The 5 Types of Whiplash Associated Disorders and How They Impact Your Claim

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By Marcus Fernandez

Movies and TV shows rely on an actor wearing a cervical collar and complaining of whiplash to get a laugh about someone faking an injury. For the three million people diagnosed with a whiplash injury each year in the United States, whiplash associated disorders are not funny and can have long-term consequences.

If you suffer from a whiplash associated disorder as a result of an accident, you may be entitled to collect damages from the party whose careless or reckless conduct caused it. 

What is meant by “whiplash associated disorders”?

This may be a good place to explain terminology about neck injuries. “Whiplash” refers to the mechanics and laws of physics at work causing your head and neck to move in response to an external force. A truck crashing into the rear of your car or someone violently and without warning shoving you can cause a sudden back-and-forth movement of your head and neck.

The whipping movement you experience in an automobile accident is whiplash. The stiffness, pain and other symptoms you experience as a result of whiplash are referred to as whiplash associated disorders (WAD).

What happens to your body?

The force that causes your head to violently jerk forward or backward may injure structures within the neck or cervical area of the spine. It may injure or damage the following: 

  • Muscles. 
  • Ligaments. 
  • Bones, including cervical vertebrae. 
  • Spinal cord. 
  • Nerve roots. 

An injury to the brain, including traumatic brain injury and concussion, may also be caused by the violent motion of the head that causes whiplash associated disorders. The sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head can cause the brain to move within and strike against the interior of the skull causing damage to the brain.

Forces associated with whiplash cause the spine to exceed its normal range of motion. Studies found the violent motion of the head and neck to cause flexing of the upper and lower portions of the spine, which cause the spine to take on an S-shape as it extends and straightens. The extension of the spine results in a sheering force causing the damage associated with WAD.

Classifying the signs and symptoms of whiplash associated disorders

You may immediately develop symptoms. Or, you may not feel anything until days after the accident. Everyone responds differently to an event that causes a whiplash injury. Common symptoms include the following: 

  • Pain or discomfort in the neck, back or shoulder areas. 
  • Stiffness and difficulty moving the head and neck. 
  • Headaches. 
  • Muscle spasms. 
  • Fatigue. 
  • Memory impairment. 
  • Anxiety and mood changes. 
  • Vertigo. 
  • Numbness or tingling sensations. 
  • Facial pain or discomfort. 
  • Nausea. 
  • Ringing in the ears. 

A classification system was developed to grade the severity of an injury based upon the presence or absence of symptoms of WAD. It relies on an accident victim’s complaints and physical examinations by doctors soon after the incident that caused them. The system assigns the following grades: 

  • 0 Grade: Person exhibits no physical signs of injury and voices no complaints of stiffness or pain. 
  • 1 Grade: Person complains of pain, stiffness or tenderness in the area of the neck, but doctors performing a physical exam cannot confirm the complaints. 
  • 2 Grade: Physical examination of injured person by a physician reveals limited range of motion along with tenderness to the touch. 
  • 3 Grade: Person’s complaints of pain and other symptoms related to the neck accompanied by neurological deficits, such as muscle weakness and sensory deficits, confirmed by physical examination. 
  • 4 Grade: Complaints about neck accompanied by injury to the spinal cord, bone fracture or dislocation revealed by physical examination. 

The grading system was originally intended for use by doctors to evaluate patients and develop treatment options. Now, it is also a tool to evaluate the severity of an injury by lawyers and claims adjusters. This use may affect the amount offered by an insurance company to settle the personal injury claim.

WAD grading and your personal injury claim for compensation

If you have a whiplash injury and file a lawsuit, the WAD grade may affect your settlement. For example, Grade 3 can result in more money offered by the insurance company. Meanwhile, a Grade 1 or 2 WAD may result in less money. Critics of the grade system say that the classification fails to predict how well you recover. Therefore, critics believe it is a poor indicator to use to determine someones claim amount.

A study followed the progress of patients with whiplash injuries from car accidents for one year. The conclusion is that WAD grading fails to predict persistent and long-term neck pain. Its reliance on patient complaints and examinations conducted immediately after the injury made WAD a poor predictor of long-term effects.

A Tampa personal injury lawyer can help

If you experience whiplash associated disorders from an accident caused by another party, speak with a Tampa personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney knows how to gather and present evidence to obtain the compensation you deserve. Call to speak to an experienced Kinney, Fernandez, and Boire Lawyer or fill out this form to get a free case evaluation.