One of the most commonly asked questions from victims of personal injury is, “How long will it take for me to receive compensation?” While this answer differs from case to case, the duration of time between injury and compensation tends to vary especially with one specific injury: whiplash.
Typically the most common injury sustained in an auto accident, you are entitled to compensation for whiplash injuries. However, the amount received as well as the length of the case will vary depending on the situation.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is the commonly used term for a soft tissue injury of the neck. During an auto accident or similar trauma, the head rushes forward and immediately snaps back. The connective tissue of the neck, including the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, are suddenly and powerfully contracted. This contraction causes the tissue to stretch unusually far, also known medically as “hyperflexion” or “hyperextension.”
This strain or sprain of the tissue can result in pain and stiffness in the neck, upper back, or shoulders, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Severe cases of whiplash can also include difficulty sleeping (insomnia), memory loss, and difficulty concentrating.
Due to the nature of the injury, as well as the shock that often accompanies accidents, victims may not begin feeling the symptoms of whiplash until up to 24 hours after the accident. When coupled with the fact that, like all other soft tissue injuries, whiplash does not show on diagnostic tests such as X-rays and MRIs, whiplash injuries can be problematic when seeking compensation in a personal injury claim.
Building a Whiplash Injury Claim
Since whiplash is an injury of the soft tissue, it is undetectable in diagnostic imaging. Hence, it is crucial to receive a diagnosis from a qualified medical practitioner as soon as possible following the injury. It goes without saying that to receive compensation for an injury, you first must prove that the injury exists. While this is not meant to downplay the pain and suffering that can accompany a whiplash injury, unfortunately, without adequate documentation, it can be all too easy to falsify whiplash claims.
Therefore, in order to successfully receive compensation for your injury, you’ll need to keep an active record of all expenses incurred since the accident occurred, as well as a diagnosis from a medical professional. From your initial assessment to current treatment, medical records and bills should all be gathered and saved in one place to provide to the insurance company adjuster and your lawyer easily. Likewise, any medical correspondence or diagnosis should be supplied.
Moreover, you’ll want to document your other losses, such as lost wages. In a personal injury case, these expenses are all considered as “damages,” or the money you spent out-of-pocket to provide for injuries caused by another’s negligence.
Do I Need to File a Claim?
Before diving into the specific lengths of claims, it should be noted that not all victims of whiplash have a liable personal injury case through which they can pursue compensation. Often in Florida courts, victims cannot seek compensation for minor whiplash injuries. However, their claims can still have value depending on how the injury directly affected them.
Generally, accidents that resulted in basic whiplash injuries without other or more severe medical consequences are covered under Florida’s “no-fault” insurance laws. According to this law, all Florida drivers must carry a minimum of $10,000 of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. In the case of an accident, this insurance would immediately cover the first $10,000 worth of injuries, regardless of which driver was at fault – hence, the “no-fault” title.
In the case of an accident, a driver’s PIP insurance will be the primary form of payment. To treat a whiplash injury, expenses typically include:
- Initial hospital/doctor visit
- Medical equipment or supplies
- Lost wages
- Weeks of chiropractic, massage and physical therapy
Generally speaking, to treat a basic case of whiplash, a driver’s $10,000 of PIP benefits will cover the above expenses. In this case, it wouldn’t be necessary to seek further compensation.
What if the Damage Was More Severe?
If you’ve suffered a severe case of whiplash – in which symptoms have progressed for over three months, or other complications have arisen – or you’ve sustained other injuries in addition to whiplash, it may be necessary to pursue further compensation. In this case, even if your original $10,000 in benefits covered the initial treatment, you may require further treatment, or need to seek compensation for future pain and suffering caused by the severe injury. This would be the best time to consult with a trusted whiplash injury lawyer to decide if your injuries qualify for you to file a claim.
Bear in mind, this can also be the case if you have previously suffered a neck injury, and the trauma caused by the whiplash was made more extensive or even resulted in permanent damage. This is referred to as “aggravation and exacerbation” of a pre-existing injury and can be the cause of a valid personal injury claim for whiplash. With the help of your attorney, it’s time to file a personal injury claim.
Determining the Length of a Claim
In general, personal injury claims take the longest. There are plenty of factors that lead into this longer duration, including:
- The extent of the injuries
- What treatments are necessary
- If medical treatment is concluded
- Who was liable for the injuries
The extent of injuries sustained can potentially keep a claim in limbo for weeks or months at a time. In the early stages of a claim, a doctor may not yet know the recovery period needed or the extent of treatment necessary to reach full health. Once you agree to a settlement, you cannot “unsettle” to receive further compensation for future treatment. Therefore, before settling as soon as possible, receive confirmation from your doctor that you’ve fully healed from your injury.
Likewise, the matter of liability can greatly impact the length of a claim. Cases with clear liability in which one individual is glaringly in the wrong or has admitted liability can be settled relatively quickly. However, other cases are not as clear. The state of Florida operates under a “comparative fault” system, meaning that even if a victim was partially in the wrong, they can still be eligible to receive a percentage of their damages. This percentage is decided by a jury – meaning the case would need to go to trial for this to be decided. Heading to court can extend the duration of a case, but provide compensation to offset your costs.
In general, more complex cases that involve severe injuries, debatable liability, or a potentially high settlement value, will take longer to successfully resolve than straightforward claims. Following the guidance of a trusted personal injury attorney can help streamline this process.