It wasn't that bad of an accident. At least, it didn't seem like it at the time. You were slogging through another morning commute to the city, switching between news and your favorite jams, when suddenly you heard a loud crunch and your head jerked back and forth.
The collision was low-speed, but still packed a punch powerful enough to smash your taillights and push your car into the car in front of you, but you felt okay. You took notes, exchanged information with the other motorists, and dealt with the situation. Fortunately, you didn't sign a release form for settlement with the at-fault driver's insurance company (more on that later), because you discovered the signs of whiplash just a few weeks later. So what now?
It's not unusual for injury-related pain after a car accident to be delayed, and in many cases you may not even know you have a serious injury until later. Below are some guidelines to help ensure that you get the compensation you need if car accident-related pain doesn't show up until days or even weeks after the incident.
Types of Pain After a Car Accident That Are Often Delayed
Sometimes a headache is just a headache. But if you were recently involved in a car accident, neck or head pain could indicate a more serious injury that wasn't apparent at the time of the accident. If you have suffered any of the following types of pain after an accident — even if it's delayed — get immediate medical attention.
Additionally, if the airbags deployed in your vehicle, it is important to discuss this with a medical professional and to document any injuries received from airbags or seat belts such as burns or bruising.
- Headaches — Pay special attention to the location and severity of the pain. It could be stress-related or a sign of concussion, brain injury, whiplash, neck injury, or even a blood clot. A serious headache following the accident could also be a sign of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Pain in the Neck or Shoulders — This is often a sign of whiplash (a catch-all term for several different injuries), which is sometimes experienced right after an accident but sometimes doesn't emerge until several days later. Neck and shoulder pain could also indicate a spinal injury such as a herniated disc.
- Back Pain — Back pain, especially in the lower back, may also indicate a whiplash-related injury. It also could signal a sprain, herniated disc, or other soft-tissue injuries (such as muscle damage). If accompanied by tingling or numbness, it could also point to pinched nerves and/or spinal injuries.
- Numbness, Tingling, etc. — These types of sensations, in addition to weakness in the limbs, often indicate a herniated disc that pinches or presses up against nerves in the spine. This pinching can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and other sensations throughout the body, particularly through the arms and legs.
- Abdominal Pain — Internal, soft-tissue injuries can be very serious, even fatal if left untreated. If you experience abdominal pain after an accident (which may surface days after the incident), get immediate medical attention. Internal bleeding also may cause headaches, dizziness, and deep bruising.
- Emotional Pain and Suffering — After the initial post-accident chaos subsides, you may experience depression, anxiety, or even PTSD. This could be related to the actual incident, a result of physical injuries, or both. Brain injuries also may cause emotional pain or personality changes.
Wait Before You Sign a Release of Liability for Settlement
It is customary for the injured party to sign a release of liability form after settling a car accident claim with their insurance company. It ends the lawsuit (if applicable) and all future claims related to the incident. But if you sign this form too soon — before having an opportunity to ascertain all of the injuries you may have sustained in a car accident — you may lose out on compensation for injuries you didn't know you had. That is why it's so crucial to get a complete medical evaluation following a car accident before you sign any such release.
My Pain After a Car Accident was Delayed: What Now?
As long as you haven't settled your claim and signed a release of liability with the at-fault driver's insurance company, it's not too late to get compensation for delayed injuries. In addition to getting a complete evaluation of your injuries, make sure you get an accurate estimate of any future medical costs you might incur.
A rule of thumb is to wait until you have achieved "maximum medical improvement (MMI)." This term refers to the point at which your condition has stabilized and you have reached as full of a recovery as can be expected. At this point, chances are pretty slim that additional, as-of-yet undiscovered injuries will surface.
Get a Legal Evaluation of Your Car Accident Injury Claim
If you've been in a car accident, you may have sustained injuries that won't manifest as symptoms until several days later. And while you may be anxious to settle your claim right away, remember that time is on your side (to an extent). Make sure you're making the right decisions by having a local motor vehicle accident injury attorney evaluate your claim.