Whiplash: The Most Common Auto Accident Injury (What It Means and How It's Caused)

Whiplash. It's a controversial word that brings up different thoughts among people. Whiplash injuries are the most commonly sustained injuries in automobile accidents. This kind of injury to the neck occurs most often when a vehicle is hit from the rear, but it can also happen when it's front is hit. The head of the person in the vehicle whips back and forth, thus giving the injury sustained in this type wreck its name.

To a doctor treating the injury and to the injured patient, "whiplash" means cervical strain, (i.e., the stretching and/or the tearing of small delicate tissues in the neck such as muscles, nerve fibers and ligaments). The effect is pain, which is sometimes permanent, and which is sometimes accompanied by headaches from muscle spasms in the neck. Occasionally associated with whiplash are the additional symptoms of dizziness and ringing in the ears.

On the other hand, insurance adjusters react to the loose diagnostic word "whiplash" in a different way. They are trained by their companies, who furnish them with literature minimizing the effect of whiplash, to say, "Oh, you have only a whiplash injury, nothing serious," or to redefine the injury as a "Minimal Impact Soft Tissue" or "MIST" injury.

The thought they and their insurance defense lawyers try to portray, especially to jurors, is that a minimal impact soft tissue injury can't be permanent or serious, because if the damage to the car wasn't bad, how could injury to the person inside it be bad? And they use the acronym "MIST" to imply that the injury is like a cool morning's mist that will evaporate in the sun. This is a terribly simplistic and incorrect, even fraudulent, approach to the dynamics involved in a collision.

For example, it fails to take into account the different stiffness built into each vehicle platform or chassis. The platforms designed by some manufacturers are relatively soft, allowing more crushing of the vehicle to occur in order to dissipate the crash forces before that force is transmitted to occupants. Occupants of these cars and trucks usually have fewer whiplash injuries than those in vehicles that are stiffer. A stiff vehicle platform and stiff surrounding structures reduce crush, thereby resulting in less property damage to the vehicle but, more importantly, typically much greater damage to the driver and passengers in that vehicle.

Why? Because more force from the impact is sent through the body of the occupant since it wasn't dissipated during the crushing of as much metal. We call that dissipation of energy a "ride down." If you're looking for a car to buy, you want one that has plenty of metal around you and that is soft enough to absorb the energy of a wreck by crushing appropriately to save you, not the vehicle itself.

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