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Rear End-Collision Injuries and How You Can Recover

By Stewart J. Guss on July 22nd, 2020 Rear End Collision Lawyer

You’re sitting at a stoplight, minding your own business, thinking about your day, when—BAM!—a careless driver slams the front end of their car into the rear end of yours. You feel your head jerk back, then snap forward. You feel a sharp pain in your neck. Your day goes from normal to disastrous faster than you can say “tailgating.”

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. Rear end collisions happen everywhere, every day. They’re among the most common types of traffic accidents in the country… and even at slow speeds, they can cause serious injuries.

A rear end accident attorney can help you recover – physically and financially. Read on to learn how you can protect your legal rights and get compensated after a rear end accident, as well as discover why they happen and what injuries they can cause.

What to Do After a Rear End Collision Injury

Take photos of the damage, even if you think it’s minor. Right now you may think you only have a scraped bumper or cracked taillight, but you could later discover you have a car with alignment issues, frame damage, or axle problems that could cost thousands of dollars to fix.

Exchange information with the other driver(s) involved. Get their name, phone number, insurance information, and license plate number.

Get checked out by a medical professional now. You should go directly to a doctor if you’ve been involved in a car accident, even if you don’t feel injured. We’re dead serious. Even if you were in a minor fender-bender, seek medical attention. Some of the injuries discussed below may show symptoms immediately, but many (like whiplash and brain trauma) do not. Do not risk your life by trying to power through a headache or a pain that could be a warning sign of a far more serious injury.

Next, talk to an experienced car accident injury attorney about your right to seek compensation for your injuries. In our experience, we’ve seen many people hesitate to seek legal advice for rear end accident injuries. Maybe they have a picture in their minds of a plaintiff wearing a foam collar trying to squeeze a few bucks out of a defendant (or an insurance company). Try not to feel that way.

To begin with, no ethical lawyer would ever try to exaggerate an injury or make a false claim to an insurer, a judge, or anyone else.

Don’t compare yourself to others, either. If you got lucky and your accident did not cause major damage to your car or inflict a life-threatening injury, that doesn’t mean your legal rights are any less important or your claim to compensation is any less valid. You don’t deserve any of the pain and difficulty someone else’s negligent driving caused, point blank.

A rear end accident lawyer can also help you determine liability. In most rear end collisions, the driver of the trailing car bears most of the blame. Assuming that driver carries insurance and/or can compensate you for your injury, then that’s what should happen. An experienced rear end collision lawyer can help evaluate the extent of your injury, what it has already cost you, and what it will likely cost you going forward.

If you’ve been rear-ended, take the help that’s available. A rear end crash attorney knows how to enforce your right to payment for your out-of-pocket costs, as well as for your physical and emotional suffering.

How Rear End Collisions Happen

Ready for a quick physics lesson? To understand why rear end collisions cause so much pain and discomfort, we must first understand the physics of a car crash. It helps to visualize what exactly happens to two cars when the front of one runs into the back of the other.

Let’s start with the basics. Imagine there are two cars: the leading car and the trailing car. The trailing car is traveling faster than the leading car. The leading car may even be at rest at a stop sign or red light, or parked in a parking space.

Upon impact, the trailing car transfers some of its force to the leading car, and they both push forward as one new “linked” unit. How far they go depends on how fast the two cars were traveling at the moment of impact. Sometimes the transfer of force in a collision is strong enough to push a car into another car, into a different lane, or into oncoming traffic! This means a seemingly small accident can turn into a huge pile up.

Generally, the speed at which the two linked vehicles travel will be slower than the speed the trailing car was traveling when they collided, and it will be faster than the pre-accident speed of the leading car. Here’s a video explanation, complete with equations.

In other words, in a rear end collision, the leading vehicle experiences an abrupt, unexpected acceleration, while the trailing vehicle experiences a deceleration. Injuries can happen to occupants of both vehicles, but the risk of injury is far higher for those in the lead vehicle. That’s because while all cars have standard safety features protecting against a sudden deceleration if you have to slam on the brakes for whatever reason, safety features for sudden acceleration are far less common and far less effective.

Most Common Rear End Collision Injuries

Now that you know how they happen, you should also know about the numerous dangers of a rear end collision. Even a minor rear end collision can inflict widespread damage to your body. Below are some of the most common injuries you may suffer from after getting rear-ended:

Whiplash

Whiplash is a common car accident injury, especially in the case of rear end crashes. You’ve probably heard the term before, but do you know what it means or how it occurs? We’re here to explain.

Imagine you are a passenger in the lead car from our previous hypothetical scenario. Your car is stopped. Suddenly and without warning, another car plows into yours from behind. Your car shoots forward, which means your body shoots forward as well. But not all parts of your body jolt forward at the same time.

If you’ve never stopped to consider what happens to your body at that moment of sudden acceleration from a rear end collision, rest easy: the scientists who wrote this research paper have. They discovered the sudden acceleration of the initial impact shifts your torso forward before your head and neck. This momentarily creates an “S” shaped curvature in your spine; the discs in your middle back get compressed while those up toward your neck have not yet flexed. As your torso shifts horizontally below the center of mass of your head and neck, a so-called “shearing” force transmits up your spine, one disc at a time, until your cervical spine takes a “C” shape with your head thrown backward. There’s a handy video of the spinal “whipping” action here to better illustrate the research paper’s findings.

