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Home » Latest News » Car Accident Claims: Whiplash, or a more serious injury?

Car Accident Claims: Whiplash, or a more serious injury?

Car Accident Claims: Whiplash, or a more serious injury?

The head and neck support the brain and spinal cord. A severe whiplash type movement can cause trauma that to the spinal cord that requires surgical intervention as opposed to being able to heal itself. In the severest cases, paralysis might occur.

The story of Mr GR, below, is a true one. However, as he was not a client of Bridge McFarland Solicitors, and although it is possible to find accounts of this incident from online local news outlets, we have decided to keep his true identity anonymous for the purpose of this article.

In June 2007, Mr GR was driving home along the A5 when a tyre on his car burst and he drove off the road and collided with a tree. The emergency services attended and he was taken to the nearest University Hospital. He underwent a series of scans and tests but doctors told him he had suffered no serious injuries and could go home. Mr GR was in agony and couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had to be helped out to his friend’s car in a wheelchair and assisted into the vehicle. He was in so much pain that the doctor had to be called out later that evening.

Notwithstanding this, the medical experts thought he just had whiplash. After three weeks he went back to work, but not as a lorry driver, his profession before the accident. Instead his job was to sit next to the driver and direct him.

After six months, whilst on a course of intensive physiotherapy, it was discovered, from the original CT scans taken at the time of the accident, that Mr GR had suffered a broken neck and that it wasn’t whiplash.

Mr GR settled a claim for medical negligence with the hospital on the basis of delay in the diagnosis of his injuries.

Our reason for mentioning Mr GRs case, is not because there is any suggestion that he could have made a claim for road traffic accident compensation out of the circumstances described. He hit a tree with no other vehicle involved.

However, it does highlight another important point. The difference between suffering a whiplash injury (frequently itself, much more disabling than people often think) and a serious spine, neck or brain injury is often a matter of small margins.

Whiplash injury is caused by a sudden movement of the head: backwards, sideways or forwards. It is most often associated with a stationary vehicle being hit from the rear by another vehicle, but any sudden impact whether it be from front, rear or from the side can cause the mechanics of a whiplash type injury to take place. As Mr GR found out to his cost, the resulting injury can be rather more than a whiplash injury – sometimes a very serious one, as in the example above. Sometimes, too, it can be a fatal one.

Whiplash injury or Brain, Spine or Neck injury?

The head and neck support the brain and spinal cord. A severe whiplash type movement can cause trauma that to the spinal cord that requires surgical intervention as opposed to being able to heal itself. In the severest cases, paralysis might occur.

Similarly, whilst this same type of whiplash motion following a car accident, might lead to concussion, which also heals itself, a more severe consequence might be what are known as ‘diffuse axonal injuries.’ These are tears in the nerves of the brain and can be caused by the victim’s skull being violently moved in different directions. If the skull moves faster than the brain this can cause serious tears of tissues and nerves even tearing them away from the brain. The outcome could be temporary or even permanent brain damage – or even death. This type of injury does not always show up on CT scans.

According to an article entitled ‘Whiplash’ on the Naples Neurosurgery website;

“The acceleration-deceleration forces which cause whiplash injury are sufficient to permanently disable you. Even in a low speed rear impact collision of 8 mph, your head moves roughly 18 inches, at a force as great as 7 G’s in less than a quarter of a second. The Discovery space shuttle is only built to withstand a maximum of 3 G’s.”

A real life example of a rear end shunt collision causing severe injuries to the non-fault driver is a reported case called Siegel v Pummell which went to the England and Wales High Court to be decided upon. The claimant Mr Siegel’s stationary car had been struck from behind by one driven by Mr Pummell. From the date of the accident, Mr Siegel had suffered from headaches, problems with his vision, and with his cervical spine. It was agreed by all concerned that he had suffered with his employment. However, the scans of his brain showed no evidence of lesions (wounds), nor had he lost consciousness in the accident.

