People’s lives can be dramatically altered by a car accident that was not their fault. Sometimes auto accident injuries do not present themselves at the time of impact, but over the course of months – or even years – the effects become more apparent. Long-term symptoms from a car accident may include physical pain, stiffness, limitations in range of motion / mobility, scarring and disfigurement, recurrent headaches, and even lasting mental distress. These symptoms affect a person’s long-term quality of life, and therefore, they should be accounted for before any personal injury case is resolved.
Unfortunately, it is easy to make mistakes in the aftermath of a car accident, when health problems and large medical bills create stress and complicated decisions. Do yourself a favor: slow down and take one step at a time. It is essential to take a “big picture” approach to your injuries, medical treatment, recovery and healing, rather than jumping to conclusions. If your pain or injuries have the potential to be long-term, consider these four recommendations:
Don’t Settle Before Assessing the Nature and Duration of Your Car Accident Injuries
Often, the trajectory of a person’s injuries and treatment is unknown. One doctor may recommend surgery while another may take a “wait and see” approach. You should not settle your case with an insurance company before having a good understanding about the potential for future treatment and the possibility that your injuries may affect you later in life. These factors – future medical treatment, future pain and suffering, etc. – all must be taken into account for purposes of determining your total damages.
Once the at-fault driver’s insurance has been notified of the claim, it likely will initiate communications with you and work towards “settling” the case. This typically involves the insurance company investigating the accident, reviewing your medical records, discussing the weaknesses of your claim and offering a lump sum cash payment for the damages the accident caused. Once a case is settled, you have released all claims you have against the insurance company relating to the accident, regardless of whether you anticipated the consequences. “I didn’t know I would need that surgery,” “I didn’t know the pain would return,” or “I didn’t know my health insurance would deny coverage for that procedure,” are not valid reasons to reopen the case. Once you have settled and released all claims, there is no turning back. For these reasons, it is critical to have the fullest picture possible of your injuries, not just now but into the future, before reaching a settlement.
Seek Treatment and Report Your Symptoms to Your Doctors
If you are experiencing pain or other residual symptoms, don’t go it alone! Promptly find a doctor you trust and work with him or her closely. This is important for a few reasons:
(A) Most obviously, you cannot get better unless you get the treatment you need. There could be an underlying reason for your worsening symptoms which can only be discovered with thorough investigative testing.
(B) Proper medical documentation strengthens your case. If you have been experiencing daily pain, but your medical records do not mention the pain – or worse yet, state that pain is improved – the insurance company (or a jury) may doubt your subsequent reports. Do not try to please your doctor by telling him what he wants to hear; be thorough and honest.
(C) Your doctor may be asked to opine on the permanency of your conditions. Before he is able to render such an opinion, the doctor must have been made aware of all of your symptoms so that he can attempt various treatments. At some point, he may determine that, despite your continued symptoms, you have reached maximum medical improvement, meaning some of your symptoms cannot be cured and will be permanent. If he was not aware of certain residual pain or other problems, he will have a difficult time stating those conditions are permanent.
Pay Attention To How the Car Accident Injuries Affect Your Daily Life
Compensation for injuries may include recovery for loss of your ability to work / future earning capacity, disability, and loss of enjoyment of life, among others. Therefore, you should note how your activities of daily living have changed since the accident. Are there recreational activities you used to do, that you no longer are capable of doing – e.g., hunting, fishing, golfing, camping, going to sporting events, etc? What about at home? Are there certain chores, household or caregiving activities that you no longer can do? Do you have pain, restrictions or limitations that affect your ability to work in your job? Any changes in your abilities resulting directly from the accident are relevant to your damages award.
Remember, Your Car Accident Injuries May Be Psychological As Well
Finally, don’t assume that you must discount any effects the accident has had on your psychological well-being. The emotional or mental distress you have suffered, as well as the mental treatment you have received because of the accident, are recoverable types of damages. It is not uncommon for an individual to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a traumatic car accident, especially if the individual had pre-existing mental health issues, and these mental or emotional issues can be long-term. Therefore, following an accident, you should pay attention to your mood and mental state. If you start to experience sleep problems, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, or changes in social behavior, or if others observe changes in your behavior, consult with a mental health provider.
While many of the recommendations in this post are common sense, car accident victims are at risk of overlooking the full extent of their future loss and undervaluing their case. By hiring a knowledgeable personal injury attorney, you can ensure thorough consideration of your injuries and a fair calculation of past and future damages before you release your claims. If you have been in a car accident and believe your injuries may be long-term, contact Hawks Quindel to arrange a consultation with Wisconsin personal injury attorney Danielle Schroder.
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