As a driver, you have little control over someone else rear-ending you. Often, you may come to a stop at a stop sign or red light, preparing to move through the intersection when your turn comes, only to suddenly get struck from behind by a vehicle that simply does not stop in time.
What comes next? In the aftermath of a rear-end collision, you need to protect yourself as much as possible.
Common Rear-End Collision Injuries
Sometimes, rear-end collisions occur at a relatively low speed: the driver who hit you planned to stop, but simply did not do so in time to avoid hitting you. Other times, however, rear-end collisions can occur at full speed, as the driver behind you simply plows into you without slowing or stopping.
The type of collision you experience may have a substantial impact on the injuries you suffer.
- Whiplash. During a rear-end collision, your neck may jerk back and forth forcefully. Often, signs of whiplash do not develop until hours or days after the accident. If you have whiplash, you may suffer from stiff neck muscles or soreness in the muscles around the neck. You may experience sharp pain when turning your head in a specific direction. Some patients with whiplash experience ongoing headaches or pain in the shoulders or upper back as stiffness and pain travel from the relevant area. Whiplash can also cause victims to suffer high levels of fatigue or struggle to deal with dizziness. Most often, symptoms of minor whiplash resolve within a few weeks. In other cases, however, whiplash symptoms can linger. Some patients even suffer chronic whiplash, which can cause ongoing pain and limit the victim’s activities for some time after the initial accident.
- Back strains and sprains. The muscles and tendons around the back help support your spine and move you through your day. Those muscles cannot take the extreme force and back and forth movement associated with a rear-end collision. If you suffer back injuries in a rear-end collision, you may find your activities severely limited. Sitting, standing, or moving around in certain directions can all cause increasing pain. Sometimes, you may suffer from minor pain and stiffness. Other times, you may experience sharp pain that resolves when you sit down.
- Slipped or herniated discs. Small, cushioned discs in between your vertebrae help protect your spinal cord and soften many of the movements you perform every day. The force of a rear-end collision can cause those discs to slip out of place. The spinal column has relatively limited space. When a disc slips out of place, it can put pressure on your nerves, leading to pain. Sometimes, that pain may prove considerable. Herniated discs can also cause weakness, tingling, or numbness in the limbs, often on one side of the body, because of pressure on the nerve. A patient who spends too much time on bed rest and does not engage in regular exercise and therapy may worsen those symptoms, ending up stuck in a pain cycle.
- Spinal cord injuries. In extreme circumstances, especially following a full-speed rear-end collision, victims may suffer spinal cord injuries. In a spinal cord injury, the spinal cord severs, either completely or partially. A complete spinal cord injury can result in full paralysis below the site of the injury and a loss of sensation. Even incomplete spinal cord injuries can leave the victim with significant decreases in movement and mobility.
- Facial injuries. Your car’s airbags may deploy even in a rear-end collision with a relatively low rate of speed. While airbag deployment can reduce some types of injuries, it can also lead to significant facial injuries, especially in shorter accident victims. You may have severe bruising, broken bones in your face, or even lacerations. Sometimes, these injuries can lead to scarring and permanent changes in appearance.
- Traumatic brain injury. At high levels of force, rear-end collisions can result in traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injury victims often cannot focus or concentrate on the task at hand, or suffer short-term and long-term memory problems. Victims with traumatic brain injury may also have problems with emotional regulation. They may suffer from mood swings or extreme emotional reactions to even mild stimuli.
- Wrist and arm injuries. When your airbags deploy, if you have your hands on the steering wheel, the force can lead to serious wrist and arm injuries. Some patients suffer seriously broken bones that may require surgery to set properly. While recovering from broken bones in the wrists and arms, many victims need assistance with basic self-care tasks. Frequently, they cannot complete their usual work duties, which may lead to a substantial drop in income during recovery.
If you suffer injuries in a rear-end collision, especially one that causes only minor damage to the two vehicles, do not assume that you do not need to seek medical attention. Whiplash and other minor back and neck injuries, however, can leave you with serious, ongoing challenges and pain even if you do not notice immediate symptoms at the scene of the accident. Always seek medical attention after a rear-end collision, even if you believe that you escaped with relatively minor injuries.
What Should You Do After a Rear-End Collision?
After a rear-end collision, take action to protect yourself. Taking the right steps at the scene of the accident can save you a lot of anguish down the road. Even if you do not react exactly right in the immediate aftermath of the accident, you can take steps to prevent future problems.
1. Report the accident.
Most often, rear-end collisions occur due to negligence on the part of the rear driver. Occasionally, outside challenges, like brake failure, can lead to rear-end collisions.
