Whiplash Settlements: Your Guide to Navigating the Claims Process

Imagine being involved in a car accident and walking away seemingly unscathed, only to wake up the next day with excruciating neck pain and a host of other symptoms that make it difficult to carry on with your daily life. This is the unfortunate reality for many who have experienced the often debilitating effects of whiplash.

Rear-end car accidents are a common cause of whiplash injuries, and it’s crucial to understand the signs and symptoms of this injury to seek timely treatment and prevent further damage. Additionally, medical treatment is critical to getting the compensation you deserve when someone else is at fault for your injury. 

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a neck injury caused by a sudden, forceful movement that causes the head to snap back and forth. The resulting force injures the tendons, ligaments, discs, muscles, and other soft tissues of the neck region and the nerve roots in this area.

Symptoms of whiplash can vary in severity and may include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck
  • Headaches, especially at the base of the skull
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Fatigue or sleep disturbances
  • Tingling, numbness, or burning sensations in the arms or hands
  • Shoulder or upper back pain
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Irritability or mood changes

How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

Whiplash is typically diagnosed through a combination of the patient’s reported symptoms and a physical examination by a healthcare provider. They will determine your range of motion in your neck and shoulders and ask if you have any tenderness or pain. They’ll also evaluate reflexes, strength, and sensation in your limbs. Finally, they may also order an X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to look for fractures, dislocations, bone damage, or soft tissue injuries.

By seeking medical attention immediately after a whiplash injury, you take the necessary steps toward proper diagnosis and treatment and establish a documented record of the injury that can be used to support a compensation claim. 

How is Whiplash Treated?

Treatment for whiplash will vary depending on the severity of your injury and how long you’ve had it. In general, treatment may include the following:

Pain management: This may involve rest, heat or cold therapy, over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, prescription medication, or muscle relaxants. In some circumstances, patients receive numbing medicine injections to decrease pain.

Exercise: Your doctor might suggest stretching and movement exercises to improve your neck’s range of motion and facilitate your return to normal activities. Furthermore, physical therapy can help manage symptoms and lower the risk of further injury by guiding you through exercises that promote good posture, muscle strength, and natural movement patterns.

Foam collars: Previously, soft foam cervical collars were frequently used to immobilize the neck and head. However, recent research suggests that prolonged immobilization can impede the healing process. While a collar may offer immediate pain relief and aid in sleeping, its use should be limited to a short period and directed by a medical professional.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From Whiplash?

The severity of a whiplash injury varies.  The recovery timeline will depend on the individual. Generally, mild cases may heal within several weeks with adequate rest and treatment. Recovering from more severe cases can take up to 6 months or longer.

Whiplash Grading System

Medical professionals use the whiplash grading system to classify the severity of a whiplash injury. The system is based on the symptoms and clinical findings of the patient and can help guide treatment options.

There are four grades of whiplash under the grading system:

Grade 0– There are no symptoms or physical findings related to whiplash.

Grade 1- Patients may have neck pain, stiffness, and tenderness but no other physical findings.

Grade 2- In addition to neck pain, patients may have musculoskeletal symptoms, such as limited range of motion, muscle spasms, and radiating pain.

Grade 3- Patients have neck pain and neurological symptoms, such as weakness or sensory loss, indicating nerve root damage. 

Grade 4- Patients have neck pain as well as neck fractures, dislocations, or other serious injuries.

The Whiplash Grading System helps healthcare professionals create an appropriate treatment plan.

Grade 1 or Grade 2 whiplash patients may only require pain management and physical therapy.  In contrast, those with Grade 3 or Grade 4 whiplash may need more invasive treatments, such as surgery or steroid injections.

What Should I Do After a Car Wreck if I Think I Have Whiplash?

Graphic outlining the 3 steps to take if you are in a car accident

After experiencing a whiplash injury, there are specific steps that you should take to ensure that you receive proper medical care and maximize your chances of receiving fair compensation.

Step 1: Get examined by a physician

It is crucial to seek medical attention immediately after an auto accident, especially if you feel any pain that did not exist before, such as neck and back pain. Getting examined by a physician is important for the healing process and the claims process. Even if you are treated and released, it is recommended that you seek follow-up care with a physician to address any possible complications. Delaying medical attention or not seeking it at all can complicate negotiations for your claim.

Step 2: Gather evidence to support your claim

It’s critical to gather evidence to support your compensation claim, including the following:

  1. Medical records and medical bills from your healthcare providers to document your diagnosis, treatment, and recovery plan;
  2. A police report to help establish liability for the injury;
  3. Photos or videos of the accident scene, your vehicle, and your injuries to demonstrate the accident’s severity;
  4. Statements from witnesses who saw the accident occur or interacted with you after the accident;
  5. A letter from your employer documenting any missed time from work because of the injury;
  6. A list of additional expenses, such as medication or transportation to get to doctor’s appointments.
  7. Keep a journal of your recovery, symptoms, and difficulties following the injury to demonstrate any pain and suffering resulting from the whiplash injury. 

