Unless you have had to unfortunate experience of being an injured victim of a low property damage motor vehicle accident, you may have difficulty understanding that people do get injured as a result of these accidents.
The purpose of this blog is to educate readers, who may end up on a jury, that there are two sides to every low property damage motor vehicle accident.
The definition of a low property damage accident over the years has expanded from cases where the property damage was under $500.00 to cases involving thousands of dollars worth of damage. The definition is whatever the insurance company representing the at fault driver defines it to be.
In my experience with auto accident claims and litigation for approximately 30 years, I have seen hundreds of victims develop serious spinal and other musculoskeletal injuries from low property damage accidents.
Obviously, insurance companies hate these case claims, and they will force the victims of personal injury accidents into litigation and even Trial. Many personal injury attorneys won’t take them – or won’t keep them if they cannot settle them without resorting to litigation.
Rear End Collisions
Once, while backing out of a driveway and moving very slowly, I ran into a pole supporting a basketball backboard. The impact was to the rubber part of my steel bumper. The bumper of my car was the older type which incorporated bumper shock absorbers. The shock of this impact was so great that I thought that I would develop injury symptoms. Although I was fortunate not to have been injured in the accident, the impact really rang my bell mainly because of the unexpected nature of the collision.
I did get hurt from rear end collision where that was part of a four vehicle chain reaction rear end accident. My new Corvette was first in line at an intersection when I was struck from behind and pushed out in to the intersection. I thought that the rear end of my Corvette was demolished. When I got out of the car the only damage that was visible was a crack in my bumper cover about 2 inches long and the rear quarter panel red lights popped out of their of their sockets. After this accident my back started hurting, and it kept getting worse with time. I kept denying that I was injured but eventually had to get some chiropractic treatment because of horrible low back and leg pain.
Insurance companies often deny these low property damage claims, or offer very little to settle them. They know that many attorneys will not dedicate the time and expense to litigate them. Juries that hear these cases often do not understand the medical complexities involved with whiplash injuries and are predisposed to think that people who make claims for these types of accidents are trying to take advantage of the system. As a result it is difficult to obtain a fair verdict that compensates the victims for the injuries they suffer as a result of these car accidents. However, it is my experience that jurors are reluctant to admit this prejudice during voir dire examination.
Insurance companies defend claims
Skilled defense attorneys defend these cases. So, the insurance companies motive in strongly defending these claims is an effort to discourage victims of injury accidents from seeking compensation and attorneys from representing those who do. The advantage to the insurance company is the production of a ripple effect though the legal community.
Since so many people are hurt in these rear-end low property damage accidents, it cannot be said that these accidents do not produce injury. It is true that some people walk away from them without injury. Most adverse drivers that cause these accidents often do not get injured because they have the opportunity to see them coming and prepare for the impact. Their bodies also move in different directions than those whose cars they hit.
Many factors enter into the injury potential of these accidents. Factors that can increase susceptibility to injury include: body position at the time of impact, lack of head rests, seatbelts locking on shoulder harness straps that only go over only one shoulder, bracing, unexpected nature of the collision, susceptibility to injury due to prior injuries or pre-existing conditions, weight, age, sex (women have more susceptibility to cervical injuries) or presence of osteoarthritis or other degenerative conditions.
Whiplash injuries are caused by the unique and unusual head and spinal movement produced by rear end, side, and frontal impacts. The symptoms associated with sprain and strain injuries to the supporting structures of the spine may come on hours or even days after the accident. Delayed symptoms associated with spinal injuries are the rule rather than the exception. Despite this medical truth, insurance companies hire doctors who will testify that the victim of an injury accident may not have been injured, or may have been only slightly injured if they did not complain of pain immediately after the accident.
Insurance company arguments
Insurance companies will argue that there is a scientific correlation between the amount of visible damage sustained to a vehicle’s components, which are mostly metal and plastic, and the seriousness of injury sustained to the flesh and connective tissue of a human occupant.
The simple defense argument presented in thousands of courtrooms across the country each day is that injury victim could not possibly have been injured because there was no or very little property damage to the victim’s vehicle.
