What Are the 5 Most Common Car Accident Injuries?

A man and woman are in a car accident. The man is rubbing the back of his neck due to whiplash injury.

Safety features like seatbelts and airbags have helped to improve the safety of traveling in a motor vehicle, but traffic accidents remain a leading cause of death for Americans younger than 55. According to the CDC, the five most common car accident injuries that send people to the emergency room in the US are:

  1. Sprains and Strains of the Neck and Back

Whiplash is one example of a soft tissue neck injury that many of us are familiar with, but soft tissue back injuries also happen frequently. CDC data shows that these two types of injuries make up about 23.6 percent of injury-related emergency department visits. Usually, neck or back strain occurs when a crash forces a vehicle to stop or slow down abruptly. Inertia causes the passengers to continue moving forward at the same speed, but seatbelts bring them to a halt. Unfortunately, a seatbelt won’t stop your head from snapping forward and backward, causing small tears in the muscles and tissues of the neck. This leads to the pain, stiffness, and inflammation associated with whiplash or neck strain.

The jarring motion of being thrown forward and then back can also strain back muscles, and in some cases, misalignment of the vertebrae can also contribute to back pain.

While 23.6 percent is a significant percentage of emergency department visits, the number of back and neck injuries would likely be even higher if it included injuries not seen in the ER. We meet many car accident victims who tell us they didn’t go to the emergency room after an accident because they thought their injuries were minor or they had no symptoms immediately after the accident.

It might seem strange to think that you could be hurt in an accident and not notice it, but this is a common occurrence for two reasons: Accidents are usually sudden and scary, and this causes the body to release adrenaline to prepare for a “fight or flight.” One side effect of adrenaline is suppressing pain so you can concentrate on “fighting or flighting.” At the same time, the pain may feel worse after the body tries to repair small tissue tears, and inflammation occurs. As a result, many people don’t notice their neck or back pain until hours or even days after the accident.

If you’ve been in an accident, please let the paramedics check you out, and see a doctor if you have any symptoms – even if they seem inconsequential. If you were in an accident a few days ago and are now experiencing pain, see a doctor as soon as possible.

  1. Contusion with Intact Skin Surface

These injuries comprise a little more than 15 percent of emergency room visits. A contusion is another name for a bruise, which sounds like a minor issue. However, in some cases, a large bruise may indicate a severe problem like internal bleeding or damage, so it’s essential to seek medical care for contusions. When a large contusion occurs on a limb, you may need an X-ray to determine if the bone underneath is broken. Contusions to the torso could indicate internal organ damage. The emergency room doctor may order imaging such as a CT scan or ultrasound to understand what’s happening under the skin.

  1. Spinal Disorders

An injury to the spinal cord can have devastating consequences, including paralysis or chronic pain. Spine injuries make up about 8 percent of emergency room visits for car crashes, and like soft tissue injuries, they are sometimes deceptive. If you’ve had any kind of back injury in a car accident, the best thing you can do is try not to move until the paramedics arrive. They will stabilize your spine before taking you to the hospital, where your doctor will do imaging to ensure you don’t have a fracture or other potentially serious problem. If there is such an injury, keeping the spine stable might prevent it from worsening in some situations.

  1. Strains or Sprains That Don’t Involve the Neck or Back

Tears in the muscle or tissue are most common in the neck and back but can occur anywhere. This category represents about 6.5 percent of emergency room visits following a car accident. Most strains and sprains heal quickly, but a few people may develop chronic pain.

  1. Fractures

Broken bones are another prevalent problem after car crashes, accounting for about 6.1 percent of emergency department visits. Even a simple fracture can be a big problem if it prevents you from going to work or doing your usual activities at home, and broken bones typically take at least six weeks to heal. (Depending on the bone involved and the fracture type, it could also take much longer.) More complex breaks may require surgery and months of physical therapy to get back on your feet. Additionally, some people find that even after fully recovering, they may have chronic pain in the area of the healed fracture.

What to Do When You Become a Car Accident Victim

Report the Accident

Call 911 to report the accident and check on everyone in the car. If there are injuries, even seemingly minor ones, request an ambulance. Try to take pictures of the accident scene with your phone. If you can safely get out of your car, check on the people in the other vehicle and let the 911 operator know if they need medical help.

If no one is seriously injured, you should exchange contact and insurance info with the other driver. Try to avoid getting into a discussion about fault, and definitely don’t say that it was your fault. You might be surprised at how many people think they were at fault in an accident but are actually mistaken.

When the police arrive, answer their questions honestly but briefly. There is no need to give them any more information than they asked for. Again, don’t say that you were at fault, regardless of what you might think. It’s easy to judge fault without having the complete picture of what happened, and this can complicate your case later on if you realize you were incorrect.

Seek Medical Care for Injuries

Get medical attention for any injuries, even small ones. This creates a record of the accident and injuries for your healthcare providers in case your pain or symptoms increase later. If you do feel worse after a few days despite being told that your pain should improve quickly, please go to urgent care or see your family physician.

Document Your Losses

If you have to miss work because of your injuries, keep track of the number of days you missed and if you had to use vacation days or other paid time off. One potential damage in a car accident case is lost income – and this does include paid time off. Even though you were paid for missed days, you still used those paid days you could have taken another time.

It’s also helpful to save copies of any bills you receive for medical treatment. If you need to travel to see a specialist out of the area, save any receipts for travel expenses like gas and restaurant meals.

Call the Colorado Car Accident Lawyers at Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™

The sooner you call a lawyer, the better. The other driver may have already called an attorney, their insurance company, or both – and they might have claimed you were at fault. Remember that the other driver’s insurance company will want to believe you caused the accident because it gives them an excuse to deny your claim. An experienced car accident attorney is familiar with the tactics insurance companies use to get you to back down.

Once you speak with a lawyer, they will gather evidence to prove you were not at fault. Again, time is not on your side – some evidence, such as a doorbell or security camera video, may not be available indefinitely. Video files are large and take up a lot of storage space, so most people delete them frequently. If we contact the owner of a doorbell or security camera right after an accident, often they still have video from the time in question. If we call a month later, it’s probably gone.

Our investigators will also seek out more witnesses. Sometimes the police officers who respond to the scene are busy handling the accident or are called to another emergency. As a result, they may not get a chance to thoroughly search for accident witnesses, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t any.

After filing a claim against the at-fault driver, we might request black box data from both vehicles. These black boxes collect a large amount of information to help car manufacturers predict and prevent accidents, but the same data can be used to show which direction either car was headed, if a vehicle sped up or slowed down, and more. It is often extremely helpful in car accident claims.

Your attorney will consider the evidence, then negotiate with the other driver’s insurance company for a reasonable amount of damages. Although you don’t have to prove the other party was 100 percent at fault under Coloradio’s comparative negligence laws, the more evidence there is that the other driver was all or mostly at fault, the better. Colorado statutes allow you to collect damages from another party as long as they were mostly at fault for your injuries, but the percentage of fault assigned to you will be deducted from the final award. Generally, the more evidence your lawyers have in your favor, the more compensation they can collect for you.

Contact Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ For Personalized Legal Advice

Attorney Sean Olson founded Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ to assist those injured in accidents, telling their stories and fighting for their rights. If you need help with a car accident case, please call Olson Personal Injury Lawyers™ for a free consultation.