Car Accidents and Whiplash Injuries
The following is a guest post by Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C.
After a particularly nasty accident last year, I heard my daughter ask the ER doctor, “How can it be whiplash; I was only going 20 (mph)?
In fact, whiplash injury can occur at speeds as low as ten miles per hour, since it isn’t the speed but the sudden jolt, as one car hits another, that causes your head to be abruptly thrown back and sideways. The more sudden the motion, the more bones, discs, muscles and tendons in your neck and upper back will be damaged, resulting in whiplash, which is the most common complaint arising out a car accident.
A whiplash injury is unlikely to kill you. In fact, neck fractures – the most common cause of spinal cord injury, or SCI – are the source of about 6,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Another 5,000 whiplash injuries per year result in quadriplegia, or the loss of movement in both arms and legs. Other facts relating to whiplash injury include:”
- Current research indicates an uptick in the number of car accidents and related whiplash injuries. In fact, there is evidence that neck injuries and the resultant dysfunction are starting to compete with low back pain (LBP) as the number one complaint among Americans of all ages.
- Initially, whiplash can manifest as neck and upper back pain. Then, anywhere from a few hours to several days after, victims report headache, dizziness, concentration and memory disturbances, or upper limb weakness and tingling, burning sensations of the skin in the affected area. Blurred vision is also common, and this entire host of symptoms is called “whiplash associated disorders.”
- Neck fractures from whiplash are the most common cause of spinal cord injury.
- The vertebrae in the lower neck are fractured most often. These neck, or cervical vertebrae, numbering one through seven, are most often damaged beginning with number three, since one and two (and seven) are somewhat protected due to their location and structure.
- SCIs, or whiplash, occur most often in men (by a factor of 0.9 percent).
- SCIs are the second leading cause for paralysis. The leading cause is stroke, at 29 percent, spinal cord injury (23 percent) and multiple sclerosis (17 percent).
- The prevalence of chronic whiplash pain is estimated to be 1 percent, or 40 cases out of 100,000.
- Most cases of whiplash occur among Caucasians (66.1 percent), as compared to 27.1 percent for African Americans, 8.1 percent for Hispanics, and 2 percent for Asians.
- Most injured patients experience rapid recovery after the acute event.
- After 12 months, only 1 in 5 patients remain symptomatic, with only 5 percent of patients complaining of severe pain.
- In spite of that, only 11.5 percent of individuals were able to return to work a year after the injury, and only 35.4 percent were able to get back to work at a similar level of performance after 20 years.
- Estimated indirect costs to industry are $66,626 per year, depending on the level and severity of SCI.
- Lastly, the total cost per year for SCI was $40.5 billion in 2008, a 317-percent increase over 1998, in spite of air bags and various safety features on newer cars.
Whiplash injuries are not confined to auto accidents. They can also happen in connection with falls, contact sports’ collisions (hockey, football), and diving into a pool, a lake, or off tall cliffs (along the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, for example). Whiplash injuries are also exacerbated by the following conditions:
- Alcohol intoxication
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Again, speed has only a peripheral effect on whiplash injuries. Physics, which can affect the “limit of harmlessness” – a phrase coined in 2002 by Jurg Senn of Liechtenstein University – shows that rear-end impact accidents which result in whiplash brain injuries can occur at velocities between 10 and 15 kilometers per hour (km/h, or 6 to nine miles per hour). Some studies with volunteers even suggest that, at velocity changes below 10 km/h, the potential for serious whiplash injuries remains significant. But the whiplash injuries that most often end up being reported to insurance companies are incurred at the 15 km/h range.
Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. is a personal injury law firm in Chicago, Illinois.