Many consider low-impact car crashes a minor annoyance, rather than a serious issue. Insurance companies may not treat injury claims that arise from so-called fender benders as legitimate. However, serious injuries can occur. It is important to understand what a low-impact car accident is and how it can affect your health before accepting a settlement offer.
What Is a Low-Impact Car Accident?
A low-impact car accident is an accident that happens when the vehicle or vehicles involved are traveling slower than 15 mph. These types of accidents may cause only cosmetic damage to the vehicle, such as dents, dings or scratches. An example of a low-impact accident could be someone whose foot slips off the brake at a stoplight causing their vehicle to tap the bumper of the car in front.
Common Causes of Low-Impact Car Accidents
Low-impact car accidents happen for a variety of reasons:
- Distracted driving
- Following too closely
- Right-of-way violations
- Poor visibility
- Improper lane changes
- Poor road conditions
While low-impact collisions can happen anywhere, the most common locations are parking lots, traffic lights, stop signs and stop-and-go traffic on city streets.
Can a Low-Impact Car Accident Cause Injuries?
The most common injury from a low-impact car accident is whiplash. Whiplash is less likely to happen in a low-impact crash; however, anything that causes your neck to suddenly jerk forward and then back can result in a whiplash injury. Rear-end accidents are the most likely to cause whiplash injuries.
The reason for this is that the force exerted on the head and neck of a vehicle occupant may be greater than the force exerted on the cars. For example, an 8 mph car crash exerts two G’s of force on the vehicles and five G’s of force on the neck of the occupants.
Low-impact accidents that involve pedestrians, cyclists or motorcycle riders can result in more serious injuries because these groups do not have the protection afforded by a vehicle. Additionally, injuries may be more likely to occur if the occupant of the vehicle is in an awkward position when the impact occurs, such as a person who is looking over a shoulder while backing out of a parking space.
Low-impact car accidents less commonly cause fractures, usually of small bones, such as those in the hands, wrist or feet. They may also cause cuts and bruises, back pain, stiffness and soreness and other injuries.
What Whiplash Is
Whiplash is a sprain or strain of the neck or cervical spine. It affects the tendons, muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper spine.
Cause of Whiplash
When a vehicle sustains a rear impact, the vehicle accelerates and then decelerates rapidly. This causes the occupant of the vehicle to first flatten against the seat as the car moves forward, similar to how stomping on your car’s accelerator may jerk you backward against your seat. This motion causes the back to straighten abruptly which can compress the disc and joints of the back and neck.
As the car slows down, the body rapidly moves forward. Because seatbelts restrain the body but not the head, your head may bend sharply forward straining muscles, ligaments and nerves. This motion may force discs in the cervical spine out of position or tear fibers and nerve roots.
Symptoms of Whiplash
Whiplash claims from low-impact car accidents can be difficult to prove. It is important to seek medical attention if you have any whiplash symptoms after a car accident:
- Neck pain
- Memory loss
- Limited range of motion
Whiplash may also cause back, shoulder and arm pain or numbness, nausea, dizziness and difficulty sleeping. Mild cases of whiplash may resolve in a few weeks. More severe cases can produce symptoms for months or years.
The body’s response to trauma can suppress the symptoms of injuries for hours or even days. Because of this, you may not experience symptoms immediately after your accident. For this reason, it is a good idea to see a doctor after a car accident even if you do not feel pain immediately.
How Doctors Diagnose Whiplash
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and how they impact your ability to perform daily tasks. The doctor will then touch and move your neck, head and arms to test your range of motion, strength, reflexes and sensation, determine tenderness and identify motions that cause an increase in pain. Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as X-rays, CT scans or an MRI to rule out other conditions that could be causing your pain. Some soft tissue injuries may be detectable on an MRI.
Treatment for Whiplash
Depending on the severity of your injury, you may need treatment to control pain, restore your ability to perform daily activities and regain your normal range of motion. Treatment may include over-the-counter or prescription pain medication, rest, physical therapy and muscle relaxants. Your doctor may also give you a series of exercises to perform at home to help restore your range of motion.
Can You Get Compensation for Injuries From a Low-Impact Car Accident?
If someone else’s negligence caused your car accident, you may be able to recover compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage. It may be difficult to convince the at-fault party’s insurance that a low-impact accident could have caused your property damage and injuries. A car accident lawyer may be able to help.
Drivers in New York must purchase personal injury protection coverage. This is a no-fault coverage that pays for up to $50,000 per person in medical and other expenses that occur because of a car accident regardless of who is at fault for the accident.
You can only seek compensation from an at-fault party if your damages exceed your PIP coverage. PIP coverage does not compensate you for non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering. However, to be able to sue an at-fault party for non-economic losses, you must have a serious injury:
- Loss of a fetus
- Permanent loss of a bodily organ, function or system
- Disability that lasts longer than 90 days
Because no-fault insurance only covers injuries, you can seek compensation for your property damage from the at-fault party.
How Can You Prove a Whiplash Injury?
Insurance companies are often skeptical of whiplash claims, particularly claims that arise from low-impact crashes. This is because soft tissue injuries, such as whiplash, are not detectable on X-rays and doctors are often reluctant to order MRIs for minor car accidents because of the cost of the test.
Instead, doctors usually diagnose whiplash based on the patient’s symptoms. This may lead the insurance company to assert that the accident victim is lying about symptoms for the purpose of filing a fraudulent claim. The best way to prove your claim is to seek immediate medical attention, keep a record of your symptoms and work with an experienced car accident lawyer.
How Can Cellino Law Help?
Insurance companies often deny or minimize injury claims that result from low-impact car accidents. However, you do not have to foot the bill for someone else’s negligence just because the insurance company says so. The team at Cellino Law can help you get fair compensation for your damages. Contact us at (800) 555-5555 to schedule a risk-free initial consultation.