In many cases, however, rear-end collisions result from driver error: a driver who became distracted by a cell phone or something else in the car, a speeding driver who failed to brake in time, or a driver who severely misjudged your location and tried to plow through your vehicle, for example. Many drivers do not want to accept liability for those types of accidents, especially inebriated drivers or drivers on the clock.
You should report the accident anyway. Failure to report the accident will make it difficult to recover compensation down the road. Wait for the police to arrive at the accident scene before leaving, unless you need to leave and seek immediate medical attention or do not feel safe at the scene of the accident.
2. Seek medical care.
In some cases, especially if you suffered spinal cord injuries or obvious broken bones in a rear-end collision, you might have little choice but to visit a hospital immediately. In other cases, you may feel that you walked away from the accident with few or no injuries, and that you do not have the time to seek medical care.
Failure to seek medical care promptly, however, could cause more problems than you think. In some cases, a lack of medical care could cause you to miss the diagnosis for serious injuries, which could slow your recovery due to lack of treatment. In other cases, you might discover serious injuries, including chronic whiplash, long after the accident itself. If you do not seek medical care soon after the accident, you may have trouble proving exactly when those injuries took place, which could make it more difficult for you to recover compensation for those injuries. By seeking medical care immediately, you will have the proof you need to establish when your injuries took place.
3. Follow your doctor’s instructions.
As you start to feel better, or in some cases, as you start to feel severely restricted by your doctor’s instructions after a rear-end collision, you may find yourself tempted to ignore those instructions and choose your own path. You feel okay using a broken arm, so you start using it normally despite the cast. Your doctor recommended that you rest, rather than resuming your usual workout routine, for a few days after the accident, but you feel better, so you push yourself to go back anyway.
Often, these decisions can prove catastrophic to your overall health. By ignoring your doctor’s instructions, you may find that you have more trouble healing or that you inadvertently make your injuries worse, preventing yourself from getting back to normal as soon as possible. In some cases, failure to follow your doctor’s instructions can also interfere with your car accident claim. If your own actions cause complications in your recovery, you may have trouble claiming compensation for those elements of your medical bills and suffering.
4. Contact an experienced car accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible.
Ideally, get in touch with an attorney before talking to the liable party’s insurance company after an accident, especially an accident that caused you to suffer severe injuries.
A car accident attorney can:
- Help establish how much compensation you should seek following your accident. After a serious accident, you may not know how much compensation you need to cover the full cost of your injuries. Often, accident victims do not fully understand what their medical expenses will look like following an accident that results in severe injuries. An attorney can help you determine the true value of your claim so that you do not inadvertently accept a too-low settlement offer.
- Advise you about the steps you need to take. Frequently, car accident victims commit errors in dealing with the insurance company that can prevent them from recovering maximum compensation. You might, for example, try to brush off the other party’s error or even mistakenly accept partial liability for the accident. For example, you might make a statement like, “I stopped too fast,” or, “I’m not sure my tail lights were working correctly,” which could leave you partially liable for the accident and reduce the compensation you ultimately receive. Talking to an attorney can help you avoid brushing off the other party’s liability or accepting liability for the accident yourself, often unintentionally.
- Negotiate on your behalf. Dealing with the insurance company after an accident can leave you feeling frustrated and unsure of what to do next. Sometimes, you may end up fielding multiple calls from the insurance company every week as the insurance company seeks evidence and insists on asking for information or issuing a settlement offer. An attorney can take over those negotiations on your behalf, which can decrease your stress level and provide you with more time to focus on the things that matter during your recovery. Most car accident attorneys have experience dealing with insurance companies, understand their tactics, and can build a strong legal argument on your behalf.
- Collect evidence related to your claim. Often, a rear-end collision claim clearly shows who caused the accident. After all, you had stopped your vehicle at the time of the accident. The other driver either followed too closely behind you or could not stop in time. Sometimes, however, dealing with a rear-end collision may prove more complex than initially thought. You may, for example, discover that a brake failure in the other driver’s vehicle led to your accident. Did a mechanic recently work on the vehicle’s brakes? Did the brakes fail due to manufacturer error? An attorney can help evaluate all those
elements, collect evidence, and identify any party that shares liability for your accident.
Following a rear-end collision, an experienced car accident attorney can help you navigate your legal claim and understand your legal right to compensation. Contact an attorney as soon after your accident as possible for a free consultation, during which you can explain the details of your rear-end collision, determine your eligibility to pursue compensation, and discuss your legal options.