Rear-end collisions are one of the most frequently occurring vehicle accidents, accounting for about 29 percent of all crashes according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The injuries resulting from rear-end collisions can vary widely. An accident in which bumpers just tapped each other and the cars were of equal weight can result in mild injuries or possibly none at all. However, an accident in which a large vehicle, such as a truck or SUV, hits a much smaller car at high speeds can lead to catastrophic injuries or even death.
Common Injuries in Rear-End Collisions
Although injuries can vary immensely, there are some commonalities among injuries sustained in rear-end collisions. The most common injuries that occur in this type of accident are to the spine and neck. Why? Because a rear-end impact throws occupants forward before forcing them back against their seats. Both the spines and necks of involved individuals can suffer injuries, ranging from mild to severe, as a result of the movement specific to rear-end collisions.
The rapid forward and back movement involved in rear-end collisions can result in a condition known as whiplash. Whiplash damages the soft tissues of the neck and back by spraining or straining the neck, tendons, and ligaments. Whiplash has many symptoms, including pain and stiffness, headaches, insomnia, irritability, and depression.
Perhaps most vexingly, whiplash doesn’t always surface right away. People can first experience whiplash days after their accidents. Not only that, but some cases resolve easily with treatment, while other cases are long-term and may never resolve fully.
Spinal Cord Injury
Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) occur when a blow or sharp jolt damage the vertebrae in the neck or back and then the spinal cord. Spinal cord injuries can cause symptoms with permanent losses in strength, sensation, and other body functions below the area where the injury occurred, such as quadriplegia, paraplegia, or tetraplegia. These conditions are catastrophic, meaning they permanently impact the victim’s life. Injured individuals may need care for the rest of their lives and be unable to work.
Medical care for SCIs can be extremely expensive. The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center estimates that a 25-year-old who suffers a spinal cord injury that results in quadriplegia will need over $2.3 million in healthcare costs and living expenses stemming from the injury.
However, some spinal cord injuries are more minor and resolve in time. The immediate symptoms can be loss of balance, difficulty moving, difficulty breathing, loss of sensation (such as the ability to feel and touch), exaggerated reflexes, and loss of bowel or bladder control.
Back pain can result from the body being hit against the inside of the car. Rear-end collisions can rupture discs in the back or strain the muscles or ligaments. Back pain can cause pain, including shooting pain down the legs and difficulty walking or standing. It can resolve quickly or last long-term.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Although traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a less common result from a rear-end collision than neck or back pain, it is certainly possible if a collision causes vehicle occupants to be thrown forward or into an area where they hit their heads. TBIs, such as concussions, are caused by the brain jostling back and forth within the cranium.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2.5 million TBI-related trips to the emergency room occurred in the last year for which statistics were available. Car accidents were the third most common reason, accounting for more than 13 percent of the visits.
TBIs can cause multiple symptoms, ranging from dizziness and headaches to difficulty concentrating and depression. The impact can be very long-lasting or resolve quickly.
Depending on the force of the impact, the trajectory, and whether the occupants are wearing seat belts, victims of a rear-end collision can also suffer broken bones, including broken rib cages. A broken rib cage has the potential to penetrate the lungs.
Injured individuals may also suffer contusions and cuts from the impact inside the car, especially if window glass is broken. Rear-end collisions can be severe enough to send passengers through the windshield, for instance. If this occurs, the resultant injuries can be very severe, including facial disfigurement, scarring, and paralysis.
What Recourse Do I Have if I Was Injured in a Rear-End Collision?
As most New Yorkers know, our state follows no-fault principles in car accidents. No-fault means that, generally, your own insurance pays for injuries stemming from a collision, regardless of who was at fault. Therefore, even if another party was entirely at fault for your accident, you ordinarily must go to your own insurance company for compensation.
However, if another party caused your accident and you have been seriously injured, you are allowed to bring a personal injury suit for damages due to the nature and extent of the injuries.
New York law defines serious injury very precisely. Serious injury is one or more of the following:
- Broken bones
- Significant disfigurement
- Permanent limitation of use of a body organ or member
- Significant limitation of use of a body function or system
- Substantially full disability for at least 90 days
In other words, you personally may consider a head injury a serious injury, but unless it has resulted in one of the elements above, the law may not, and you will not recover damages through no-fault. In that case, a car accident lawyer might help you convince the insurance company (or, failing that, a jury) that your injuries qualify.
There are many instances, however, when a rear-end collision does result in one or more of these serious conditions. At that point, if another party is at fault, you can consider bringing a claim, either a legal suit or a third-party insurance claim.
What Damages Can I Receive if I’m Seriously Injured?
If you’ve been seriously injured according to the law’s criteria, you may file a claim after your accident for both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages include the following:
- Medical bills (such doctor’s visits, hospitalization, ambulance rides, surgeries, rehabilitation therapy, and prescription medication)
- Prospective medical bills
- Lost wages from work
- Prospective lost wages from work
- Medical devices (such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes)
- Cost of retrofitting your home for disability
Non-economic damages include pain and suffering.
Ordinarily, victims of a car accident cannot receive compensation for pain and suffering. However, if they meet the criteria for serious injury under state law and step outside the no-fault system, they can.
If you were in a rear-end collision in New York and need legal assistance, contact an experienced car accident lawyer at the Law Offices of Ivan M. Diamond today.