Rear-end collisions HAPPEN ALL THE TIME. They are THE MOST COMMON of all traffic accidents nationwide, according to the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, accounting for one in every three traffic accidents every year, on average.
Now, a LOT of people think rear end accidents are no big deal. Trust me when I say, from years and years of experience as a car accident injury lawyer, rear collisions are a very big deal. They cost billions of dollars and disrupt millions of lives every year. Most of those costs and disruptions result from the SEVERE, EVEN FATAL injuries rear end collisions can inflict.
This blog post is about those injuries and what you can do about them. Need to know more about your legal rights after a rear end accident turns your life upside down? Contact an experienced car accident injury attorney.
Rear End Collisions Aren’t Just “Minor” Fender Benders
Let me break the typical rear end collision down for you.
Say you are sitting in your car at a red light minding your own business, waiting for the green. Suddenly, BAM! Another vehicle slams into the rear of yours without warning, sending your car SHOOTING forward into the intersection where (luckily for you) a truck approaching crossways barely stops in time to avoid plowing into your doorframe. In seconds, your head, neck, and torso get thrown back against your seat, then rebound forward in a violent whipping action. You see stars. Your head, neck, and back ache. You’ve just been in a rear end collision.
Doesn’t sound so minor, does it?
That’s right. It wasn’t minor at all. See, the thing is, while it is true that lots of rear end accidents amount to little more than a tap on the bumper, MANY of them look and feel a lot more like I described above. They are violent, sudden, and extremely frightening.
Everyone involved in a rear end collision risks injury. However, the occupants of the front car—your car in the example above—face the greater chance of harm. That’s because auto safety systems are built to protect you from sudden, violent stops, NOT SO MUCH sudden, violent starts. Plus, at an intersection (where a goodly number of these accidents happen), the lead car runs the risk of a secondary collision (like the one your car narrowly avoided with the truck in my example).
What kind of injuries do people face? Here are a few of them.
Neck and Soft Tissue Injuries
Neck injuries get a bad rap. I can’t count the number of TV sit-coms I’ve seen where one of the characters shows up with a neck brace complaining of a bogus neck injury from a car wreck. Neck injuries can be serious, debilitating injuries. They also happen to be the MOST COMMON injuries resulting from a rear end collision.
Neck injuries can occur in many different ways. The muscles of the neck and shoulder are often WRENCHED when a vehicle sustains an impact. A driver or passenger may be flung side to side, or forward or backward, or up and down in a collision; the forces of a car accident put the structures in the driver’s neck, shoulders, and back under TREMENDOUS STRAIN, often causing DAMAGE to muscles and other soft tissue, and to the vertebrae and discs in the spine.
The muscles of the neck are meant to support our head; they ARE NOT meant to withstand the force of a violent collision, and this can leave a rear end collision victim in SERIOUS pain. If that person is lucky, the pain subsides with rest, immobilization (which is what those neck braces are for), and over-the-counter pain medication.
Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky. Nerves can get pinched or damaged as a result of the immediate trauma caused by a neck injury, or the swelling that follows the initial injury. Victims often suffer from lasting headaches, dizziness, chronic pain, and limited range of motion. The chronic pain that accompanies neck injuries can lead victims to become reliant on dangerous prescription painkillers.
Here is one more thing about neck injuries: the sooner you treat them, the better the health outcome. One common mistake rear end accident victims sometimes make is declining medical attention at the accident scene thinking they have escaped because they feel “ok,” only to discover they were not so lucky when they develop severe, debilitating neck injury symptoms in the days following the accident.
Remember, with neck injuries in particular, you may not even see the symptoms of the injury until much later. Always seek medical care after a car accident, even one you think you’ve “walked away” from without a scratch.
The Potential Nightmare of Spinal Injuries
No one who gets hurt in a rear end car accident is lucky. Still, there are degrees of injury. Among the very worst of those that commonly happen in rear end collisions are spinal injuries.
Some rear end accidents damage the physical structure of the spine, which consists of bones (vertebrae) and shock-absorbing discs. As anyone who has suffered through a back injury knows, these are long-lasting, extremely painful injuries. They can take multiple surgeries to correct, and even then, many back-injury victims never live pain free again. Injuries to discs and vertebrae make it difficult to stand or sit in one position for any extended period of time. They can limit your ability to work or to enjoy life. The pain is constant.
Yet, spinal injuries can get even worse. A severe injury to the spine can cause damage to the spinal cord itself. That’s the bundle of nerves protected by spinal vertebrae and disks that sends messages from the brain to the body. Damage to the spinal cord typically results in partial or total paralysis and loss of bodily functions. It confines rear end accident victims to wheelchairs and other assistive devices for the rest of their lives. Though medical science continues to make advances in treatments, for many patients spinal cord damage is irreversible.
Another Nightmare: Brain Injuries
Still think rear end collisions are just “minor” inconveniences? I doubt you do. Just in case, let me fill you in on another serious, life-altering injury common to these accidents.
