Seeking Medical Care After a Car Accident
When you picture someone being injured in a car accident, you may tend to think of someone with obvious injuries—broken bones and lacerations—being placed in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital for emergency medical care. And if asked to describe a car accident in which there was little to no vehicle damage and the victims got back in their cars and drove away, many people might describe this as “a minor fender-bender.” However, it is not uncommon that someone involved in a very minor car accident, who gets back in their car and drives away, actually suffers a traumatic brain injury that, if not properly diagnosed, could lead to long-term disability or even death. This is why you should always see a doctor after any car accident, no matter how minor you may think the accident was.
You May Have Suffered Hidden Delayed Injuries
There are several injuries that are common in car accidents—even low impact crashes. These may include:
- Spinal cord injury
- Broken bones
- Knee injuries
- Shoulder injuries
- Internal injuries
In the cases of whiplash and concussion, symptoms of these injuries may not manifest for hours or even days after they occur. And because they are not external injuries that are obvious, you often do not know they happened and, therefore, may not realize that you need immediate medical attention. Your failure to seek immediate medical attention can have significant consequences, not only for your health, but also for your ability to be fairly compensated for your injuries and financial damages.
Effect of Delayed Injuries on Your Health
Car accidents can be physically and emotionally traumatic. When you are involved in a car accident, even if you do not experience immediate physical trauma, your body naturally produces chemicals—adrenaline and endorphins—as a way of dealing with the traumatic event. It is the “fight or flight” response. This can mask the physical pain you may otherwise experience. Thus, when you begin to calm down hours or even days after the trauma and your body’s chemicals return to their natural levels, you may begin to feel the pain from injuries you didn’t even realize you had suffered.
The most common delayed injuries in car accidents are whiplash and concussion. These are injuries for which you may not seek immediate medical attention because the injuries are not obvious or immediately apparent. Instead, you may gradually experience symptoms of the injuries, often more than 72 hours after the injuries occur.
According to the Pain in Motion research group, the symptoms that you may experience, called whiplash associated disorder (WAD) and post-concussion syndrome (PCS), may include the following:
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Reduced/painful neck movements
- Reduced/painful jaw movements
- Numbness, tingling or pain in arm or hand
- Numbness, tingling or pain in leg or foot
- Dizziness, unsteadiness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Tinnitus/ringing in ears
- Blurred vision, vision problems
- Lower back pain
- Pressure in head
- Balance problems
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to Noise
- Fatigue or low energy
- Trouble falling asleep
- More emotional
- Feeling confused
- Feeling slowed down
- Felling like "in a fog" or "dazed"
- "Don't feel right"
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficult remembering
These symptoms can be long-term. For up to 15 percent of people diagnosed with concussion and up to 50 percent of people diagnosed with whiplash injury, these symptoms are persistent and disabling. Researchers conclude that there is consistent evidence showing poor recovery after whiplash injury and that, for both injuries, “a correct diagnosis is a critical step in successful management leading to improved outcomes and a decreased potential delay in recovery.” This is why you should always seek immediate medical attention after a car accident.
Effect of Delayed Medical Treatment on Your Financial Recovery
If you are injured in a car accident but do not receive immediate medical attention, the party who caused your injuries is likely to assert that you did not receive your injuries in the accident. With any time between the accident and a medical assessment of your pain or injuries, the negligent party may claim:
- You injured yourself while engaged in some other activity after the accident but prior to your doctor’s visit
- The injury or pain you are complaining of existed before the accident, and the accident did nothing to cause you any more pain than you were already experiencing before the accident
- You were never injured in the accident and are only now making up your alleged pain to support your lawsuit. Had you truly been injured in the accident, you would have seen a doctor right away.
To avoid having to defend these kinds of assertions, it is important that you get a medical opinion immediately after an accident.
Also, even if you have suffered a delayed injury, seeking medical attention immediately at least shows that you were concerned that you may have been injured at the time of the accident. If a delayed injury does manifest later, your doctor can verify that this is common for these types of injuries.
Seeking medical attention immediately also provides a record of your medical visit, which could produce evidence of internal or delayed injuries that require further treatment. Documentation of every doctor visit and medical treatment will support your ultimate claim for damages.
Always Seek Immediate Medical Attention after an Accident
The most important thing to know about injuries in a car accident is that you don’t always know that you have been injured. You should always seek immediate medical attention after an accident to be sure that you have not suffered injuries that are not immediately apparent but that could lead to long-term disabilities if not treated right away. If you have been injured, immediate medical attention may prevent any exacerbation of the injury, prolonged pain, and long-term disability or worse. Not only will prompt medical attention help you to recover sooner, but any documentation will support any claim for damages that you might bring in the future.