
If you’ve suffered from a whiplash injury as the result of an accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries, lost wages, and/or pain and suffering.
This guide is designed to give you all the tools you need to find the whiplash settlement that’s right for your case.
A Typical Whiplash Accident Case
Recently, our law firm received a call about a man that was rear-ended by a 17-year-old teen driver. The young girl had her license just two weeks, and was holding her small dog in her lap while driving when she collided with our client at 20 miles per hour.
Our 32-year-old client went to the emergency room with foot numbness and other typical whiplash symptoms (see below). He had trouble sleeping and performing his job due to the pain he was feeling throughout his body.
The teen driver’s insurance company agreed that their client was totally at-fault for the accident. And though the damage to our client’s car was less than $1,000, his injuries were painful and debilitating.
The insurance company’s last settlement offer before trial was $20,000. We weren’t afraid to take the case to trial, and ultimately recovered a $98,000 jury verdict for our client.
The Average Whiplash Settlement
Many people call our office or email us asking, “What’s the average payout for a whiplash injury?” or “How do I calculate a fair whiplash settlement?” These are good questions and ones that thousands of Americans are asking themselves right this very moment.
Whiplash injuries are commonly put into five levels:
- Grade 1 (minimal): Symptoms include complaints of neck pain, stiffness, or tenderness only, no physical signs
- Grade 2 (slight: Symptoms include complaints of neck pain and musculoskeletal signs indicating a decreased range of motion and tenderness
- Grade 3 (moderate): Symptoms include a limitation on motion, some physical ligamentous injury present, neurological findings may or may not be present
- Grade 4 (moderate to severe): Symptoms include limitation on motion; ligamentous instability; neurological findings present; and there may be fractures or disc rearrangement on the spine
- Grade 5 (severe): Symptoms require surgical intervention to manage/stabilize injury
Depending on which level your whiplash falls into will determine the payout you receive.
More severe neck and back injuries routinely settle in the high six figures, possibly reaching a million dollars. The facts of each case are different, and whiplash injuries have many different moving parts.
The nationwide average settlement for whiplash is between $12,000 to $20,000, though people with attorneys receive much more in settlement money. Studies have shown that people with a lawyer receive on average 3.5 times more in compensation than those people that represent themselves.
Compensation You Get for Whiplash
When a person is injured in an accident through no fault of their own, that person may be able to recover financial damages from the person or entity responsible for the accident by pursuing a personal injury claim. The damages that a person may recover compensation for in a personal injury claim may be classified as either economic damages or non-economic damages.
- Cost of repairing damage to car
- Medical bills, including ambulance ride and future medical care
- Lost wages due to missed time at work
- Cost of household chores, such as yard maintenance
- Inability to enjoy regular everyday hobbies
- Physical and emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
Again, this is only a hypothetical example of what types of damages a car accident victim might be able to recover by pursuing a personal injury claim. If you have any questions about pursuing a claim for damages, contact an attorney.
Prove You Have Whiplash
Like any car accident injury, proving you have whiplash depends on several factors — all of which you can control.
After your accident, you’ll want to be treated by a qualified physician. By doing this, you will make sure there are no hidden injuries, as well as establish a treatment record for a possible personal injury claim. Simply put: if there is no treatment record, it will be difficult to prove to the insurance company and/or jury that you were truly injured.
When you arrive at the doctor’s office with whiplash, they’ll begin by doing a complete physical exam, while also evaluating your medical history. They will then run the following tests to determine the extent of your injury:
- X-ray: an electromagnetic wave of high energy and very short wavelength, which is able to pass through many materials opaque to light.
- MRI: a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues within your body.
- CT Scan: makes use of computer-processed combinations of many X-ray measurements taken from different angles to produce cross-sectional images of specific areas.
There’s no guarantee that your whiplash injury will show up on any of the above tests. While some doctors are hesitant to request imaging for whiplash injuries, we recommend that you consult with an experienced physician in your area to make the best decision for you.
Insurance Companies and Pain and Suffering Damages
While you injury may seem severe and life-changing, the insurance company is not always going to see eye-to-eye with you. Remember, the insurance company — whether it’s yours or the at-fault person’s — is in the business of making money. The less money they pay to you on your claim, the more goes into their pocket.
