A car accident is a violent, traumatic event that can upend your life in a split second and leave you in pain and uncertainty for much longer. You likely have a lot to deal with after a crash, like seeking medical treatment for your injuries, dealing with insurance adjusters, and making ends meet while you cannot work. Knowing what to expect after a car accident can make this process easier and empower you to rebuild your life.
Keep reading to learn about the physical and mental consequences you might suffer, your options for financial compensation, and whether you should consult with a car accident attorney about your case.
Physical Effects from a Car Accident
Typically, the most noticeable effects of a car accident are the physical ones.
Car accidents can cause a range of severe injuries, including:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- External injuries to the face and head
- Spinal cord injuries, including partial or complete paralysis
- Nerve damage
- Neck injuries
- Back injuries
- Crushed or severed limbs
- Severe burns
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Internal bleeding
- Injuries to internal organs
- Soft-tissue injuries (sprains, strains, torn ligaments or tendons, etc.)
- Broken bones
- Severe lacerations and bruises
In turn, these injuries lead to a range of physical symptoms, such as:
- Severe fatigue. Traumatic events like car accidents take a significant toll on your body. Healing from these injuries saps the body’s energy, and it may take more effort to do activities that you used to perform with ease. Resting as much as possible is essential to the healing process, and you should avoid strenuous physical activities as much as possible.
- Numbness and tingling, particularly in your arms and legs. Blunt force trauma can damage your body’s nerves, causing the affected area to go numb. You might also experience a “pins and needles” feeling in parts of your body. Not all nerve damage is permanent, though you should see a doctor immediately if you experience tingling or numbness.
- Ringing in your ears. The extreme volume of a car crash can damage your hearing, especially if it occurs at high speeds. Deploying airbags is also loud and goes off right by your head. Many people experience ringing in their ears for several hours or days after an accident. Tell your doctor if you have persistent ringing in your ears after a collision.
- Swelling and bruises. Blunt force trauma or internal bleeding can cause parts of your body to swell or bruise. While this is common after a collision, your doctor should check to ensure you are not suffering from a severe internal injury.
- Back pain. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has found that rear-end collisions are the most common type of multi-vehicle accident nationwide. While any car accident can cause back injuries and back pain, rear-end collisions are more likely to damage bones and soft tissues in your back.
- Neck pain. A car accident can cause your head to jerk back and forth or from side to side. This intense strain can damage the muscles, bones, and soft tissues in your upper back and neck. In some cases, people with neck injuries must have their heads immobilized to prevent additional injuries.
- Headaches. It is common for people involved in car accidents to hit their head on an airbag, the steering wheel, the steering column, the dashboard, or another part of the car. Even if you did not hit your head in a crash, the jolt from the crash could cause headaches and other injuries.
Mental and Emotional Effects of a Car Accident
The physical effects of a car accident can be severe, but a crash’s emotional and psychological impact can be just as harmful.
Some potential mental and emotional consequences of a car accident include:
- Increased anxiety. Traumatic events like car accidents can cause your brain to overreact to certain stimuli. You might find yourself jumping at loud or unexpected noises or avoiding situations or people that remind you of the crash.
- Depression. You could be in the hospital for a long time after an accident, preventing you from doing things you used to enjoy. You might also be adjusting to a long-term or permanent injury or disability. These sudden changes in your life can lead to feelings of depression and hopelessness.
- Nightmares or flashbacks. Car accidents and other traumatic events can permanently affect your brain. While you do not consciously want to relive the accident, you might dream about it anyway, leading to fear and agitation. Some people experience waking flashbacks after an accident, which can be incredibly disruptive and disorienting.
- Guilt or shame. Severe injuries and disfigurement often lead to feelings of shame. Many who survive violent incidents feel guilt that others did not. Such feelings can take a noticeable toll on your mental health and quality of life.
- Insomnia. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders can interfere with your sleep schedule after an accident. People who have nightmares after an accident might avoid sleep to avoid reliving the crash. This insomnia can exacerbate the other mental health effects of a collision.
- Feeling detached from the world. Many people who have been through traumatic events feel disconnected from their bodies or environment. Mental health professionals call this condition dissociation, which can impede your ability to interact with others or the world around you.
- Suicidal thoughts. Concussions and other brain injuries can affect how you think and feel emotionally after an accident. Changes in your brain function can lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. People who have suffered paralysis or other serious injuries after an accident might become so depressed that they think about ending their lives. If you feel suicidal after an accident, know that you are not alone and that you should contact a mental health professional immediately.
- Mood swings. A traumatic brain injury can impair your ability to control your emotions. You might find yourself getting angry for no reason or crying over seemingly trivial issues. These mood swings can take a heavy toll on your mental health and your relationships with others.
