The Myth of MIST


Minor Impact Soft Tissue (MIST) has been a highly effective cost saving technique for automobile insurance companies. Based on the premise that if there is no or minimal damage to the vehicle there must be no damage to the occupants, it is actually based more in myth than fact.

Most insurance companies use the tactic and set a threshold between $1,000 and $1,500 in vehicle damages. If the total estimate from the auto body shop falls below this threshold you could face an uphill battle. That is of course unless you know what to do.

The first problem with MIST is basic physics. The insurance company is working on the assumption that there is a correlation between the dollar amount of damage to a vehicle and the amount of physical injury to its occupants. Not only is there a library full of research to refute this premise, but a formula first postulated by Galileo demonstrates that an occupant in a lowspeed collision could suffer greater acceleration to their head and neck then a similar occupant in a higher speed collision.

Beyond the involved physics, it is easy to understand how in a high-speed collision the occupant will be thrown back into the headrest minimizing the amount of motion on their head and neck. On the other hand, in a low-speed collision the unsupported head and neck will go through far greater motion. With more motion and higher g-force it is easier to see how greater damage can occur to ligaments and muscles in the cervical spine.

In “A review of the literature for refuting the concept of minor impact soft tissue injury,” Centeno, Freeman and Elkins reviewed the literature on the subject. Their conclusion was clear, that a review of the literature did not support the validity of MIST.

Radix Law

That being said it is safe to assume insurance companies will continue to take the position of MIST.

The obvious solution here lies in that threshold. Your job is to have a working relationship with body shops that work for the customer more than they do for the insurance company. Few people who file a claim expect that they will damage their own case by agreeing to use the shop recommended by the insurance company. Fewer still realize that when asked to use aftermarket parts to keep the cost down, the real savings will come out of their settlement.

If you can send your clients to a shop that is not looking to cut corners, you will be taking the first step to eliminate MIST.

Even if your client has already gone to the shop and the estimate is coming under $1,000 you are still in the game. If the insurance company’s objective is to keep the estimate low then the obvious solution again is to keep the estimate above their threshold. There are a multitude of items that will help here. I cover these items in my personal injury seminars.

One thing that is commonly overlooked by the estimator, and everyone else for that matter, is seat belts. Seat belts, like airbags, are designed for single use.

It is a simple enough process to go online to any auto manufacturer’s website and download an owner’s manual for every vehicle on the road. These websites not only carry manuals for each vehicle but will also post them for vehicles that are as much as 20 years old. Read the manual!

Most manufacturers are clear that if your vehicle has been involved in a crash the seatbelts needs to be replaced. They will even state that this needs to be done by a factory trained technician. Perhaps that is part of why most shops do not include this in their estimate. They simply lack a factory trained technician on their team.

With some manuals, the rules are not quite so stringent. In that case, and this holds true for practically every other vehicle, the seat belt locking mechanism must be checked, again by a factory trained technician.

Failure to replace the seat belt and the mechanism puts an occupant at greater risk of injury when that belt fails in the next accident. Furthermore, if your client uses their own collision coverage to repair their vehicle and their insurance company does not at least check then there is a question of fiduciary responsibility.

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