Most of us know the term “fender-bender,” and many of us have been in one ourselves. The term seems accurate, since on the surface it seems like the only damage from the accident is a small dent. In the 40 years I’ve been helping injured people, I have all too often seen people lose their right to fair compensation because they assumed that it was just a minor accident. Unfortunately, the bodily injury suffered in a minor accident often won’t present its full effects until some time has passed.
It’s about fairness
Some people have the wrong idea as to why the law allows people to seeking fair compensation. It’s not some kind of reward or like hitting the lottery just because you were in an accident. It’s because injuries have consequences. With serious injuries, there is the direct economic loss and the non-economic loss, such as losing the ability to engage in activities that you enjoy. Of course, the ways in which an accident can affect your life are many, but for this article, I’d like to focus on why it’s important to let medical and legal experts tell you how serious your injuries are and not make the diagnosis for yourself.
Are you ok?
In a bad accident, the injuries are often obvious, with people taken away from the scene in an ambulance. This is not the case with a “fender-bender.” You will likely step out of your vehicle and the other drive will ask you if you are ok. In that moment, you will feel any number of different emotions. You may be angry at the other driver, you may be relieved that you “weren’t hurt,” or you may be disoriented. It’s likely that the true nature of your injuries will not be present and when the other driver asks if you are ok, your first reaction will probably to say that you are and ask if he or she is ok. It is at this moment that you’ve made the first mistake. The reality is that you do not yet know if you are ok.
What kind of injuries could you have?
Minor accidents can often cause serious soft tissue injuries, including whiplash. I get angry when I think of the many comedic caricatures of the person putting on the neck brace after an accident with the implication that he is exaggerating his pain before speaking to the other driver or the insurance company. The reality is that this and other injuries are not a joke and you should not dismiss them for fear of judgment. Here are a few examples of common injuries.
When your moving car is abruptly stopped by a collision, your body will continue to move forward until stopped by your seat belt. At that point, your head will jerk forward and then snap back again, which is the cause of the injury. At first your neck may be sore, and you may want to believe that it’s just temporary, but underneath you may have suffered serious long term damage that will affect your bones and joints, and may cause you other problems down the road.
Symptoms may appear after a few days and include, among others:
- Frequent headaches
- Decreased range of motion
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Muscle spasms
- Chronic fatigue or dizziness
- Blurred vision
While we often associate a concussion with banging our head, it can also occur when the head jerks forward and back quickly as it will in a car crash, which can cause the brain to slam into the inside of the skull. The symptoms may not immediately present themselves, and some may not be recognized at all if you’re not around people who know you well and can spot changes in your behavior. Some typical symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
When you’ve been in a car accident, you may sometimes suffer consequences that are more difficult to diagnose but are no less real. Anxiety, fear, or depression may interfere with your life. In some cases, these symptoms may fade over the course of a few months, but in other cases they may continue. When the symptoms do not go away, it may be a sign that you’ve suffered a more serious psychological injury that can have a long-term impact on your life and you should seek professional help.
You only get one chance at compensation
As with any accident, the insurance companies involved have one job, to minimize payouts. By accepting a settlement with an insurance company, you are signing away your rights to any future compensation. The insurance company knows this well and will take advantage of your lack of symptoms to offer you a settlement that may seem generous to you at the time. If it turns out that your injuries were more serious than you thought, you will be left without any options to cover the costs and you will no doubt feel regret about your decision to settle too soon.
Seek medical and legal advice
After any accident, the best advice is always to see a doctor. Your doctor will be aware of the possible injuries you may have suffered and can give you some advice on what symptoms to look for. Don’t take any chances with your health, leave the diagnosis to the experts.
After you’ve spoken to your doctor about your health, speak to an attorney about your rights. Dealing with an insurance company can be complicated and the sooner you speak to a qualified injury attorney, the more chance that he will be able to help protect your rights and ensure that you are compensated fairly.
Don’t talk to anyone about your injury, and especially do not mention or comment about it on Facebook in any way. Don’t tell people that you think it’s probably not a big deal or that you are only feeling minor pain. The problem is that you cannot be sure on your own if it’s a big deal or not. When it turns out to be much more serious, that self-diagnosis often leaves injury victims unable to receive the fair compensation they otherwise would have been entitled to.
Putnam County’s Injury Attorney
Attorney Greg Bagen has been serving the Putnam County community for over 40 years. He has helped countless accident victims put their lives together and he can help you. Call or write for a free case evaluation. He’ll give you an honest opinion about your options for seeking compensation.