FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2009-06-03
Accidents happen. It's an unfortunate part of life. Most people do not immediately think of making a personal injury claim following an accident, especially if they do not have visible signs of injury at the scene. The insurance companies know this and often attempt to obtain a recorded statement hours after the accident which they will then use later to argue that you were not injured at all or not injured as seriously as you are claiming. It is imperative that if you have pain, stiffness or other physical complaints following an accident that you receive immediate and appropriate medical care. This is often difficult as there are many other issues with which you must deal with after an accident, including reporting the accident to all of the involved insurance companies, the DMV, handling car repairs, towing bills and rental expenses.
Seek Treatment Even if You Think You are Uninjured
The biggest single mistake made by people involved in auto accidents is not receiving medical care for their injuries. Even if everything looks fine on the outside — you have no apparent fractures or visible cuts, bruises or lacerations — you still could have sustained a significant and permanent injury as a result of the accident. You could have a traumatic brain injury (TBI), or even a spinal disc injury, and not become aware of it until hours, days or even weeks after the accident.
TBIs are caused when the force of impact causes a "ricocheting" effect between the brain and the skull. Even if you are wearing a seatbelt and the impact is moderate or even minor, you could still sustain a TBI when your brain and skull collide resulting in a brain bleed. You also could have suffered a significant spinal cord injury even if you think that your initial symptoms and complaints suggest only whiplash or soft tissue injuries. Spinal cord injuries include disc bulges or herniations, normally in the cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) spinal areas. If you experience sciatica, numbness or tingling, shooting pain, or weakness radiating from your neck into your arms, hands and fingers or from your back into your lower extremities you may have sustained a potentially severe disc injury.
Get the Correct Diagnostic Testing
The second biggest mistake people make following an accident is not receiving the right kind of medical treatment. If you have TBI it is important that you seek treatment with someone with specific expertise in those types of injuries as opposed to just treating with your chiropractor, family physician or internist. It may require that you see a neurologist, neuropsychologist or a neurosurgeon to properly diagnose and treat your injuries. If you have a disc injury such as a disc bulge or herniation you should see an orthopedic spinal surgeon, a pain management specialist or a neurosurgeon, in addition to any physical therapist, chiropractor or general practitioner you may be seeing for your injuries.
In order for these types of injuries to be correctly diagnosed you may need to undergo the proper diagnostic testing. Even going to the emergency room after an auto crash may not be sufficient. This is due to the fact that the ER doctor may only take x-rays and may not perform other diagnostic studies such as CT scans or MRIs which are necessary to properly diagnose injuries such as TBI, disc bulges or herniations, and many types of knee, ankle and shoulder injuries. Doctors with experience handling a range of TBI cases can use a combination of diagnostic testing, external exams and testing and other methods to correctly diagnose even the mildest of brain injuries.
Protecting Your Rights to Recovery
The longer the period of time between the accident and the time you seek medical treatment, the more difficult it may be to convince a judge and jury the accident is the proximate cause of your injuries. This does not mean it isn't possible, but only that it provides the defense the opportunity to downplay the extent and severity of your injuries or even argue that there was an intervening cause for the injuries.
A personal injury attorney experienced in representing victims of automobile accidents can help make sure clients receive the most beneficial types of diagnostic testing and are evaluated by medical specialists with the requisite expertise and training to correctly diagnose their injuries.
The importance of diagnostic testing cannot be overemphasized. Without effective diagnostic testing, many post-accident injuries go undetected. Victims of accidents caused by other people's careless and negligent acts are then left without a legally viable claim or a claim whose worth has been significantly reduced. It is important not just to seek medical attention following an accident, but to make sure that you receive the right type of treatment by medical professionals qualified to evaluate and treat your injuries.