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Long Term Impact of Injuries Sustained in Car Accidents

Long Term Impact of Injuries Sustained in Car Accidents

A variety of different injuries are possible to sustain when involved in a car accident; however, the nature of the injuries that do occur are usually determined by several factors, including vehicle speed, weather conditions, road conditions, location within the vehicle, vehicle size and design, and whether or not a seat belt was worn or an airbag deployed. Some injuries can be relatively minor, such as scratches, scrapes, and bruises, which can easily be treated by a physician or emergency responders. Other injuries might be more serious, such as broken bones, whiplash, or deep cuts. Still other injuries can be life-threatening, and if individuals do recover, they often experience a lifetime of disability as a result of their injuries.

Whiplash Injuries from Car Accidents

Car accidents are a common cause of whiplash, which is the general term used to describe any injury to the soft tissues or bones within the neck. Examples of whiplash injuries include injury to the cervical (neck) portion of the spine, the neck muscles, ligaments (connective tissues that connect bones to each other), and/or nerves. The symptoms associated with whiplash occur as a result of the sudden extension and flexion of the neck, and can include neck pain (immediately following the accident or appearing several days later), neck stiffness, muscle or ligament injury, headache, dizziness, burning or prickling sensations in the neck, as well as shoulder or back pain. In some cases, people who suffer whiplash may also experience memory loss, a decreased ability to concentrate, increased nervousness and/or irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue, or depression. Treatment for whiplash may necessitate pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and a cervical collar (brace). In addition, physical therapy and neck stabilization may also be needed.

Fortunately, the general prognosis associated with whiplash is good, and associated pains usually reside within a few days or weeks, with most people recovering fully within three months. However, some individuals may continue to suffer from lingering symptoms, including neck pain and headaches, for an indeterminate period of time. In fact, some studies have shown that following a car accident, between 15% and 40% of individuals who sustain a whiplash injury will go on to develop chronic neck pain. On a more broad scale, other research has also shown a high prevalence of generalized chronic pain among severely injured individuals following a car accident.

Traumatic Brain Injuries from Car Accidents

Traumatic brain injuries occur when a sudden bump, blow, or other forceful impact to the head disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. Traumatic brain injuries can range from mild to severe, and are classified as either closed or penetrating. Closed injuries are those caused when the brain moves within the skull, which can occur as a result of a fall, car accident, or being struck in the head by something. Penetrating injuries occur when a foreign object enters the skull, such as a bullet, knife, or other sharp object. Severe traumatic brain injuries that do not result in death can still lead to serious problems, including coma and amnesia. In addition, among those who are hospitalized for a traumatic brain injury, 43% continue to suffer from an associated disability one year following their injury. Over the long-term, individuals who sustain a traumatic brain injury can experience problems with attention span, memory, weakness in their arms and legs, impaired coordination and sense of balance, difficulty hearing or seeing, impaired perceptions and sense of touch, as well as a variety of emotional and psychological problems, including depression, anxiety, aggression, and personality changes.

Although falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries, car accidents and traffic related incidents lead to the largest percentage of deaths due to traumatic brain injuries (31.8%). A recent study found that 35% of all traumatic brain injuries in adolescents (10 to 19 years of age) occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents. This same study also found that injuries sustained in such accidents account for 42% of all in-hospital deaths in adolescents with traumatic brain injuries.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from Car Accidents

The physical pain and damage that can occur as a result of a car accident can be debilitating; however, the psychological and emotional damage that can occur is also significant and can have a profound impact on an individual’s ability to function, regardless of whether or not they sustained a physical injury. Often, car accidents will cause individuals to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a serious condition that can develop following any traumatic event in which harm occurred or was threatened. For most people, experiencing a traumatic event might lead to symptoms such as shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and even feelings of guilt or mistrust. Under normal circumstances, these reactions go away over time; however, for individuals with PTSD, these feelings do not retreat and often intensify to the point that they interfere with the individual’s ability to live a normal life. For example, individuals with PTSD often relive their trauma in thoughts and memories, and may suffer from nightmares and flashbacks. As a result, they may avoid people, places, and situations that remind them of the trauma they experienced, which can further lead to a sense of detachment from others, feelings of isolation, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. In addition, individuals with PTSD often suffer from excessive emotions, difficulty sleeping, irritability, outbursts of anger, and even physical symptoms such as high blood pressure and nausea.

Apart from warfare, motor vehicle accidents have become a leading cause of PTSD. An estimated 9% of those who survive a serious car accident develop considerable PTSD symptoms. Research also shows that the severity of PTSD symptoms is often related to the severity of the accident, and that symptoms can persist for a long period of time following an accident. One study of 111 individuals who sustained non-head-related injuries in a car accident found that although most fared well in the long-term, a significant number of individuals continued to suffer from social and psychological problems as a result of their injuries, and approximately 25% of those evaluated reported anxiety and fears associated with traveling as either a driver or a passenger.

Long Term Personal Injuries from Car Accidents

Injuries sustained as a result of a car accident can be significant, regardless of whether those injuries are physical, psychological, or both. In the aftermath of a car accident, and especially when contemplating the decision to file a legal claim to seek damages, it is important to consider not only the immediate and short-term effects that have occurred, but also those that can occur in the years to come. Not only should the physical/emotional pain and suffering be taken into consideration, but also should the financial implications that can come with living with chronic medical problems. Lifetime insurance caps on specific types of coverage, as well as out-of-pocket costs that may be incurred for prescriptions or living assistance, should not be overlooked. Moreover, living with long-term problems associated with an injury can also impact an individual’s employment, earning potential and future prospects.

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