The violent “whipping” motion of the head involved in a high-impact collision can cause severe damage to the brain itself. See, the brain essentially floats inside your skull. When you sustain a SEVERE JOLT to your head—even if your head does not actually strike anything—the force can make your brain twist or rotate in your skull. That movement can tear brain tissue and sever nerve connections.
“Minor” damage from these forces will frequently leave you with a concussion, which can cause lasting effects like headaches, nausea, fatigue, and “brain fog.” More serious and widespread damage to your brain can leave you struggling with a traumatic brain injury, symptoms of which include motor, cognitive, and emotional impairments. Whether “minor” or worse, brain injuries can take years to overcome.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that just because you did not bump your head in a rear end collision, you cannot have sustained a brain injury. See a doctor right away, even if you think you “feel fine.” Brain injuries do not necessarily exhibit symptoms immediately, and some injuries even get worse over time as swelling occurs within your skull.
Just like when athletes get taken off the field after a nasty collision, doctors can run you through a “protocol” to evaluate you for a brain injury immediately after your accident. Let them check you out. Early intervention can make a HUGE difference in your recovery from a brain injury caused by a rear end collision.
Lots of Other Injuries Can Happen, Too
So far, I have only focused on the types of injuries common to occupants of the lead car in a rear end collision. As I said at the start, however, everyone in a rear end accident risks getting hurt. Just about every “other” type of injury you can think of can also happen. Drivers and passengers of either vehicle face a real and substantial risk of broken bones, dislocated joints, torn ligaments and tendons, lacerations, abrasions, and burns, to name just a few.
Plus, Secondary Collision Injuries
Remember how I described, in my example, how a crossing truck barely missed your car when the force of the rear end collision pushed it into an intersection? Well, imagine if the truck couldn’t stop. That second accident—most likely what we would call a “T-bone” or “angular” collision—comes with its own separate, deadly, dangers. Make no mistake, the catastrophic injuries and fatalities that result from a secondary accident still flow directly from the initial rear end collision. They are as much the fault of the driver who caused the initial accident as any other injury.
Rear End Collision? Here’s What To Do Next.
If you’ve read this far I suspect you have already caught my drift when it comes to the first thing you should do after a rear end collision. But, just in case you skipped over me saying it: Get medical attention immediately. follow-up as appropriate.
DO NOT SKIP SEEING A DOCTOR.
Here are two reasons why seeing the doc is so important. First, because your health matters. Second, because seeing a doctor immediately after getting into a rear end collision protects your legal rights.
Here is what you do not want to have happen: You get into a rear end collision, think (incorrectly) you “feel fine,” realize a few weeks later that you absolutely do not feel fine, but have an insurance company tell you it won’t cover your medical expenses because you can’t prove your injuries happened because of the car accident.
Going to the doctor right away shows a direct cause-and-effect between the accident and any injury the doctor finds. You can use the records seeing the doctor generates as evidence if you later seek damages from the party who caused your rear end accident.
The next thing you should do is speak with an experienced rear end car accident injury attorney. Again, only after you have seen a doctor and gotten the care you need to stabilize your health situation as much as possible.
What can a great car accident lawyer do for you? I am so very glad you asked. An attorney can:
- Gather up the evidence you might need to prove what caused your rear end accident and how the accident caused your injuries
- Identify who has potential legal liability for your rear end collision (here’s a hint: a LOT of the time there is more than one party with liability, and that’s a good thing)
- Calculate the damages you have suffered from your rear end car accident injuries, both in terms of present and future out-of-pocket costs, and putting a value on the pain and difficulty the accident inflicted on you and your family
- Demand payment from the parties with legal liability who have the ability to pay you through insurance or out of their own assets
- Negotiate with those parties for a fair settlement payment that will give you the financial recovery you deserve
- Go to trial against the parties who refuse to make a fair settlement offer, proving your case to a judge and jury.
Not every case requires all those steps, mind you. Also, not every case will end in a large financial reward. Still, here is something that is guaranteed: If you do not seek a lawyer’s help right away, your odds of recovering ANYTHING drop like a rock.
Take Rear End Collision Injuries Seriously
Just because rear end collisions happen all the time does not mean they are somehow less serious than other accidents. Getting into a rear end collision can disrupt your physical, emotional, and financial health for years.
Anyone, anywhere, harmed in a rear end collision that was not their fault deserves serious, expert legal representation to recover the compensation they deserve. DO NOT WAIT. To learn more about your legal rights after a rear end collision injury, contact an experienced, skillful car accident injury attorney today. You will not regret you did.
Since starting his firm in 1999, Stewart J. Guss has had the honor of representing clients from all over the world, helping them recover from even the most catastrophic injuries.
Today, thanks to a strong belief in those values of compassion, respect, and approachability, the firm has grown to employ over 120 legal professionals in numerous offices across 4 states, with nationwide reach.