- Memory issues. Many people involved in car accidents have trouble remembering the event or things related to it. A traumatic brain injury can also make it difficult to form new memories after a crash.
- Post-traumatic stress. Many of the effects listed above are symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. PTSD affects how the brain reacts to stress and can cause issues with your fight-or-flight response. PTSD symptoms can severely hamper your quality of life, but treatment can help you adjust to the mental effects of a collision.
Basic Steps in the Car Accident Claim Process
The physical, mental, and emotional effects of a car accident could entitle you to compensation through an insurance claim or lawsuit. However, pursuing this compensation is a complex process, and knowing how it works can make it easier. Here are the basic steps in an insurance claim after an accident.
Hiring a Lawyer
While no law requires you to hire a lawyer to help with your claim, doing so is often a good idea, especially if you have severe injuries or substantial losses. An experienced attorney can handle all the legal aspects of your case on your behalf, improving the likelihood of a positive outcome and allowing you to focus on your health and recovery.
The Preliminary Investigation
While you receive treatment for your injuries, your lawyer can start investigating the accident. Your car accident attorney will look for evidence establishing who caused the crash and the extent of your compensable losses. Medical records, police reports, eyewitness accounts, photos from the accident scene, expert testimony, and surveillance can all help substantiate an insurance claim.
Identifying the Liable Parties
Now that your lawyer has finished the initial investigation, they can identify who caused the crash and is financially responsible for your injuries. Usually, you will file a claim against the other driver after an accident, but another party could be liable or share responsibility for the collision. Automakers, parts manufacturers, and government agencies might be liable for an accident, depending on the circumstances.
Documenting Your Injuries
You cannot recover full compensation from the liable party without proof of the effects the car accident had on your life. A car accident lawyer can document your physical injuries, financial losses, and other consequences of the crash.
Filing an Insurance Claim
Once your lawyer has identified the liable parties and determined how much they owe you, it is time to file an insurance claim. Your car accident attorney will submit a demand letter to the insurance company stating how much money you are asking for. Having a lawyer handle interactions with the insurance company protects you from accidental mistakes that could jeopardize your claim.
Once the insurance company receives your demand letter, it will either acquiesce to your request, make a counteroffer, or deny your claim. In the latter two cases, this serves as the start of negotiations. Your lawyer and the insurance company will review the available evidence and try to reach an acceptable agreement. Be patient during this process and let your car accident attorney argue on your behalf.
Reaching a Settlement or Filing a Lawsuit
Hopefully, your lawyer and the insurance company can negotiate a settlement that provides fair compensation for your losses. If so, the case ends once you accept the deal. But if an insurer will not agree to a reasonable settlement, you may need to file a lawsuit. Your attorney can advise you of your options and appraise your chances for success.
If you decide to file a lawsuit, your lawyer and the insurance company will exchange any evidence they have gathered. Called discovery, this process narrows the scope of the trial and allows both sides to prepare their arguments. It could take several weeks or months for both sides to review all the evidence, depending on the facts of the case.
Before your case makes it to trial, you might choose to go before a neutral third party in an alternative resolution process called mediation. Mediation is cheaper and faster than a trial, and getting out of a courtroom setting often helps both sides of a lawsuit find common ground.
Sometimes, a lawsuit is the only way to make an insurance company do the right thing. That said, trials are risky, as a court’s ruling binds both parties. If you win your case, the insurance company has to pay for your injuries according to the court’s determination. But losing your case could mean losing your chance to recover any compensation. This is where having a good lawyer with litigation experience is particularly useful.
How Long Do Car Accident Cases Take?
Every car accident case is different. Those that do not go to trial usually conclude within a few weeks or months. Those that go to trial can last for considerably longer.
Some factors that affect how long your case takes include:
- Your injuries and financial losses. The more money you ask for after an accident, the more pushback you can expect from the insurance company. They want to protect their bottom line and will thoroughly investigate the crash before paying a claim.
- Questions over fault If you have clear evidence showing their policyholder caused the crash, the insurance company will have fewer options for fighting your claim. But convincing them to pay for your injuries may prove more difficult if they think they can shift the blame for the accident.
- Whether or not a case goes to trial It takes a long time to prepare for and try a personal injury case. Going to trial could prove necessary, depending on the facts of your case, but it could be several months or longer before the trial concludes.
How a Car Accident Lawyer Can Help After a Crash
The main job of a car accident attorney is to make your life easier after a collision by handling your case for you and increasing the payout you receive.
Some ways in which a lawyer can help with your case include:
- Gathering evidence to establish liability and document your injuries
- Filing your insurance claim and reviewing any documents for potential mistakes
- Handling settlement negotiations and enforcing your rights
- Preparing your trial strategy and representing you in court, if necessary
Remember, the sooner you hire an attorney, the more they can do on your behalf.