Step 3: Contact a lawyer and file a claim

You must submit a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. When starting the claims process, it’s okay if you don’t understand the extent of your injuries yet. Insurance companies move fast after an accident to start investigating, so it’s essential to quickly reach out to an attorney specializing in car accidents.

Before accepting your initial settlement offer, you should get legal advice. Having legal representation is beneficial if the insurance company refuses to cooperate. Additionally, you should only provide a personal statement, whether written or verbal, once you have legal representation. Our team at Tuley Law can help you navigate the claims process and represent your case in court if needed.

Factors That Affect Your Whiplash Settlement Offer

Your settlement from a whiplash injury depends on several factors. The most significant factor is the severity of your injuries and how much you have spent on medical expenses. A more severe injury requiring extensive medical treatment or long-term disability may result in a more significant settlement offer. If the driver is found to be fully responsible for the accident, your settlement offer may be higher.

Other factors include:

  • If you missed work or lost earning capacity because of your injury.
  • The degree of fault assigned to the at-fault driver. If you had pre-existing injuries or medical conditions that were aggravated by the accident
  • The at-fault driver’s insurance policy limits.
  • If you have experienced emotional distress from the accident and your whiplash injury.

Calculating Your Damages for Whiplash

There are two types of damages: economic and non-economic.

Economic Damages – refer to the monetary losses you have incurred due to your whiplash injury. This includes medical bills, lost wages, and property damage.

Non-economic Damages – refer to the physical pain and suffering and emotional distress caused by an accident. 

It’s important to remember that insurance adjusters may value non-economic damages less than what you believe they are worth, particularly in whiplash cases. 

To gain a better understanding of your claim’s worth and negotiate a fair settlement that compensates you fully for your injuries and losses, work with a skilled personal injury attorney. Your lawyer can guide you through the negotiation process, ensuring your rights are protected.

How Modified Comparative Negligence Affects Your Whiplash Settlement in Indiana

In Indiana, modified comparative negligence determines the compensation a plaintiff can receive in a personal injury case. This may reduce the plaintiff’s compensation if they are found partially at fault for the accident that caused their whiplash injury.

For example, suppose a plaintiff is found to be 20% at fault for the accident. In that case, their damages award will be reduced by 20%. This is why it is so important to work with an experienced attorney who can help you navigate the process

Typical Car Accident Settlement Amounts for Whiplash

The settlement amounts you can expect from a car accident with a whiplash injury vary greatly.

Insurance companies deal with whiplash injuries often, so they’ve created “standards.” They’d like you to believe these are not negotiable—but they often are. They might say, “This is the appropriate amount for this type of injury, and we can’t go any higher,” but that’s not true if the court disagrees. Every case is unique, and there is no “one size fits all” settlement amount for whiplash injuries. It’s in your best interest to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can assess your case and help you determine a fair settlement amount.

Minor Whiplash Settlement (Grade 0 – Grade 1 whiplash)

For minor whiplash injuries, the exact amount depends on how much time you missed from work and if you have any pre-existing conditions that may have complicated your recovery.

Moderate Whiplash Compensation (Grade 2 – Grade 3 whiplash)

This category may also include estimates for future medical bills. People with moderate whiplash might miss more work than someone with minor whiplash. Their treatment might be more expensive and ongoing.

Severe Whiplash Compensation (Grade 4 whiplash)

This may include compensation for lost wages, ongoing medical treatment, and pain and suffering. People with severe whiplash may need extensive medical treatment, miss months or years of work, and experience ongoing pain. 

How Long Does it Take to Receive Your Whiplash Settlement?

The time it takes to receive your settlement will vary based on the case’s complexity and how quickly you and the other party can reach an agreement. It is also dependent on how fast you recover and if you recover at all. Generally, it can take as little as a few months to as much as several years depending on these factors.

The factors that affect your settlement timeline include:

  • Your medical treatments: you either must recover fully or reach maximum medical improvement (MMI). MMI is an essential factor in personal injury cases because it provides a baseline for assessing the long-term effects of the injury and determining the appropriate compensationIn some cases, a person may never reach MMI if their injury is permanent or if additional treatment is not expected to improve their condition significantly. In these cases, their long-term medical needs and ongoing limitations must be carefully considered when determining a fair settlement or damages award. Medical complications often lead to delayed settlements. One solution is for your accident lawyer to consult with your healthcare provider to estimate the future costs of the surgery.
  • The amount of time it takes to collect your medical records and documentation of other expenses.

Insurance companies can take days to months to respond to a demand package depending on the complexities of the particular case. If you file a lawsuit on your claim, it can technically settle anytime. However, this approach will likely increase the time it takes to receive your whiplash settlement.

The Benefits of Hiring an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

When you’ve been injured in a car accident caused by someone else’s negligence, talking to an experienced personal injury lawyer is always a good idea. Our team at Tuley Law can help you understand your rights and the legal process, calculate your damages, negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf, and represent you in court if necessary. Contact us today for a free consultation by calling (812) 625-2181 or filling out our online form.