There are no set rules on how an insurance company calculates pain and suffering after a car accident.
Some use the multiplier method, meaning they’ll take a plaintiff’s economic damages — medical bills, lost wages, rehab expenses, etc. — and multiply it by a number. That number is usually between 1 and 5, determined by the severity of the injury.
Another method is the per diem approach. A dollar amount is assigned to each day, beginning on the date of the accident and running until the plaintiff reaches maximum recovery.
No matter what the insurance company says in a matter like this, it’s always smart to consult with a personal injury attorney in your area with experience handling such cases.
Questions from Whiplash Accident Victims
What Causes Whiplash?
Almost everyone has experienced or knows someone who has suffered whiplash in a motor vehicle collision. This isn’t just anecdotal — a majority of whiplash cases lawyers see come from car accidents.
Whiplash occurs when the structures in your neck — discs, ligaments, nerves, muscles, etc. — become damage due to a sudden twisting or tweaking. The violent motion of a car accident can disrupt the body’s normal state and cause severe neck pain.
Small vessel tears in the neck can release inflammatory substances, which causes swelling and pain.
Other causes of whiplash include sports injuries (football most commonly), physical abuse, or fighting. Anytime you head or neck is jerked or unnaturally bent, whiplash may occur.
How Long Does Whiplash Last?
As with any type of injury case that we handle, we are cautious to give a hard-and-fast answer to medical timelines. For a comprehensive answer, go to a doctor of physician.
But in most whiplash cases that we handle, the neck pain most closely associated with whiplash goes away within a few days, but may last as long as a couple months. Yes, the lingering effects of a car accident can weigh on you for a while.
Various studies have shown that depending on the severity of your accident, 12 to 50 percent of victims may have persistent neck pain after a year.
The length of the pain depends on:
- If you had severe neck pain at the beginning
- If the pain developed right after the accident
- You suffer memory loss after the accident
- Pain is felt in your arms or legs
When do Whiplash Symptoms Appear?
If you have been involved in a car accident, it’s important that you receive prompt medical attention. Not only is this the safe and smart course of action, but occasionally serious injuries will not be all that obvious.
After a traumatic event such as a car accident, adrenaline floods a person’s system. This “fight or flight” hormone is responsible for preparing our bodies for danger. Therefore, even a serious injury may be masked by the body’s adrenaline response.
So how does that relate to whiplash? Well, even though whiplash is far from the most serious injury you can suffer in an accident, the pain that comes with it may not be felt immediately. Typically whiplash symptoms are felt with 24 to 48 hours, but it can take weeks or months to fully manifest.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you’re more or less injured than you actually are. But it’s smart to error on the side of caution and go get checked out by a doctor. Plus, if you eventually want to pursue a personal injury claim, having documented medical treatment will help matters.
What Does Whiplash Feel Like?
Whiplash causes varying levels of pain in the upper neck and back. Again, symptoms for each person will vary, but generally include one or more of the following sensations:
- Neck and upper back pain and stiffness
- Back spasms
- Pain when you move your head or neck
- Headaches and dizziness (may be a concussion)
- Burning, tingling or numbness in your arms and legs
- Should and/or upper back pain
Whiplash is also closely associated with more severe neck and back injuries. If you suffer any of the above symptoms and have recently been involved in a car accident, consult a medical professional. You have have an injury to your discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, as well as a more serious spinal cord injury.
What are the Long-Term Effects of Whiplash?
If a car accident victim does not receive treatment for their whiplash injuries, the recovery process will be longer. Unfortunately, this may lead to long-term effects.
In some of the most serious whiplash injury cases we’ve seen, a person will have long-lasting injuries from an accident that occurred at 10 miles per hour. If you were to look at the vehicles, they hardly have more than a few dents and dings.
The lesson here is that even minor accidents can cause long-term effects. This can lead to “chronic whiplash,” which includes symptoms such as:
- Jaw pain
- Upper back and neck pain
- Stiffness in the shoulders
- Ringing in the ears
- Memory problems
- Blurred vision
Having your whiplash injury diagnosed as soon as possible may help to avoid or mitigate some of the above symptoms of chronic whiplash. While whiplash should not be a life-changing injury, those who do not treat it with the proper seriousness are prone to long-lasting problems.