Car accidents often happen in an instant. While some victims of a collision may have a second to anticipate the crash, many others get blindsided. The momentum and force behind any crash are jarring, and have the potential to cause severe trauma. Even a low speed crash can result in significant injuries.
Understanding what you can expect physically after a car accident can help you identify when something may be amiss and how to take steps to protect your health and your legal rights. The health impacts that follow an automobile collision vary from one victim to another; it is important not to compare your experience to someone else’s, because an accident can affect every crash victim differently.
Will you know you have been injured?
A car accident triggers a powerful survival response. Your brain and body immediately focus on defending you from further harm and escaping any continuing danger (also known as a fight-or-flight reaction). Adrenaline surges through your body, your heart rate increases, and blood flows to your core. You enter a state of hyper-awareness in which your sense of time becomes warped and your ability to feel pain temporarily diminishes.
These responses can help to keep you alive in the stressful, sudden moments immediately after a car accident. But they come at a cost by blinding you to potentially serious injuries. Most crash victims cannot accurately assess their own physical condition at the accident scene. Only later, as their survival response subsides, do they begin to feel the aches, pains, and discomforts of injuries.
In short, you cannot trust yourself to know if you’ve been injured in the moments immediately following a crash. That is why we encourage anyone who has gotten into an accident to seek medical attention immediately. A healthcare professional can spot injuries that your survival instinct prevents you from feeling, and begin treatment before those injuries worsen.
How the Force of an Accident Can Affect Your Body
The dynamics of a motor vehicle collision can expose your body to enormous stress and strain, especially when you reflexively try to fight against them. Multiple harmful mechanisms act on your body in an instant.
First, the impact itself can lead to immediate injury and effects on your body, such as when the cabin of the vehicle collapses and pins you inside. Next, in the seconds that follow, the force of the impact can cause your body to shake or twist violently.
If your vehicle rolls over, this can happen multiple times in a matter of seconds, putting you at risk of life-threatening injuries. Additionally, as a crash happens, the safety mechanisms in your vehicle usually activate, putting your body under still further strain. While seatbelts and airbags reduce the likelihood of life-threatening injuries when they function properly, they can also cause injuries in some cases.
Common Car Accident Injuries
Every car accident is unique. The angle of impact, speeds, location, and types of vehicles involved influence the injuries a victim may sustain. Some car accident injuries are life-threatening, and any injury can upend your life.
Common car accident injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI), including concussion;
- Spinal cord injury (SCI);
- Injuries to internal organs, such as a ruptured spleen or punctured lung;
- Head, neck, and shoulder soft tissue injuries (a.k.a. whiplash);
- Crushed limbs and amputation injuries;
- Broken bones and other orthopedic injuries;
- Lacerations and abrasions;
- Burn injuries.
It’s common for crash victims to suffer multiple injuries, especially in a violent crash. But injuries are not uniform. One victim might walk away from a crash in which another victim sustains potentially deadly trauma.
Warning Signs of a Car Accident Injury
We strongly recommend seeking medical attention immediately after a car accident, even if you think you escaped with only a few bumps and scratches.
These common warning signs can indicate a potentially severe or life-threatening medical emergency.
- Pain is your body’s most common neurological response to an injury.
- Bruising indicates bleeding beneath the skin and may reflect internal trauma to vital organs or blood vessels.
- Inflammation and swelling are typical signs of your body fighting an acute injury (like a broken bone) or irritation (such as an infection). Swelling in the abdomen can also indicate internal bleeding, a life-threatening health emergency.
- Headaches and neck stiffness can indicate a common form of physical trauma to the head, neck, and shoulders that frequently happens in a car accident (often referred to as whiplash). They can also be a sign of a concussion or other traumatic brain injury.
- Cognitive symptoms like difficulty concentrating, brain fog, fatigue, sleep disruption, and light or sound sensitivity, are common signs of a concussion or TBI.
- Numbness or tingling in any part of the body can be a warning sign of neurological damage, circulatory problems resulting from trauma, or spinal cord injury.
This is not a complete list. And you cannot be sure you escaped injury if you do not experience these symptoms. That is why (to repeat) we encourage you to seek medical attention immediately after getting into a crash, no matter how “ok” you feel.
Is it common for an injury to develop after you leave the accident scene?
Yes, in the sense that you may not feel the symptoms of an injury at the scene. But that doesn’t mean the injury isn’t there. Your perception that an injury has developed after a crash usually results from your survival response waning and your ability to feel pain returning, or from an injury growing worse due to lack of medical treatment.
There is no standard period of time by which you should feel a car accident injury. It may take days for pain to emerge or your health condition to worsen enough for you to take notice. Again, this is why seeking medical care immediately is so critical—you never want to find out that you could have avoided debilitating medical complications if only you had visited a doctor sooner.
What if your injury worsens after you get medical care?