All of this happens in the blink of an eye, and it’s an incredibly unnatural motion for a person’s spine. Usually, your head moves while your torso stays relatively still. Here, the opposite happens—your torso gets pushed out ahead of your head. There is a forceful deformation of the spine from an “S” to a “C” shape as this occurs, and each individual disc absorbs and transmits force upward along the spinal column. This is followed by an inverse motion as the head and torso rebound. All together, these movements contribute to the injury known as whiplash. The “whip,” so to speak, is the spinal column, which deforms and transmits the crash’s energy into a sudden violent movement of the person’s head.

So what happens when the spine acts like a whip with your head as its tip? OUCH! is what happens. In a car accident, soft tissue like the muscles and ligaments in the neck stretch far beyond their normal range of motion. Like any type of strain, these are painful injuries, but they can also cause secondary symptoms like headaches and skeletomuscular discomfort. As anyone who copes with chronic pain can tell you, that sort of long-lasting discomfort can make your life miserable.

Spinal Injuries

All the forces that harm the soft tissue in your head and neck can also cause structural damage to your vulnerable spinal column. Victims of rear end collisions often find themselves dealing with ruptured discs, injured vertebrae, and, in serious cases, damage to the spinal cord.

Spinal injuries are serious business. A back injury—like an injury to a disc or a vertebra—can take months to rehabilitate and may require surgery. People often have to wear back braces to get around and can’t spend any significant amount of time on their feet. This makes it difficult to work and has led Americans to turn to powerful, habit-forming painkillers to dull the pain. Even if a back injury eventually heals, a destructive addiction to opioids may take its place.

A spinal cord injury can make life unbearable. The spinal cord is a complex bundle of nerves running through the spinal column that transmits messages from the brain to the body. When the spinal cord sustains damage, those signals experience interference – or get cut-off altogether. This frequently results in temporary or permanent paralysis or loss of feeling to the parts of the body below the site of the injury. Living with a spinal cord injury brings secondary health complications and can cost millions of dollars over the course of the victim’s lifetime.

Brain Trauma

With all of that “whipping” around, here’s another part of a person’s body that can sustain severe damage in a rear end collision: the brain.

Just as the head and neck move somewhat independently of the torso, the brain moves somewhat independently of the skull. When a person’s head sustains an impact or a sudden jolt (like the instant, forceful snapping of the head in a “whiplash” scenario), the brain itself can sustain tissue damage from moving unnaturally within the cranium.

Minor bruising or swelling may result in a concussion, which can cause temporary cognitive, motor, and emotional dysfunction, but usually heals in time. More severe damage may cause a traumatic brain injury, which can leave an injured individual permanently impaired.

One of the many dangers of brain trauma is that it’s not always immediately apparent. That headache or “brain fog” you may feel after a car accident might be a sign of a serious brain injury. Severe whiplash can occur in even low-speed rear end collisions, and so can traumatic brain injury. This is why you should never wait to seek medical attention after a rear end collision, and you should also attend all of your follow-up appointments to make sure that new symptoms in need of further medical attention have not developed.

Burns, Lacerations, Complex Fractures, & Other Severe Injuries

Burns, lacerations, and fractures represent the three most common types of injuries suffered by occupants of the lead car in a rear end collision scenario. But as we’ve learned, those aren’t the only injuries that can result from a rear end crash, and the occupants of the lead car aren’t the only people who may suffer.

In any collision, there is always the risk of a ton of catastrophic injuries to occupants of both cars. An impact can start a fire or cause an explosion, which may result in severe, life-threatening burns and scarring. In all but the most minor accidents, glass shatters and metal twists, creating sharp edges that can inflict deep cuts. These lacerations can cause massive blood loss or leave a person with long-lasting muscle and nerve damage. Accidents with sudden accelerations and decelerations can cause your car’s frame – also known as the chassis – to bend and crumple, which can pin, pinch, or compress limbs. This can result in fractures and shattered bones in the arms and legs of passengers of both cars. The list goes on and on, with worst scenarios involving fatalities.

Secondary Accident Injuries

Often, rear end collisions are the start of a chain reaction of tragedy. The disruption in the flow of traffic can cause a pile up of trucks and cars to happen fast, and they can slide into sidewalks, other lanes, or intersections, or get pushed into ditches or off embankments. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Think of your typical pile-up accident on the interstate: it usually starts with some kind of incident or unexpected road condition that brings traffic to a halt. Drivers, not expecting to encounter a sudden traffic jam, run into each other again and again and again.

Whatever the scenario is, the injuries and fatalities resulting from so-called “secondary” accidents can be just as serious as the injuries sustained in the initial rear end collision.

Takeaways

Let’s sum up what we’ve learned about rear end collisions and their aftermath:

  • Rear end collisions, even at low speeds, can cause serious injuries. Due to the powerful and unnatural forces exerted on their bodies when their car accelerates without warning, the passengers of the leading car face particular risks of whiplash, back injuries, spinal cord damage, and brain injury.
  • Any injury sustained in a car accident needs immediate medical attention. The severity of your injuries may go undetected for hours or days if you do not get checked out. Soft tissue injuries like whiplash may seem minor, but they can permanently impair your mobility and leave you with lifelong aches and pains. To raise your chances of a full recovery, make sure you attend all follow-up appointments and complete the recommended physical therapy.
  • Contacting an experienced rear end collision accident lawyer can help you recover – physically and financially. You deserve complete compensation for the full cost of your injuries, no matter how severe your injuries are or how complicated the circumstances of your accident were. We’re here to help. Reach out now for your free consultation!
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