What Should Car Accident Victims Know about Whiplash?


Whiplash is one of the most common injuries after a car accident. This soft-tissue neck injury is the result of a person’s head being violently jolted backward and forward. This can happen in less than a second in an accident, and there is no way to stop it.

Whiplash is quite common in front- and rear-end collisions but can happen in any type of car accident. It can occur in high- or low-speed accidents and with a small amount of force.

Personal injury can run from minor to severe, but all incidents of whiplash need to be treated. It may take days or weeks for symptoms to arise, so it is essential to be vigilant after an accident, even a fender-bender.

What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Symptoms of whiplash can arise directly after an accident or hours or days later. Whiplash is sometimes called the invisible injury because there are few visible symptoms.

An accident victim may not even realize their neck has been injured. That is because the human body does a remarkable job of trying to ward off pain. In an accident, the body releases hormones that prevent pain. When they wear off, pain can arise and become extreme.

In addition, some people are in a state of shock after an accident and may not feel pain or remember how they were injured. Finally, the body’s response to soft-tissue injury is swelling. When swelling puts pressure on the damaged areas, pain and stiffness will signal that it is time to see a doctor.

A minor case of whiplash can worsen into a significant, debilitating injury if left untreated. Victims should always get checked out if any of the following symptoms arise:

  • Neck pain while at rest
  • Loss of range of motion of the neck/head
  • Stiff neck, back, and shoulders
  • Neck pain that worsens with movement
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Tingling, numbness, tenderness, or soreness in the shoulders, arms, and upper back
  • Headaches, particularly those that originate from the base of the skull
  • Fatigue and exhaustion

A medical professional will almost always order diagnostic imaging because whiplash can be accompanied by other injuries, such as concussion, brain trauma, or bone and tissue damage. These X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and other tests can assess the extent of damage and guide healing.

Some accident victims recover from whiplash in a matter of weeks. It may take other victims months to heal, and some will suffer long-term or lifetime effects.

What are Long-Term Effects of Whiplash?

Whiplash, whether treated or untreated, can have devastating long-term effects on an accident victim. The tender area of the neck and its relation to the head, brain, and spinal column make whiplash a potentially chronic disabling injury.

Those who are treated right away for whiplash often have shorter healing times and less intense symptoms. However, that is not always the case. People with prior injuries or severe cases of whiplash can still require a lengthy recovery period.

Long-term effects of whiplash can include the following:

  • Chronic headaches or migraines; these can happen for several years after an accident and can be severe.
  • Persistent neck pain; some accident victims deal with neck pain long term or for a lifetime.
  • Chronic stiffness in the neck, back, and shoulders.
  • Permanent soft-tissue or vertebrae damage.
  • Degenerative disk disease.
  • Cervical, lumbar, and thoracic spine misalignment/injury.
  • Weakened ligaments, tendons, vertebrae, and disks, making the neck area more susceptible to future injury.
  • Ongoing dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Ringing in the ears or tinnitus, either constant or intermittent.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Upper and lower back pain.
  • Arthritis in the neck and back.
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the extremities.
  • Limited range of motion in the head and neck.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Irritability or personality changes.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Memory problems.
  • Blurry or double vision.

How is Whiplash Treated?

Depending on the extent of injury, some or all the following treatments may help a whiplash victim:

  • Self-help: Ice, heat, rest, and immobilization may be recommended by a medical professional for the first few days or weeks after the injury. A cervical collar, neck brace, or other devices may also be needed.
  • Medications: Oral anti-inflammatory medicines, steroid or other injections to relieve swelling and pain, and painkillers may be administered.
  • Therapies: Ongoing rehabilitation may be needed, including physical, occupational, and massage therapies along with stretching and strengthening exercises, spinal manipulation, traction, or other treatments.

Whiplash symptoms can subside but flare up years later. One study found that 71 percent of people with an initial case of whiplash still had at least one significant symptom seven years later. That is why an accident victim should always remain vigilant about new or recurring symptoms.

Things to Know About Whiplash Injuries and Legal Options

Contacting a car accident lawyer is the best place to start when considering a legal claim against a negligent driver who caused whiplash and other injuries. A lawyer will discuss the points below along with additional significant information:

  • Seek medical attention, always. Even with quick treatment, healing may take a long time, and injuries can be chronic and last a lifetime. For this reason, an accident victim may be facing large and long-term medical bills.
  • Do not accept an initial settlement offer. The possibility of large medical bills is why accident victims should not accept an insurance company’s quick first offer, no matter how tempting. It may be more beneficial for victims to talk with a car accident lawyer to understand legal options and how they can be fairly compensated for their injuries.
  • Keep all medical records, receipts, bills, and related documents. These items will substantiate diagnosis, the extent of injuries, treatments, prognoses, therapies, and other disabling effects of the whiplash. Without medical records, there can be no legal claim for compensation recovery. In addition, an insurer could deny or undervalue a claim without evidence of injuries and treatments. A paper trail can be powerful in a legal claim. Also, victims should keep track of symptoms as they arise after the initial treatment.
  • Refuse to accept blame. An insurer may also blame the victim wholly or partly for the accident or claim that the whiplash and related injuries were preexisting conditions. A skilled car accident lawyer will know how to defend against an insurer’s tactics, so victims should find a good personal injury lawyer to help.
  • Watch what you say. Drivers must remember that anything said or implied could be held against them. Sometimes people will apologize for an accident or claim total or partial responsibility for it. A victim may also give too much information to an insurance representative who contacts them for the express purpose of getting them to talk. Drivers must never speak or sign anything from an insurance company without talking to a car accident lawyer first.
  • Compensation is determined by various factors. A car accident lawyer will analyze all facets of the claim, from evidence to damages to long-term prognoses, to calculate the amount of compensation to seek in a settlement offer or court proceeding. They will analyze property damage costs; medical bills, current and future; and lost wages if the whiplash renders the victim unable to work or able to work only in a reduced capacity. A lawyer will also determine compensation for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses.

Baltimore Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Victims of Car Accidents

No one should suffer the physical, financial, and emotional devastation of a car accident that results in serious injuries such as whiplash. Every victim has the right to be fully compensated for the damages they endure and the costs they incur in an accident. The Baltimore accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton fight for accident victims every day. We will fight for you and your loved ones, too. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online for a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent victims throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.