Note: This article was updated on February 25, 2021 with the latest settlement amounts and updated links. If you’ve ever been rear-ended, you know you might not realize you’re hurt until 48 hours later. A reader recently wrote us to ask: “I have whiplash and a back injury. How much is it worth?” This is a great question, so let’s look at how to calculate the cost value for similar cases.
Whiplash Among Most Common Auto Accident Injuries
In 2016, 60% of civil cases filed in state courts were for auto accident injuries. And, in fact, it stays close to that percentage every year. Studies show more than 800,000 car wrecks each year result in neck injuries. Most come from rear-end collisions, and 20%-25% of patients report pain and other whiplash injury-related symptoms 12 months later. According to the Bone and Joint Initiative, hospital bills for whiplash or neck-related injuries cost $52,900-$97,400 in 2013. If you choose to file a whiplash injury claim, you have good financial reasons to do so. That’s because the average bodily injury claim filed through car insurance paid just $18,417 in 2019.
How Do Lawyers Calculate Your Whiplash Claim’s Value?
Lawyers typically use a complex formula to calculate settlement demands in car accident injury claims like yours. First, they’ll start with the body damage to your car (if any). Then, add up all your medical bills and unpaid time off work. Finally, they’ll look at things like expected future medical expenses until you make a full recovery, plus pain and suffering. Remember when we told you as many as 1 in 4 people still have whiplash symptoms 12 months later? Your attorney will factor in things like another year’s worth of physical therapy sessions, if needed. Essentially, triple the medical bills and car repair costs you have now to calculate your settlement amount.
Pain and suffering damages can also cover other expenses related to your whiplash diagnosis that car insurance typically doesn’t cover. For example: If you have PTSD from your accident or injuries, your lawyer can figure in the cost for counseling. Need to do physical rehab during your workday, but out of PTO? Your damages can put money towards taking unpaid days off for those treatments as well as childcare and travel costs. Finally, if the person who rear-ended or hit you is 100% at fault, you may also get punitive damages. It’s not standard for most whiplash cases, but your lawyer will decide after reviewing your claim. If you do qualify for punitive damages, you could receive as much as a six-figure cash settlement.
Car Insurance vs. Injury Claim: How to Decide
Many people believe they will get more settlement money negotiating directly with the at-fault driver’s insurance provider. However, claims adjusters get paid bonuses to save insurance companies millions every year. Their job is to low-ball your offer and hope you accept it over the phone. You won’t get an accurate or fair offer for a whiplash injury without a lawyer stepping in. In most cases, settling with insurance only pays off when you have minor car repairs to make and no injuries. People also don’t realize that personal injury attorneys handling whiplash claims charge nothing upfront for their services. Instead, they work on contingency. This means you can get a free, no-obligation case review without leaving your house before you commit to making any decisions. If you change your mind after your free consultation, you can walk away without paying a dime.
But if you do decide to move forward with your case, your lawyer doesn’t get paid until you do. Usually, your fee is a percentage of your settlement. Think you’ll save enough on legal fees to make it more profitable settling with insurance provider? According to National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, insurance covers just 54% of costs, on average. Lawyers don’t charge 50% in legal fees, no matter what type of claim you file. Even after you pay legal fees, you’ll receive up to 3.5x more cash than you would settling through insurance. The only way to get 100% of the money your whiplash and back injuries deserve is by going through a lawyer.
Lori Polemenakos is Director of Consumer Content and SEO strategist for LeadingResponse, a legal marketing company. An award-winning journalist, writer and editor based in Dallas, Texas, she's produced articles for major brands such as Match.com, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Xfinity, Mail.com, and edited several published books. Since 2016, she's published hundreds of articles about Social Security disability, workers' compensation, veterans' benefits, personal injury, mass tort, auto accident claims, bankruptcy, employment law and other related legal issues.