Why Do I Need a Medical Exam if I Feel Uninjured After an Accident?

Why Do I Need a Medical Exam if I Feel Uninjured After an Accident?

Each year, millions of people suffer injuries in car accidents that are severe enough to require at least a medical consultation. Many of these injuries are serious enough to require more extensive treatment, including surgery or hospitalization. Interestingly, not everyone who has experienced a car accident realizes at the time that they are injured. They will decline medical treatment at the scene only to go home and feel progressively worse. Here is a look at why it is often hard to tell if you've been injured and why you need a medical exam anyway.

Medical Exam After an Accident Guide

The Accident May Have Injured You More Than You Think

Why Do I Need a Medical Exam if I Feel Uninjured After an Accident?

As explained by AICA Orthopedics, the human body is not meant to sustain the impacts of any sort of motor vehicle collision. Although an accident occurs within seconds, there are several phases of collisions that begin when the vehicles collide.

Modern vehicles are designed to "crumple" as they collide to absorb as much energy in the crash as possible. As the energy is absorbed and the vehicles slow down, anyone inside the vehicle continues to move forward at the same speed as they were traveling until something stops it.

Generally, what stops the body's continued movement is the seat belt. If a seat belt did not restrain the vehicle's occupant, the dashboard, windshield, or even an obstacle outside the vehicle might stop their forward motion during the accident.

Even at average speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour, you could sustain:

  • Whiplash: This injury involves damage to the neck's soft tissues and results in pain and stiffness in the neck that can last for weeks or even longer.
  • Concussions: This injury involves brain damage due to a blow to the head or body that causes the brain to crash into the skull.
  • Chest injuries: The seatbelt in a vehicle is designed to hold the upper part of the body to the seat. While this prevents injuries caused by a person being ejected from the vehicle, it often causes other types of injuries, including broken ribs or sternum.
  • Back injuries: The impact of even a slower-speed car accident and the stress placed on the body by both the collision and the seat belt can result in injuries to the fragile vertebrae and discs of the spinal column.
  • Hip injuries: The standard seat belt system features a portion of the belt that runs across the collarbone and chest and another portion that sits across the hips. This lap portion of the belt will hold the lower part of the body to the seat but will generally cause deep bruising and other damage to the hips due to the force of the impact.
  • Knee injuries: When a vehicle sustains a frontal impact, the front part of the body will crumple, and often, the engine compartment will be pushed back until it encroaches on the cab space. This commonly results in the knees of front seat occupants making hard contact with the dash, steering column, or glove compartment.
  • Internal injuries: The seat belt is designed to fit across bony areas of the body, including the ribs and hips. However, for many people, an improperly adjusted seat belt will cause a tremendous amount of pressure on the abdomen as well and can damage internal organ damage. This type of damage can also occur due to the broken pieces of rib bones lacerating or puncturing the organs that lie beneath them.
  • Airbag injuries: The vehicle's airbags are designed to deploy whenever an accident occurs over 20 miles per hour. While the airbag has an important role in preventing brain and face injuries, it can also cause injuries, including burns to the face or scalp or bruising.

In the chaos of a car accident, many people don't feel the pain of the injury right away. This sudden stress triggers a biochemical reaction in the body, causing it to release a rush of adrenaline and endorphins.

Pinnacle Health Chiropractic explains that adrenaline and endorphins help the body change from its normal condition to a state of readiness commonly known as the fight or flight response.

During this time, the adrenaline increases awareness and even strength in many cases. Meanwhile, the body releases endorphins as a natural painkiller. The effects of these hormones on the body's ability to experience pain that would prevent a person from understanding the seriousness of their injury for days.

Diagnostic Scans: What They Can Tell Your Doctor About Potential Injuries

When seeking a medical exam at an ER or through a primary doctor after an accident, most people will undergo an imaging scan that can help their healthcare provider diagnose their injuries.

As noted by Your Care Health Network, X-rays are the most affordable imaging scan and doctors frequently use them after car accidents to search for bone injuries, including fractures or dislocations.

Doctors may order computed tomography (CT) scans to diagnose damage to your bones, soft tissues (including whiplash), and blood vessels. 

Doctors may use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to check for herniated discs and similar injuries involving the spine. They can also determine the source of pain when an X-ray or CT scan has failed to show a reason for it.