Medical professionals can make mistakes. An overworked emergency medicine provider might overlook one injury you suffered while treating another. Or a doctor may misdiagnose your condition and send you home with the wrong treatment plan.
For that reason, it’s crucial to keep your doctor informed about how you feel. If your condition changes or you begin to experience unexpected symptoms, tell your medical team immediately. It could be a sign that something is seriously wrong.
How long does it take to heal after a car accident?
Everyone heals at their own pace. A doctor can estimate your recovery time, but it’s difficult to predict with precision. Two crash victims with identical injuries may take vastly different times to rebound. It’s even possible for one to heal completely while the other suffers from prolonged or chronic complications.
That is not to say, however, that there’s nothing you can do to speed your recovery. Following your doctor’s advice about rest and rehabilitation, in particular, can protect against self-inflicted setbacks in your healing timeline. So can living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a positive attitude.
Can you suffer non-physical injuries in a car accident?
Yes, you absolutely can. Car accident trauma frequently leads to emotional distress and mental health challenges for victims. Studies indicate that as many as 33 percent of car accident victims can experience PTSD in the days, weeks and months after a motor vehicle collision.
Do not ignore the emotional impacts of a car accident, as they can worsen and take a heavy toll on your wellbeing. Improving your physical health often requires paying attention to your mental health too. Seek help from a qualified mental health professional if you encounter emotional struggles in the wake of getting into a car accident.
Financial Compensation Can Help Your Physical Recovery
Financial strain often accompanies the physical and emotional toll of a car accident. Getting hurt in a crash can bury you under medical bills and keep you out of work. And for many people, those financial burdens can become an obstacle in the healing process.
Achieving a full physical recovery, in other words, takes money. Hiring a skilled car accident attorney can secure the compensation necessary to support your healing and rebuilding journey.
Through insurance claims and lawsuits against at-fault parties, an experienced car accident attorney can often obtain payment for your:
- Past and future medical expenses in treating your car accident injuries and subsequent health complications;
- Other out-of-pocket costs of healing from, adapting to, or living with your injuries;
- Lost wages and paid-time-off used while missing work because of an injury;
- Lost future earnings if a car accident injury leaves you disabled;
- Physical pain and discomfort;
- Emotional suffering and mental health challenges;
- Inconvenience and interruption of your daily life;
- Disruption in personal relationships;
- Overall loss of enjoyment of life.
Money, of course, can’t take away the trauma of a car accident. But it can go a long way in giving you the financial support you need to pay your bills and move forward after a crash turns your life upside down.
Services a Car Accident Lawyer Can Provide
Hiring an experienced car accident lawyer is the most reliable way to secure compensation for your injuries. It can also promote your overall wellbeing by giving you the peace of mind of knowing that a skilled professional is watching out for your legal and financial interests, while you focus on physical and emotional healing.
Every car accident case differs, but a lawyer can:
- Answer your questions and advise you on making critical decisions;
- Handle, on your behalf, all communications with insurance companies and accident investigators;
- Gather evidence to prove the at-fault party’s liability to you for damages;
- Connect you with local medical and support services to assist in your healing process;
- Prepare and file lawsuits and insurance claims seeking compensation for your losses;
- Negotiate settlements of your claims and advise you on whether to accept or reject settlement offers;
- Go to trial and prove your case to a judge and jury;
- Collect and disburse the money due to you from settlements and court victories.
What’s more, a car accident lawyer will usually provide these services to you on contingency. That means you won’t have to pay the lawyer upfront or as the case progresses. Instead, the lawyer will receive a percentage of any money secured on your behalf. You only pay, in other words, if the lawyer wins gets you results.
Steps to Take After a Car Accident
Getting hurt in a car accident puts your legal rights and financial future at risk. To protect yourself, consider following these tips.
Prioritize Medical Care
We’ve said it numerous times already, and we’ll repeat it one last time: always, always, seek prompt medical care after a car accident, regardless of how you feel. Only trust a qualified medical professional to evaluate your condition and diagnose your injuries. Your health depends on it, and so may your legal rights—your medical records can serve as valuable evidence of the damages you sustained in a car accident.
Beware Quick Settlements
You may have valuable legal rights to compensation for your physical, emotional, and financial injuries. Do not risk them by agreeing to a quick settlement of your claim by the at-fault party’s insurance company. Any offer another person’s insurer makes to you directly will undoubtedly fall short of the true amount of your damages. Leave it to an experienced car accident lawyer to negotiate with insurers on your behalf, instead.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
You have no time to lose after getting hurt in a crash. Obtaining full compensation to pay for your physical (and emotional) recovery may depend on a lawyer taking quick action to protect your rights. If you delay seeking legal help too long, you could lose your ability to make a claim entirely. So don’t wait—contact a skilled personal injury lawyer today for a free consultation about how taking legal action can support your healing process.