Mr Siegel, his solicitors and medical expert, argued that he had suffered a diffuse axonal injury, the type of brain damage already described in this article. Mr Pummell, his insurance company’s solicitors and their medical expert, argued that Mr Siegel had suffered nothing more than a minor whiplash injury and that his symptoms of headaches, memory loss and post-accident extra tiredness, were ‘psychologically driven’ or that his symptoms were caused by migraines that he had always got from time to time, even before the accident.

The court decided in favour of Mr Siegel and he was awarded compensation (damages) of £65,000 for his injuries (pain and suffering), past loss of earnings of £21,000, treatment and travel costs of £30,000, retraining costs of £25,000 and loss of earnings of £1,446,431.

Had Mr Pummell’s insurance company solicitors succeeded in their arguments, that this was nothing more than a whiplash injury, the damages that Mr Siegel would have been entitled to would have been significantly less than were actually awarded, by some considerable amount! Hence the reason we referred to there often being a fine line between a car accident causing a whiplash injury or causing serious brain or spine injuries.

‘The Whiplash Injury’ Culture

Many people are put off from making a claim for whiplash injury compensation following a road traffic accident. Often the reason for this is that they have seen stories in the newspapers or on the TV about there being a ‘whiplash’ or ‘compensation’ culture here in the UK. The words ‘epidemic’, ‘fraudulent’ or other such demeaning descriptions are used. The Government, with the strong encouragement of insurance companies have even succeeded in getting the second reading of a new Bill, the Civil Liability Bill, through parliament only in the past few weeks. As it stands, this Bill looks likely to become an act of Parliament which will start to take force in April 2020.

If this Bill becomes law as expected, then for cases of whiplash compensation brought after 1st April 2020, the amounts recoverable as compensation will be significantly slashed by as much as 89% of what someone claiming for whiplash at present might expect to recover.

Already it is highly probable that some serious injuries sustained in road traffic accidents are being passed off as ‘mere whiplash’ when in fact the victim is suffering from a brain injury, a spine injury or as in the case of Mr GR, a broken neck.

How would I know if I have suffered Brain or Spine injury as opposed to a severe whiplash injury following a non-fault road traffic accident?

Brain injuries can be complex in the way that they manifest themselves following a road traffic accident. Whilst the pain that you have suffered in the accident is likely to cause you to seek treatment at A&E immediately after the accident, if you are discharged after being told that you have whiplash and you continue to have symptoms, or develop symptoms of;

  1. Loss of consciousness for either a very brief few moments or longer
  2. You experience a state of being dazed, confused or disorientated
  3. Loss of balance/dizziness
  4. Fatigue, feeling drowsy or constant tiredness
  5. Headaches
  6. Sickness, vomiting or feeling nauseous
  7. Speech difficulties
  8. Blurred vision
  9. A ringing in the ears
  10. Sensitivity to light or sound
  11. Mood swings
  12. Problems with memory or concentration
  13. Anxiousness or depression

Spine injuries, like brain injuries, are not always immediately obvious. However, scans and other examinations by the medical professionals, should indicate if there is a more severe spinal injury. Symptoms as described under the previous section, relating to brain injuries may be a sign of something more serious than a whiplash which is a sprain or strain of the neck. If symptoms persist, then a follow up examination should be requested from the hospital or doctor’s surgery that originally made the diagnosis of whiplash.

Bridge McFarland Solicitors – How We Can Help

If you are involved in a car accident or other motor vehicle accident and you suffer a whiplash, brain injury or an injury to the spine, our specialist road traffic accidents team of solicitors can help. We have specialist road traffic accident solicitors at both Bridge McFarland’s Hull office and Bridge McFarland’s Grimsby office.

If it transpires that you have been misdiagnosed at A&E following the accident or by your GP and as a result your injury is more serious than was first envisaged eg what was diagnosed originally as whiplash turns out to be brain damage or a spinal injury, then it may be that our team of expert medical negligence solicitors are able to take up a claim for compensation on your behalf, as a result of the misdiagnosis that you were given.

Call us on 01482 320620 and we’ll ensure that you get through to the right team to start looking into your possible compensation claim. If we are able to assist, we’ll be able to work for you on a No Win, No Fee basis.