Insurance companies spend millions of dollars on their commercials talking about fakes, frauds and cheaters who are trying to exploit and defraud an insurance company out of billions of dollars. They always take the position that injury claims are exaggerated. Insurance companies make money selling insurance and investing that money in the stock market and other investments. They advertise about fake and fraudulent claims in an attempt to give the impression that they are actually losing money. In reality insurance companies have us convinced us that we should not make a claims even against our own policies because our rates will go up, or our policies will be cancelled. Jurors think that if they award money damages to auto accident victims that this may indirectly affect their own insurance rates.
To analyze the effect of a low property damage auto accident one cannot compare apples to oranges. Trying to make a statistical correlation between damage to inanimate objects like an automobile and a human body is comparing apples to oranges. Metal and human tissue share little similarities. Some people herniate a disc when bending over to tie their shoes. And some people walk away from accidents where their cars are totaled. Therefore, there is no correlation between property damage and human injury.
In order validate the proposition that little vehicle property damage equates to little injury, the analysis must also include the proposition that major vehicle damage must equate to major bodily injury. Insurance companies will deny such a direct correlation in high property damage cases. Body movement in a low impact accident can be incredibly complex. The injury potential of any accident is a matter of medical opinion. The opinions of treating physicians and defense experts concerning the injury potential of any accident will be divergent. Defense experts are called upon to provide favorable answers on critical injury potential issues – and are paid to do so. Insurance company experts won’t get repeat business unless they give favorable opinions to their insurance company clients. Accident Reconstructionists and Biomechanical Engineers can make a lot of money rendering these opinions. A cottage industry of low property damage auto accident experts has evolved in this country which is supported financially by the insurance companies. There certainly is money to be made, however the perceived legitimacy of these experts rests upon the application of junk science.
A multi-disciplinary education involving medicine, physics and biomechanics should be required to qualify a low property damage expert. Seldom does the expert have credentials in all three areas. A person who has not treated the victim of the personal injury car accident should be required to be an accident reconstructionist, medical doctor, engineer, and mechanical engineer to render injury potential opinions on low property damage accidents.
Visible property damage does not equal pain and suffering
Cars absorb energy of a crash by crushing. Energy is not absorbed by the car if it does not crush. The less crush the more energy is transferred by the crash to the occupants.
Harmful hyper-extension followed by immediate hyper-flexion of the head and neck results from a low property damage rear end accident. This causing a shearing force to the supporting structures of the spine. But, insurance experts take the position that a change of velocity of the impacted vehicle under 5 mph means that someone that who was legitimately injured and sought medical treatment is always a fake or a fraud.
So, potential jurors should not automatically accept the defense arguments on a low property damage impact auto accident. They should look to the injured party’s medical condition before the accident. Was the victim predisposed to injury from a motor vehicle accident because of arthritis or some other medical condition that would make them more susceptible to injury from a low impact accident? Are the injuries that are reflected in the post-accident medical records supported by standard orthopedic and neurologic testing? What was the range of motion deficit identified by the treating physician and to what extent does it to verify the musculoskletal injury? Do the x-rays show loss of the normal curvature of the spine caused by muscle spasm? Does the doctor relate it the injuries to the accident even considering the low property damage and why? Was the injured party symptom free prior to the accident? If so, is there any other explanation for the development of the symptoms other than the subject accident? Does the MRI show disc bulges or herniation? Do the bulges or herniations cause nerve root impingement or irritation consistent with the patient’s symptoms? Did the symptoms develop within a few days of the accident? In determining what injury was caused by the accident, jurors must compare the patient’s condition before the accident to how the patient’s condition after the accident.
Since your job as jurors is to be fair and impartial, you must consider both sides of the story on low property damage motor vehicle accident cases in rendering your verdict.
The picture above is from an accident in which we represented a client in a low property damage accident. The repairs totaled less than $500.00 to replace the bumper. The case was tried to a Jury in the Short Trial Program. After considering the facts, including our client’s long history of similar, and chronic, back pain the Jury awarded $3,000.00 to compensate him for the medical bills incurred as a result of the accident and $9,000.00 in pain and suffering as a result of the accident.