It’s not uncommon for injury-related pain after a car accident to be delayed. In many cases you may not even know you have a serious injury until later.
Even low-speed collisions that break a taillight and nudge your car into the vehicle in front of you can cause injuries. And there’s also emotional pain to consider. For minor as well as serious accidents, post-traumatic stress or other mental anguish may occur well after the accident itself. Both delayed physical and emotional pain are eligible for compensation in California.
If you’re involved in a car accident and walk away from it pain-free, that doesn’t guarantee you won’t feel later pain from injuries that seemed minor or nonexistent at the time of the accident. This is because our bodies respond to injury by a surge of adrenaline that may mask actual sensations of pain and also lull us, in the immediate aftermath, into thinking we feel fine.
But it’s not unusual to realize pain from injuries for several hours, days or even weeks. This “delayed pain,” and the medical treatment it needs, can be part of the at-fault driver’s insurance settlement — but only if you haven’t already settled your claim and signed a release of liability with the insurance company involved. This is why it’s important to wait until you’ve reached your maximum medical improvement (MMI) — the point at which your condition has stabilized and you have reached as full of a recovery as can be expected.
But that if symptoms appear later, California law has a six-month window to file a personal injury lawsuit. And because California is a tort-based insurance system, the injured party can file a lawsuit against the driver at fault to seek compensation for damages for any amounts above those covered by the driver’s insurance.
Because minor pain can indicate serious injury, it’s important to seek a full medical evaluation after an accident to know the full extent of any injuries. A slight back ache felt immediately after an accident can turn into severe pain in the short term and into a lifetime of chronic pain and medical bills if left untreated.
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to be involved in an collision, be on the lookout for delayed pain including:
- Headaches: A slight headache following a collision may feel like a minor symptom. However, any head pain after an accident may be a symptom of traumatic brain injury or even a blood clot in the brain.
- Back Pain: Soft tissue damage, sprains, pinched nerves and herniated discs can occur following an accident. But you may not experience the full extent of the pain from your injuries until hours or days later. Without medical treatment, back pain can increase over time and result in permanent damage. Even if you don’t feel back pain after an accident, it’s still vital to receive a professional medical evaluation as soon as possible after the accident.
- Neck or Shoulder Pain: Whiplash is a common injury that results from a rear-end collision. However, the pain from whiplash — which is a generic term that covers several neck and shoulder injuries — is not always felt immediately after an accident. It can take days, and can also indicate a spinal injury, like a herniated disc.
- Abdominal Pain: Any internal, soft-tissue injury can be extremely serious. Pain caused from internal bleeding may surface days after an accident and can even be fatal if left untreated. If you feel abdominal pain at any point after an injury, seek medical evaluation as quickly as possible. Symptoms of internal bleeding include headache, dizziness and deep bruising.
- Numbness and Tingling: These sensations indicate a herniated disc pressing or pinching the nerves on your spine. Tingling and numbness often occur in the arms and legs and you may also feel weakness in your limbs. Even if these sensations don’t rise to the level of pain, they are signs of an injury that can grow more severe over time.
- Emotional Pain and Suffering: Depression, anxiety and PTSD can occur after minor and major accidents, and you may experience symptoms days or weeks later. These feelings can spring from the accident itself, the physical injuries you suffered, or both. Symptoms of PTSD include shock, disbelief that the accident occurred, anger, fear or uneasiness, guilt, nightmares, and frequently going over the accident in your mind. While most people involved in an accident have some (or all) of these feelings, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, sometimes these feelings can be so strong that they keep you from living a normal life. In those cases, a PTSD evaluation and treatment to help you deal with the trauma is crucial.
Since even a minor accident can prove serious in terms of your long-term physical and emotional health, seek a full medical evaluation even if you feel no or little pain following a collision. A skilled personal injury attorney is a valuable tool in making sure you’re fairly compensated for your injuries, especially if your pain is delayed pain.