Many of you who are practicing personal injury law have seen property damage to the vehicle less than $1,000, resulting in minimal compensation. When your office staff calls the claim adjuster and demands higher policy limits for the clients, they are automatically reminded that the damage to the vehicle does represent the patient’s injury due to the minimal forces of the velocity. Sounds like a very familiar story I bet.
Here is the commonsense question we would like to ask ourselves, “Can the low velocity motor vehicle collision crash cause long-term symptoms with injury severity?” The answer is yes.Throughout the ’90s auto insurers have used a mythical explanation, that all injury claims resulting from collision producing $1,000 or less in damage be segmented for minimal compensation.
Let’s take scenario number one: John is sitting at a red light at a complete stop, when suddenly a car behind him did not have enough time to break, and slams him in a rear-end collision impact at 30 mph. John felt the whiplash injury in his neck moving back and forth, then gets out of the car to reason with the owner of the vehicle responsible for the impact. He looks at his rear bumper, which is plastic made material, and sees a dent at an estimate of $450. That evening, his neck pain begins to intensify and he is on the phone with his lawyer trying to make sense of what has happened to him.
The attorney directs his client to get a checkup the next day, and he gets diagnosed with sprain of his neck ligaments and a disc herniation on the MRI report. He finally completes the necessary care for his neck pain and the final settlement has been low-balled by the insurance claim adjuster under the pretence of low property damage.
Well let’s analyze the case starting from the structural damage of the vehicle to the patient’s causation and symptoms.Those of you who lived through the ’50s and ’60s remember the good old American cars that were made from steel, while the present day cars are made out of plastic, which means the bumper guards and isolators are very hard to repair versus the iron made cars which are currently rare. All experts would agree that the car bumpers are designed to reduce the physical damage of the low-speed collisions. According the National Highway Trafic Safety Administration, “It is not a safety feature intended to prevent or mitigate injury severity to occupants in the passenger cars.”These days, we still see 40,000 deaths per year related to car accidents. No high-end vehicle, including Mercedes, BMW, Bentley or Rolls- Royce offers a safety feature that protects passengers from fatal crashes. Why are the insurance companies basing their estimates on the assumption that low property damage equates to a no injury policy and thus a low monetary compensation?
Davis CG’s peer-reviewed artice, “Rearend impacts: vehicle and occupant response,” concluded:
In low-impact collisions, there are usually no skid marks and minor or no visible damage to the vehicle.There is a lack of relationship between occupant injury, vehicle speed and/or damage.There does not seem to be an absolute speed or amount of damage a vehicle sustains for a person to experience injury. Crash tests indicate that a change of vehicle velocity of 4 km/ hr (2.5 mph) may produce occupant symptoms. Vehicle damage may not occur until 14-15 km/hr (8.7 mph). Occupant soft tissue and joint injuries resulting from low-speed vehicle collisions respond positively to afferent stimulation of mechanoreceptors.The diagnosis of the occupant injuries relies on standard orthopedic neurological testing, autonomic concomitant signs and qualitative and quantitative testing.
Based on the study, it’s safe to conclude that “property damage is an unreliable predictor of injury risk or outcome in low velocity crashes.”
The final analysis of the low-impact collision resulting in soft tissue injury dilemma would fall on the shoulders of the physician by producing the justifiable objective and subjective orthopedic and neurological examination of the patients suffering an injury as the result of the low-impact crash. The doctors would look at the ligaments, muscles, nerves, discs and intensity of pain as the result of the MIST. Should all the verifiable findings of the patient be established, the proper care would be rendered as attributable to the low-impact crash.The damage to the patient’s spine must always come first, and not the property damage to the vehicle.The fact that the injury was incurred due to a low-impact collision is the first ground base in building the defense for our clients, making them feel assured that we are the personal injury professionals who will listen to our client’s story first, and then piece together the missing clues to the puzzle by doing our best work. Dr. Alan Khiger