You’ve just been in a car crash. After your heart stops pounding, you check yourself for damage… and everything seems okay. No cuts. Maybe slight bruising, but nothing seems broken. In fact, you feel perfectly fine.
That’s good news, right? Your car might be damaged, but you can skip the hospital visit.
Weeks pass. Suddenly, you start to feel pain in your neck and suffer from a splitting headache that won’t go away. It couldn’t be from the car crash, could it? That was weeks ago!
Injuries from Accidents Aren’t Always Apparent
It’s fairly common for victims of auto accidents to walk away from a crash feeling unharmed, especially if it was a relatively minor accident.
But after physical trauma—like a car crash—sometimes the painful symptoms of injuries can take hours, days, or even weeks to show up. We’ll look at some of the reasons behind this phenomenon, as well as what you can do to ensure your physical well-being—and legal rights—are protected after a crash.
Adrenaline and Endorphins. Part of the reason you might not feel pain after a traumatic event is because you brain is releasing endorphins and adrenaline.
When the body is excited, startled, or frightened, it releases endorphin and adrenaline chemicals into your system. These chemicals “excite” the system, causing your heart to pound faster to pump more blood to your muscles. These chemicals can also block the sensation of pain.
This reaction is similar to what an athlete feels during a game. Just as athletes can be injured and not notice the pain until after the game is over, you can be injured in a car crash and feel fine initially.
Soft Tissue Injury. Soft tissue injuries occur in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons inside your body. When these areas are injured, the damage may not show up right away.
Even at a low speed, a car accident can generate a lot of force. Often when you are hit by another car (or you hit something with your car) your body, which has been moving at the same speed as the car, comes to a sudden stop. This generates a great deal of stress on your joints, muscles and other vulnerable parts of your body.
Whiplash is a common example of this. Whiplash occurs when your head is thrown forward and then back with significant enough force to cause injury.
You might feel pain immediately from soft tissue damage—or it may not show up for a long time after the accident. The symptoms of soft tissue damage are decreased mobility, swelling, and pain. These injuries can be difficult to document, as they will not show up on an x-ray.
Concussions. The brain is jolted so hard it hits the inside of the skull. This can happen during any type of physical trauma, including sports, fights, or (of course) a car accident.
Concussions can be relatively minor or very, very serious. Like soft tissue damage, symptoms may not show up until some time after the traumatic event.
Symptoms of concussions include:
- Lack of coordination
- Memory loss
- Dizziness or seeing stars
- Ringing in the ears
- Excessive fatigue.
If you display any of the following symptoms after a car accident, or if you hit your head particularly hard, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Getting Medical Attention
It’s important to get evaluated by a medical professional if you think you might have any of the above injuries. You may want to get checked out even if you feel fine.
Seeking medical attention serves two purposes. The first is obvious and the most important—you should get your injuries treated for the sake of your health. Your doctor can also evaluate whether your injuries are serious, and tell you about any symptoms to watch out for.
The second is less obvious but still important. It’s critical that after an accident you visit your doctor to document the fact that you sought medical care within a reasonable amount of time.
If you are injured and you wait too long to file a visit a doctor, you may have difficulty filling a claim later on to have your medical bills covered. Insurance companies often try to get out of paying by saying the victim waited too long to get medical treatment.
Don’t Waive Your Right to Claim
An insurance company might contact you after the accident to try to get you to sign a release. They may even offer you money to sign a release of your claim.
Don’t sign anything from an insurance adjuster until you’ve been evaluated by a doctor. He or she will also be able to tell you how long to wait to see if more symptoms manifest. If you sign the release from the insurance company, you will not be able to make a claim for any later injuries.
If you or someone you love has been injured in a car accident, we would like to hear from you. You may be entitled to compensation to help cover your medical treatment and other related costs.
About the Author: A partner at Lawlor, White & Murphey and a distinguished personal injury lawyer, Ben Murphey tries complex disputes that include civil appeals, maritime and admiralty claims, wrongful death, and labor disputes. Mr. Murphey has been recognized for his excellence in the area of personal injury litigation by being rewarded with a 10/10 Avvo Rating and named a Super Lawyers “Rising Star” for the last four consecutive years (2011-2014). Mr. Murphey regularly tries cases in state and federal courts around the country, being admitted to practice before all Florida courts and the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.