“Low Impact” Does Not Mean Low Injury in Car Accidents

The term “low impact accident” is one coined by insurance companies to describe automobile accidents where there was little or no property damage and usually occur at very low speeds.

Insurance companies insist that since there is little property damage there can only be little or no personal injury involved in a low impact car accident. This is often not the case.

In the past, insurance companies defined low impact accidents as those where there was little of no physical damage to the vehicle and where the estimated cost of repair was $50 or less. However, insurance companies set this threshold themselves and have been increasing it through the years. Some companies today consider any accident involving repairs under $5,000 a low impact accident.

However, according to several specialists, there is no correlation between the severity of property damage and the severity of physical injury in car accidents.

While an accident with severe property damage can cause little physical injury, one where there was little or no property damage to the vehicle can involve serious physical injury. While vehicles are designed to withstand low velocity impacts between 5 and 10 miles per hour, the human body is not.

Soft tissue injuries are the most common among low impact car accident victims. Most injuries occur to the soft tissue in the neck and back areas. Soft tissues include muscles, ligaments and tendons and lead to injuries like contusions, bruises, strains, and sprains. Whiplash is the most common injury in low impact accidents.

A study commissioned by General Motors (GM) conducted test crashes at speeds of 8 miles per hour or less and found that whiplash does occur during low velocity crashes, a fact that insurance companies have been denying for years. The GM study also found that more than half of all car accident injuries involve whiplash. Depending on the age of the victim and the severity of the injury, whiplash can be permanently disabling. Almost 30% of people with a neck injury reported suffering neck pain three years after the accident.

Whiplash injuries pose a number of challenges to recovery. First, whiplash will often present a delay in the onset of symptoms. Many victims who are later diagnosed with whiplash fail to report having pain at the scene of the accident and many do not report feeling any pain until 24 hours to one week after the accident.

Additionally, many insurance companies assert that it is impossible to get whiplash in a car with a high seat back or head restraint. However, several studies have proven that this assertion is completely false. If not properly positioned for each person, a headrest may act as a fulcrum and cause whiplash or contribute to whiplash injury. A Federal Motor Vehicle Safety study found that only 25% of adjustable head restraints were positioned correctly. This means that in 75% of cases, the head restraint is likely to cause or contribute to whiplash injury, not prevent it.

Unfortunately, there are some insurance companies that routinely deny or trivialize low impact injuries essentially ignoring the established science. An experienced personal injury attorney can in most cases show an adjuster the error of his or her reasoning. If the adjuster will not respond to reason (and there are some insurance companies that apparently take pride this position), then they must respond to litigation.


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