Have you been in a motor vehicle collision and are now experiencing neck pain? You may have whiplash, which most commonly occurs when a driver (or a passenger) is rear-ended in a collision. The force from the collision causes a sharp bending of the neck in a forward and backward motion. Although some whiplash injuries are minor and resolved quickly, others may be symptomatic of a more serious injury. Hiring an attorney with expertise in car accident claims can help you determine whether you may be entitled to receive money damages.
Generally speaking, the more significant the harm caused, the larger the compensation will be. Because no two cases are alike, it is difficult to predict the exact amount that a person may be entitled to. Though awards may vary, there are two standard types of damages that a person claiming a car accident-related injury may be awarded.
Economic Damages (a/k/a special damages)
- Medical expenses related to treating the injury, such as hospital bills, surgery, rehabilitation, medical equipment, etc.
- Lost wages as a result of being unable to return to work, or having to work less due to the injury
Non-economic Damages (a/k/a general damages)
- Past and future pain and suffering from the injury, including post-traumatic stress disorder
- This is a more subjective category of damages, and therefore more difficult to quantify in dollar amounts
- Generally, an injury of a more serious nature that requires extensive medical treatment will be seen as imposing much more pain and suffering then a soft tissue injury or one that is easily treated. Therefore, accidents where the whiplash-related injuries are more substantial will be entitled to receive compensation for pain and suffering
The Effects of Whiplash
The symptoms of whiplash may vary depending on the extent of the injury. Medical New Today lists the following symptoms related to whiplash:
- Neck-related pain, such as reduced mobility, stiffness, and tenderness
- Pain in other parts of the body, such as the lower back, arms, and hands
- Numbness in the arms and hands
- Headaches, dizziness, vision problems, vertigo, ringing in the ears
- Sleeping problems
- Less common are irritability, problems concentrating, and memory loss
The Quebec Classification of Whiplash-Associated Disorders uses the following grading system to understand the severity of a person’s whiplash:
- Grade 0: No complaints about the neck. No physical sign(s).
- Grade I: Neck complaint of pain, stiffness, or tenderness only. No physical sign(s).
- Grade II: Neck complaint AND musculoskeletal sign(s). Musculoskeletal signs include decreased range of motion and point tenderness.
- Grade III: Neck complaint AND neurological sign(s). Neurological signs include decreased range of motion and point tenderness.
- Grade IV: Neck complaint AND fracture or dislocation.
Treatment of the conditions usually involves medications, physical therapy, osteopathy, and/or cervical collars. Most whiplash symptoms are alleviated within a range of several days to several weeks. However, some people continue to experience the after-effects of whiplash for several months, and in extreme cases, chronic long-term pain can last up to six months or longer.
No Fault System in New Jersey
Your insurance coverage will play an important role in pursuing a car accident lawsuit.
New Jersey is one of a handful of states with a no fault auto insurance system. This means that regardless of who caused the accident, your insurance company will pay for your medical bills, up to your policy’s limit (a/k/a PIP limit). If your losses exceed the PIP limit, then you can pursue compensation from the driver who’s at fault. The PIP limit depends on which of the two general insurance policies you own: standard or basic.
- $15,000 PIP limit
- Can sue for economic damages where expenses exceed $15,000
- You can’t file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering unless you suffered serious harm as defined by law; some relevant harm may include displaced fracture or other permanent injury
- If you’re injured in an accident caused by a driver with only a Basic Policy, you may not be able to file a claim with their insurance for medical expenses not covered by your PIP. In that case, you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver to cover the additional costs. You’ll need the help of a personal injury attorney to do this.
- Most drivers in New Jersey will choose this policy, where the PIP limit is between $15,000 to $250,000.
- You also choose between Limited v. Unlimited Rights to Sue as part of the policy
- For the Unlimited Right to Sue, you can sue someone who caused an auto accident for all types of losses, including pain and suffering, for any injury.
- The Limited Right to Sue only allows you to sue the at-fault driver for pain and suffering, but only if you have suffered a serious harm as defined by law
- You can still sue for economic damages if they exceed your PIP limit.
Modified Comparative Negligence
New Jersey is a modified comparative negligence jurisdiction. This is used by both insurance companies as well as juries in a trial to determine your level of fault as compared to the other party. First, your level of fault reduces the amount of damages you can recover. For example, if the injured party is deemed to be 20% at fault, and the other party 80%, then out of a $100,000 award, the injured party can only collect the 80% (or $80,000). What makes modified comparative negligence rule unique is that if you are deemed to be 51% negligent (or more), then you cannot recover damages.
Case Law Analysis
To properly value your case, you will have to wait until you have reached “maximum medical improvement.” In other words, you have to recover as fully as you are likely to. This is because the best way to assign an accurate value to your case is to show the costs of your treatment, both past and possibly future. The following cases illustrate the range of money that has been awarded in New Jersey for neck injuries sustained from rear-end collisions.
