Auto Accident Whiplash Injuries

car accidentWhiplash injuries resulting from auto accidents are the most common type of personal injury cases. An auto accident occurs every ten seconds in the United States, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. In 2005 there were six million auto accidents in the U.S., resulting in 43,443 deaths and over 2 million injuries. Negligence is the most frequent cause of auto accidents. Some specific causes include distracted or inattentive driving, drunk driving, speeding, and reckless driving. Other causes include defective tires or brakes, malfunctioning traffic signals, and poorly maintained highways, roads and freeways.

One common injury that victims of car accidents suffer is known as the soft tissue injury. A soft tissue injury is an injury to the supporting parts of the body that are not bones. These parts include tendons, ligaments, joints, and muscles. These soft tissues can be torn or stretched beyond their breaking point, causing pain, swelling, bleeding, and loss of function.

  • Common soft tissue injuries include the following:
  • Strains (damage to the muscle or tendon)
  • Sprains (damage or tear of ligaments)
  • Bursitis (inflammation of one or more bursae, which are small sacs of synovial fluid in the body)
  • Tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon)
  • Contusions
  • Bruises
  • Dislocations
  • Nerve damage

Soft tissue injuries do not appear on x-rays, so you may not know if you have been injured until symptoms appear. These symptoms can be immediate, but can take from a few hours to several days to present themselves. The two most obvious symptoms are pain and inflammation.


Injury to soft tissues is usually accompanied by inflammation to the injured area. Inflammation is the body’s way of healing the injury. During the body’s inflammatory response to an injury, the following occurs:

The blood vessels near the injury dilate (increase in size) and become more permeable. This allows more blood flow to the injury, allowing the body to remove dead cells and toxins from the site of the injury.

White blood cells enter the injured area.

Clot-forming substances enter the injured area.

Phagocytes (bacteria-eating cells) enter the injured area to fight off infection.

Nutrients stored in the body are sent to the injured area.

Inflammation at the site of a soft tissue injury is the body’s way of trying to heal the injury. Nevertheless, inflammation can cause serious pain and limit mobility. Young Nurse Tending to Young Woman with Neck Brace and Arm CastInflammation that lasts for a long period of time can cause serious damage to the body. If you experience pain and inflammation for more than a couple of days, you should consult a physician.


One of the most common soft tissue injuries resulting from car accidents is Myofascial Pain Syndrome (MPS) to the neck—better known as whiplash. Even a small fender-bender can “whip” the head forward and then back with enough force to cause damage to the muscles, tendons or ligaments in the neck.


According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), neck pain resulting from whiplash is the most frequently reported injury related to insurance claims in the United States. In 2002, minor neck injuries were reported by 66% of all bodily injury liability claims and 56% of all personal injury protection claims. Neck pain was reported as being the most serious injury for 42% of all bodily injury liability claims and 33% of all personal injury protection claims. Where neck pain was the most serious reported injury of a claim, the total cost in 2002 was about $8.5 billion. This figure represents about 25% of the total dollars paid for all crash injuries that year combined.


Rear-end collisions are the cause of most whiplash injuries. However, three factors contribute to the severity of the injury itself—height, gender, and seating position.

Height of the Victim

Height is a factor due to the head’s proximity to the auto’s head restraints. A shorter person will not have to adjust the head restraint to be protected. On the other hand, a taller person’s head may be too high to benefit from an unadjusted restraint and is more susceptible to whiplash.

Gender of the Victim

Studies have shown that females are 1.8 to 2.2 times more likely to suffer a neck injury in an automobile accident and are more likely to develop long-term complications than males. One study reported that only 38% of males who suffered whiplash injuries went on to suffer long-term problems compared with 55% of females. Some experts have speculated that the disparity is due to the difference in neck musculature—males, on average, have stronger necks than females.

Seating Position of the Victim

Drivers are usually at a higher risk for whiplash than passengers because drivers tend to sit forward to use the steering wheel and watch the road whereas passengers tend to sit back in their seats. Passengers sitting in the back seats were found to have a lower risk of whiplash than either drivers or front-seat passengers.

Head Restraints

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) established new height requirements for front seat head restraints. The new regulations establish a minimum height of 29.5 inches from the occupant’s hip to the top of the head restraint. The old requirement was 27.5 inches. The new regulations also require that all adjustable restraints must lock into position and that the distance between the back of the head and the head restraint must be 2.2 inches or less. Auto manufacturers must start complying September 1, 2009 with a phase-in schedule requiring compliance by all new vehicles by September 2011. Head restraints are not mandated for rear seats. However, if a manufacturer chooses to install restraints in the rear seat, those restraints must comply with the same height standards set for the front seat restraints.

Head Restraint Positioning

The ideal position for head restraints is even with the top of the head. If the restraint cannot be adjusted to that height, it should be positioned at least 3.5 inches below the top of the head or level with the top of the ears. The horizontal position of the restraint is also important. The distance between the head and the restraint should be less than four inches. If your car is not equipped with horizontally adjusting head restraints, you can adjust that distance by changing the recline angle of seat.


Legal cases involving soft tissue injury or whiplash require an attorney who has a thorough understanding of these types of injuries and is experienced in handling such cases. If you or a loved one has been involved in an auto accident and has suffered soft tissue injury or whiplash, call Georgia Whiplash Attorneys at: Anthony Overton Van Johnson & Associates, P.C., 678-882-7355, or e-mail: for a free consultation. . Do not delay as you may have a valid claim and may be entitled to compensation for injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the applicable statute of limitations expires.