If You Are Injured, Treat Those Injuries as Soon as Possible

Just as not experiencing significant pain in the initial hours after an accident does not mean you're hurt, it also does not mean those injuries aren't serious enough to warrant medical treatment.

Untreated injuries can lead to more problems. Consider whiplash, for example. This is the most common injury in rear-end collisions and can also occur in many other types of accidents. It often does not produce a lot of initial pain. However, as explained by Pro-Care Medical Centers, not obtaining prompt treatment for the condition can result in headaches, vertigo, loss of range of motion in the neck, or even degenerative disc disease.

Nearly all of the common injuries, even in average-speed crashes, can potentially worsen or create other health concerns if left untreated. Damage to internal organs can even lead to organ loss or death if not dealt with properly.

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If You Are Injured, You Need Documentation of Your Injuries and Treatment

Seeking a prompt medical exam after a car accident to prevent those conditions from worsening and relieve the pain that you will eventually feel from those injuries. In addition, you want a post-accident medical exam to begin the paper trail.

If another driver's negligence caused your car accident, you can seek compensation for the economic and psychological costs of the injury. This process generally involves first filing a claim against the at-fault driver's auto liability insurance policy. If the insurer fails to pay the claim, you can file a car accident lawsuit.

Regardless of whether the compensation comes through a settlement with the at-fault party's insurance provider or a verdict by the court, to have a positive outcome to a personal injury claim, you must prove the accident injured you. This can't happen if you do not undergo a medical exam.

Additionally, you must prove the cost of the treatment you received by providing medical bills or receipts showing this information. Then, you must prove other costs related to your injury, including the loss of income for the period after the accident in which you could not work. (Your employer will likely want proof of your injury in the form of a doctor's note if your injury also results in missed work.)

How an Attorney Uses Medical Documentation to Prove Your Claim

If you have a medical exam after an accident and determine that you are, in fact, injured, another crucial part of the personal injury claims process is hiring a car accident attorney to help you navigate the process.

The attorney will need medical documentation about the injury to prove several things, including:

  • The presence of physical injuries after the accident. While personal injury claimants can receive compensation for the psychological impacts of an injury, such as emotional distress, they will rarely recover these non-economic damages unless they can prove a physical injury.
  • You incurred those costs from treating that injury. 
  • The amount of treatment you needed for the injury, the pain involved in those treatments, and even the inconvenience of frequent medical appointments. All of these issues produce negative impacts on your quality of life that can be compensated through the process.
  • That the injury occurred because of the accident. If you received a medical evaluation immediately after the accident or within a few days, the at-fault party's insurer cannot easily claim that the accident involving their insured did not cause your medical problems.

When Is It Too Late for a Medical Exam After a Car Accident?

Having a medical exam immediately after the accident is optimal both from a legal standpoint and to protect your health. If you did not obtain this exam right away, you can still obtain compensation if you discover days or weeks later that you're far more injured than you initially thought.

Seek treatment and speak with an attorney anyway, as you still have the opportunity to file a personal injury claim as long as the statute of limitations has not expired. The statute of limitations is a legal deadline placed on your claim, and this deadline varies depending on the state where the accident occurred but is generally between one and five years from the date on which the accident occurred.

Got the Exam. Got the Attorney. Now What?

You've undergone a medical exam. It is clear that you sustained injuries. You've spoken with a personal injury attorney who has agreed to take your case and have signed a contingent fee agreement with them that allows you to wait to pay for your legal team's services until compensation is received for your claim. Now what happens?

What happens next is that you continue receiving treatment for your injury and comply with your doctor's treatment plan. This includes attending all scheduled medical appointments, taking all prescribed medications, and continuing to do your part to mitigate the harm you experienced.

Your attorney will likely gather the documents and evidence needed to prove your claim and will wait until your injury stabilizes to establish a value to your claim.

Once the claim has been valued, they will submit it to the insurance provider and attempt to negotiate a settlement that will fairly compensate you. If those negotiations do not produce a settlement agreement, they can file the claim in court and prepare your case for trial. Once the case reaches its conclusion, they can collect your compensation for you.

Trust Guss Injury Lawyers
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Houston, TX 77070
(281) 664-6500