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Late Presenting Injuries After a Car Accident

Posted by Bradley Thayer | Sep 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

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After a car accident, unless those involved have suffered immediately incapacitating injuries, it's not uncommon for them to exit the car and announce to any bystanders – even to the negligent driver – that they they are “fine.”

In some cases, a reluctance to admit pain is a product of upbringing as was the case of an elderly Scotsman. He was the passenger in a car that got rear-ended but was so determined not to ‘…cause a fuss,' that he maintained through gritted teeth that he was fine all the way to the hospital where he was found to have a broken collarbone.

This impulse to reassure any bystanders is not always bravado. In the immediate aftermath of an accident, shock and adrenaline may be masking pain especially in the case of parents more concerned for any children in the car than they are for their own immediate well-being. Parents or guardians may also announce that they are fine in a misguided effort to keep medical attention focused on their children even although they are in pain themselves.

Most of us would recognize ourselves to some extent in these reactions but this natural impulse to deflect attention can have a detrimental effect on a claimant's future personal injury case should he or she go on to seek compensation for pain and suffering.

Late Presenting Injury

No-one can really be sure at the scene of an accident that they are “fine.” Some injuries take time to make themselves apparent. Back pain, whiplash, and other soft tissue injuries may only begin to surface the next day. Even a potentially fatal brain injury may not present at the scene. The article titled, Brain Injuries After an Accident by NOLO, defines traumatic brain injuries as:

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) are a leading cause of death and disability in the United States, and car accidents are one of the leading causes of TBIs.

 The National Center for Biotechnology Information provides the following example of a woman who no doubt felt shaken in the aftermath of her car accident but felt well enough not to seek immediate medical attention at the scene:

A 65-year-old retired female presented to a chiropractic clinic, six days after a motor-vehicle collision (MVA), complaining of neck pain, lower back pain and headache. She stated that she was a right, rear and belted passenger in a vehicle, which was slowing down, when it was rear-ended. Her seat was not equipped with a head-rest. She reported no loss of consciousness and she did not hit any body parts in the interior of the vehicle. She did not seek immediate medical attention.

The woman had taken one Advil on the evening of the accident and continued with her usual daily activities. Although she was experiencing dull, lower back pain along with occipital headaches, she was able to and remembered having a number of social functions prior to presenting for therapy.

When she did finally present herself to the clinic, she was diagnosed with a post-MVA strain/sprain injury of her neck and low back, along with cervicogenic headache. Her treatment included soft tissue therapy to the neck as well as soft tissue therapy and spinal manipulation to the lower back region.

By her sixth visit, three weeks after the initial treatment, she reported feeling approximately 50% better and demonstrated some objective improvement in cervical and lumbar ranges of motion, but her headaches were getting more intense. She received three more treatments and by this time, she reported feeling 80% improvement.

Insurance Company Lawyers Push for Quick Settlement

In the event of an accident, insurance company lawyers may push for a quick settlement to be sure that any late presenting injuries are not included in the claim.  And if any injuries do show up in the hours or days following an accident, you can be sure that if the victim(s) were heard by witnesses at the scene saying that they felt “fine,” then the insurance lawyer  will have those witnesses in court in an attempt to minimize the victim's subsequent pain and suffering.

This is when the experience and resources of an established personal injury law firm comes in to play. Not only will a seasoned personal injury lawyer have handled these tactics before but the firm will have the finances available to hire an expert medical witness to outline the evolution of late presenting soft tissue damage. By the time he or she has presented their evidence, the jury will be better able to understand why you are claiming to have suffered significant pain even though you felt no pain at all at the scene of the crash.

As attorney Scott Edwards says in his article, 10 Things To Do After a Car Crash,  “… depending on the severity of the crash – your ability to think rationally and clearly may be impaired.” For safety's sake, the best thing to do is to have yourself checked over medically even if you are in no immediate pain.

About the Author

Bradley Thayer

Brad Thayer is an associate at the Schauermann Thayer firm. Brad is licensed in both Oregon and Washington. He has been practicing law since 2015. Brad's practice focuses on automobile collision, motorcycle, bicycle, pedestrian injury, dog bite, and a myriad of other types of injury and insurance cases. During his free time, Brad enjoys following the Portland Trailblazers, playing basketball. going to concerts, and playing the drums. He especially enjoys hiking in the Columbia River Gorge and exploring other Northwest wonders.

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