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Published On: Tue, Jul 16th, 2019

Whiplash injuries and car accident compensation

If you have been in a road accident, suffered whiplash injuries and a negligent driver was involved in the accident you should be able to make a claim for compensation. Personal injury compensation is usually paid for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, permanent disability, financial loss, medical treatment and miscellaneous expenses.    

In order to negotiate for the best possible compensation amount it is important to obtain detailed assessment of your physical, psychological and cognitive symptoms. These assessments are then used by plaintiff personal injury lawyers to negotiate for appropriate treatment and the personal injury compensation they are entitled to.   

photo/ Angelo Esslinger

In the 20th century the rapid increase of motor vehicle use saw the global number of car accidents increase. Correspondingly, the global number of whiplash injuries also increased.

The Quebec Task Force was sponsored by a Canadian public insurer and in 1995  produced important guidelines for whiplash diagnosis and treatment. This work is still in  wide use today. The Task Force defined whiplash as:

…an acceleration-deceleration mechanism of energy transfer to the neck. It may result from rear end, side-impact and frontal vehicle collision, but can also occur during diving or other mishaps. The impact may result in bony or soft tissue injuries (whiplash injury), which in turn may lead to a variety of clinical manifestations (Whiplash-Associated Disorders).

A recent study by Monash University confirms that whiplash injuries involve the zygapophyseal joints, the intervertebral discs, the upper cervical ligaments and specific nerve and muscle injuries around the neck and shoulders. Whiplash injuries can also involve paresthesiae where sufferers experience weakness in the upper limbs and other areas of the body.

Typically whiplash causes injury and trauma to a limited and specific area of the body. Notwithstanding this, the symptoms experienced by sufferers vary significantly.

The Mayo Clinic is well recognised for its studies into whiplash diagnosis and treatment. The Mayo Clinic notes that whiplash symptoms often involve:

  • Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull;
  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back or arms;
  • Neck pain and stiffness;
  • Worsening of pain with neck movement;
  • Loss of range of motion in the neck;
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms;
  • Fatigue;
  • Irritability;
  • Difficulty concentrating;
  • Memory problems;
  • Depression;
  • Dizziness;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus); and
  • Sleep disturbances.

Symptoms like neck pain, headaches and loss of motion, can be relatively easy to diagnose in injured victims suffering whiplash injuries. These symptoms mostly manifest shortly after the road accident. These symptoms are, however, mostly physical in nature. There are many symptoms that are much harder to diagnose and that take much longer to present in the injured person. Here for example, psychological and cognitive symptoms can become present long after the road accident. These symptoms are often misdiagnosed and linked to other events or causes and not the road accident. Depression, forgetfulness, aimlessness and insomnia are symptoms that fall into this category and are often not considered when a person makes a car crash compensation claim.          

The New South Wales Government in Australia publishes extensive guidelines for the management and treatment of whiplash symptoms and include:    

Recommended treatments:

  • Reassure and stay active
  • Exercise – muscle re-education exercises, low load isometric, postural endurance and strengthening exercises
  • Pharmacology – simple analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and opioid analgesics
  • Return to usual activities

Not routinely recommended treatments:

  • Acupuncture
  • Kinesio taping
  • Trigger point needling
  • Surgical treatment
  • Manual therapy
  • Thoracic manipulation

Treatments where there is no evidence for or against their use:

  • Traction
  • Pilates
  • Feldenkrais
  • Ice
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
  • Electrical stimulation
  • Ultrasound
  • Laser
  • Shortwave diathermy
  • Alexander technique
  • Massage
  • Homeopathy
  • Cervical pillows
  • Magnetic necklaces
  • Spray and stretch
  • Heat

Treatments not recommended:

  • Botulinum toxin type A
  • Injections – steroid injections
  • Pulsed Electromagnetic Treatment (PEMT)
  • Reduction of usual activities
  • Immobilisation – collars
  • Pharmacology – anti-convulsants, anti-depressants
  • Muscle relaxants

Whiplash injuries can involve a wide range of symptoms and the onset of these symptoms can also occur at different times. It can therefore be difficult to predict how long it will take to treat whiplash injuries. Some of these symptoms are slow to resolve, can be difficult to treat and generally wear sufferers down. Anecdotally, often whiplash patients report pain symptoms that come and go but when present these symptoms can be severe. The unpredictable nature of these injuries often cause sufferers experience extreme frustration and depression. Unfortunately for others whiplash injuries involve constant and debilitating pain that stops them from carrying out basic  functions like sitting, walking or lying down.        

Whiplash diagnosis can be complex and symptoms can take time to manifest so it’s important to get expert advice from a personal injury lawyer and have your claim expertly managed right from the start.

Author: Markus Fernandez-Kennedy

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