Let’s say that you or loved one has suffered a whiplash injury in a car accident after being rear-ended by a negligent driver somewhere in Georgia. Maybe the at-fault driver ran a stop sign or a red light, or maybe that driver wasn’t paying attention and ran into the back of your car on the interstate when traffic slowed to a stop. Immediately or sometime after the accident your neck begins to hurt terribly, and it does not get better for days, weeks or even months. How do you prove to the insurance company of the driver that hurt you that your injury resulted from the car accident, and how much is your case worth? This article will help you understand how, in the State of Georgia, to prove a whiplash injury case and what factors both insurance companies and personal injury lawyers use to determine what a case like yours might be worth.
Whiplash injuries are usually defined as an injury to the neck related to a sudden backward and forward movement, usually caused by a car accident. Symptoms of whiplash from a car accident can include pain in the neck and upper back and referred pain to the shoulders and arms. Treatment for whiplash often includes medication, chiropractic care, massage therapy, electrical stimulation therapy, orthopedic care and physical therapy. Injury victims whose cases of whiplash that do not resolve in a few weeks often seek treatment specialist such as an orthopedist (bone and muscle doctor).
After your accident, did you immediately go to the emergency room or get medical care within the first few hours or days? In whiplash injury cases one of the first things insurance companies look at is when you received treatment. How quickly a person sought or received medical care is an important factor in how much an injury case is worth. The harder it is to relate the injury to the collision, often the lower the potential settlement value is. You can imagine that an office worker who goes directly to the emergency room complaining of neck pain is going to have an easier time convincing an adjuster (and later on a Judge and Jury) that his neck injury came from being in a car accident than a construction worker who does not go to the doctor until several days, or longer, after the accident.
Next, how much damage was there to the vehicles? Insurance adjusters seem to be obsessed with this. If there is a lot of damage, insurance company adjusters tend to take the case more seriously and make better settlement offers. But what if the damage is small? We all know that today’s cars are well made, with durable bumpers. If your car does not show visible damage, it can be tough to convince an insurance adjuster to make a fair settlement offer in an injury case. This is where medical and expert testimony becomes highly important. Under such circumstances, testimony from a doctor or bio-mechanical expert may be needed to support the relationship between the collision and the injury.
Even more important than visible damage to the vehicles is documentation of the injury. Current and past medical records are the key to proving a whiplash injury. Whiplash may not show up on an x-ray or MRI, and must be proven by having the symptoms documented and treated by medical professionals. Emergency room records are examined to see what your complaints and symptoms were at the time of first treatment, what tests were performed, and what diagnosis was made. The records are used to prove to Insurance Company, and to the Judge and Jury if necessary, that you were injured in the car accident and to what degree. The records of your medical care after the emergency room, such as treatment with a doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist are then used to prove the progression of your recovery and in support of the amount of your medical bills.
To place a value on a whiplash injury case, insurance companies and personal injury lawyers will first need to have documentation of all of your medical care after the emergency room, including all records of your visits to primary care physicians, doctors and chiropractors. In addition, it is often necessary to get the records of your past medical care. Insurance companies will closely review your past medical records to argue that you had a pre-existing condition, especially pre-existing neck pain or if you are an older person to show degenerative conditions, in order to diminish your case. A good reason to hire a personal injury lawyer is to protect yourself from such attacks on your injury claim. On the other hand, if your medical records show no prior complaints of neck or upper back pain, this may increase the value of an injury case. Personal injury lawyers will focus on showing that you did not have problems with your neck before the crash, or if you did, that the wreck made your condition worse.
Other things that the insurance adjuster will consider in making a settlement offer include how much damage was there done to the vehicles in the collision (were the cars destroyed, or is this a bumper-tap); whether your injury shows up on an x-ray or an MRI; how long it took to recover from your injury; and whether your injury is permanent. That is, insurance adjusters and lawyers will look at the vehicle damage, the total amount of the past and future expected medical bills and whether your injury was temporary or permanent and rely upon those items as a starting point for placing a value on the case.
The amount of medical bills, the cost of future care, and whether the injury is permanent are among the largest value drivers in whiplash cases. Fortunately, most cases of whiplash are temporary injuries, with a good recovery. Such cases may be worth hundreds to thousands of dollars more than the medical bills, depending on the severity of the injury. Sometimes a person suffers more seriously and does not fully recover. In such cases a doctor’s expert opinion is usually needed to prove the connection between the crash and the injury and to explain how and why the injury is permanent. Whiplash cases resulting in permanent injury can sometimes have a very high value, particularly if injections or surgery will be needed. Serious whiplash cases resulting in permanent injury can be worth thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of injury.
Finally, if the insurance company’s adjuster fails to make a reasonable settlement offer in response to you or your attorney’s demand request, injury victims have the option to file a lawsuit. Your injuries will be proven in court using the medical records and the testimony of the treating doctors and other medical professionals. Know that in the State of Georgia, it may not be enough to just show up in Court and tell the Judge and Jury about your injuries – they may not believe you, and the defense will certainly argue that your explanation alone is not enough to justify a verdict. The best and safest practice is often to introduce the medical records and a narrative report of medical testimony from a medical witness who can explain your injuries to the Jury.
At The Millar Law Firm we specialize in proving whiplash cases and many other types of injuries that can result from car, truck, and motorcycle accidents. We handle other types of injury and accident claims and cases also. Whether you hire us or another law firm, we recommend that you research your attorney to make sure that he or she fully understands how to prove your injuries. A lawyer who handles divorce cases one day and criminal cases the next may not always be the best choice. Call us today for a free evaluation of your injury case. We think you will be glad you did.