Abrantes v. Alarcon
- A woman claimed severe back and neck injuries and suffered from headaches, back pain, and emotional distress for which she had to receive medical treatment and psychological counseling
- The accident occurred after the woman was rear-ended twice (by two separate cars) while stopped at a red light. This case went through four separate trials due to disputes in damage amounts.
- The parties ended up settling for $395,000, with $300,000 coming from the first driver’s insurance policy, with an additional $35,000 on top to address a possible bad faith claim, and $60,000 coming from the other driver
Kukla v. Goodwin
- A woman was rear-ended while driving on the highway and suffered injuries to her neck and lower back
- She sued the driver of the car, the actual owner of the car, as well as her insurance company for underinsured motorist benefits
- Damages were sought for pain and suffering, disfigurement, lost wages, medical expenses, and other related expenses
- Prior to trial, the injured woman settled with the driver and car owner for $25,000 in accordance with their insurance policy limits, and received $250,000 from her own insurer after the trial
Martino v. Allstate
- A husband was driving with his wife in the passenger seat when they were rear-ended by an uninsured vehicle. Both sustained neck and back injuries in the collision.
- They sued their insurer under their uninsured motorist coverage and the case went to trial, with the jury finding that Allstate (the insurer) was liable under the coverage
- The jury awarded $270,000 in total damages, with $150,000 going to the husband, and $120,000 to the wife. Because the injured parties had agreed to cap off their damage amounts in exchange for an expedited trial, they ultimately took less in compensation than what the jury had awarded
How to File a Lawsuit
Your attorney will decide whether or not to pursue the case after your initial consultation. Should the attorney and client agree to work together, the next steps would be to gather all of the necessary information regarding the accident and the injury. Your attorney will file a complaint and summons against the other party to get the process underway for the lawsuit.
Why You Need a Lawyer
To give yourself the best chance of receiving compensation for your whiplash injuries, it’s best to hire an experienced attorney. You should not have to pay out of your own pocket for the harm done to you by another party. The legal process can be a challenging landscape to navigate, and might seem like it would add to the growing list of problems one might be facing after an accident. However, contacting an attorney is the best course of action. By giving yourself a chance to receive financial compensation, you would be alleviating the financial burdens that the injury has placed on you.
Furthermore, car accident cases often involve insurance companies in addition to opposing attorneys. Insurance adjusters tend to be more experienced negotiators because they deal with accident claims often. Therefore, you have to make sure you have an experienced negotiator fighting on your behalf as well.
At Rosenblum Law, we have been handling car accident cases for many years. We understand the effects auto accident injuries can have. If you have a claim, we’ll guide you through the process and present the strongest case for maximum compensation. For a free consultation, call us today at 888-235-9021 or contact us through our website.
If they take your case on, most law firms will settle their fees from the settlement amounts. According to Rule 1:21 – Practice of Law, N.J. Ct. R. 1:21, those amounts are:
(1) 33 1/3% on the first $750,000 recovered;
(2) 30% on the next $750,000 recovered;
(3) 25% on the next $750,000 recovered;
(4) 20% on the next $750,000 recovered; and
(5) on all amounts in excess of the above for a fee deemed reasonable by the court.
The statute of limitations in New Jersey for personal injuries is two years after the injury occurred. Barring special circumstances, you will not be allowed to bring your claim after two years. Hence, it is important to avoid delay and contact an attorney as soon as possible to see if you have a viable claim.
To win a personal injury case, you have to prove four things (called “elements”):
You were injured;
The party you’re suing had a duty to you;
The party you’re suing breached that duty; and
That breach of duty caused your injury.
All drivers have a duty to others on the road to drive safely and obey traffic laws. And a driver breaches that duty when they drive negligently or recklessly.
It is possible for whiplash to set in later, rather than immediately after the accident. This is because adrenaline can mask the underlying pain. Furthermore, while some symptoms can appear several days after the accident, others can take weeks, months, even years to develop. Whiplash syndrome describes this delayed effect. It’s important to be aware of this possible delay, and keep an eye out for symptoms even though some time may have passed since the accident. The statute of limitations allows up to two years after the incident to file a lawsuit, so just because you might not experience the effects of whiplash right away does not mean you will be barred from filing a lawsuit.
Whiplash pain is mostly experienced in the neck and surrounding areas. There is often pain and stiffness in the neck, which can also be accompanied by pain in the head, chest, shoulders, and arms. If you have recently been in a car accident, no matter how minor, and are experiencing these symptoms, there is a strong possibility that you may have whiplash.
A doctor has the option of conducting several different tests to diagnose whiplash. For example, whiplash can be detected with MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays. Seeking out treatment in a timely manner post diagnosis is important not just for physical recovery, but also because in a personal injury case, the best way to assess economic damages is by getting to “maximum medical recovery.” This is where a doctor determines you have been fully treated or are as healed as you will be. From there, the total cost of your past (and possibly future) treatment is easily quantifiable because of your medical bills.