Personal injury claims involving vehicles that have sustained minimal damages can be very challenging. Adjusters will argue that if the vehicle was not damaged, the occupants could not have been injured. Common sense tells us that folks are more likely to be hurt in a serious collision than in a minor one. But it is important to remember that damage to a vehicle does not necessarily equate to the force of impact.
The Role of Bumpers – How That Prevents Auto Damages
Bumpers on vehicles are designed to absorb a certain amount of force before they crumple. Obviously, a bumper should not crumple any time it is touched or your bumper would dent and bend every time you leaned something against it. But modern bumpers are designed to crumple when they receive a significant impact. This is why you do not see metal bumpers on modern vehicles. The science behind a crumpling bumper is the same science you would see with someone jumping off a roof onto a trampoline. A person can jump from a great height and land on a trampoline and not be injured, because the trampoline yields to the impact and absorbs it slowly, as opposed to landing on the firm, hard, unyielding ground, which would not give to the person, and would be more likely than the trampoline to cause injury.
But the result of the crumpling bumper is that the occupants and the vehicle each sustain a very different force of impact. A crumpled bumper has absorbed a significant amount of force of the impact, thereby sparing the occupants of the vehicle from much of the jolting force. Therefore, it is distinctly possible that a vehicle can look terrible after an accident, with tremendous crumpling of the bumper, and even the trunk or hood, but be filled with people who were not injured at all. Essentially, the bumper took the brunt of the impact so the occupants would not have to.
Vehicles With No Damage At All
And the opposite can be true of a vehicle that shows no damage. Because the bumper did not crumple, it did not absorb much or any of the force of impact. Instead, the energy of the impact went straight into the frame of the vehicle, causing the vehicle to jolt forward, with the passengers inside doing the same. The car jerks forward with the force, then just as abruptly, comes to a stop. This is why we call the injuries sustained in moderate impact collisions “whiplash injuries,” because the occupants jerk backwards, then whip forward again, like a whip. For this reason, occupants of vehicles hit on the sides where there are no bumpers or occupants of vehicles with trailer hitches can be far more likely to be injured, because their vehicle’s bumper is not able to absorb the impact and protect them.
Now, this does not mean that every time a vehicle has no damage, the people inside are hurt. If a vehicle has no damage, it is quite possible that the reason there is no damage is that the force of impact was imply too minor to damage the vehicle. So we are certainly not saying that every vehicle with no damage is full of people who were hurt. What we are saying is that a vehicle that sustains no damage CAN be full of people with hurt, and that in fact, it happens quite frequently.
The Egg Analogy
Think of a dozen eggs in a styrofoam carton. Drop the carton on the floor. Most of the eggs are likely to crack inside. But the styrofoam container will be completely undamaged. This is what can happen in a car accident.
The egg analogy is also appropriate because North Carolina recognizes the “egg-shell plaintiff” doctrine. That doctrine essentially provides that the person who causes an accident cannot complain that his victim is an “egg-shell” who is more predisposed to injury than most people. The victim did not choose to be involved in the collision, so you take your victim as you find them. If you hit an 80-year-old woman, you cannot complain that she is frail and predisposed to injury, or that she had a preexisting back injury that was made worse by the accident, etc. The only exception is that if the impact was too minor to injure the average person in ANY way, then the victim can be barred from receiving compensation. But if the average person would in ANY WAY be injured, then the victim is entitled to be compensated for all injuries sustained, even if the injuries sustained are far more serious than the average person might have sustained.
Preexisting Medical Problems and Car Accidents
Of course, if a victim of an injury had preexisting problems, the victim cannot ask to be compensated for pain or treatments that he or she would have required if they had not been involved in the collision. But if the accident aggravated or exacerbated the injuries, and made the victim undergo more treatments than he might have otherwise required, or made the victim undergo treatments sooner than he or she would have otherwise, then those injuries are compensable.
For example, take a person with back pain who is then involved in a collision. The collision makes the back pain worse and the victim undergoes back surgery. The doctor testifies that the man probably would have required surgery even if he had not been involved in the accident, but that the surgery might not have been required for years. A jury might not award the victim the entire costs of the surgery, reasoning that the man would have required it in 10 years. But the jury might award the full cost, reasoning that the man might have never needed the surgery, and certainly did not need it now, and deserves to have his surgery paid for now.
When testifying about these injuries, doctors will also tell you that many factors other than property damage and preexisting conditions factor into who is injured in a car wreck. If a person has hit foot off the brake at the point of a rear-end impact, but then jams the brake down to avoid being pushed into the car in front of him, this can cause a dramatically increased whip-like motion of the occupants’ heads. An occupant who sees the impact coming in the rear-view mirror and tenses up can be hurt far worse than the person who was unaware and relaxed. A person twisted to the side can have a more serious injury, because of the angle of impact. For these reasons, and dozens more, you can have one person in a car seriously injured, while another is not hurt at all.
Our Car Accident Lawyer Are Ready to Talk
For all these reasons, and may more, it is possible, and even common, for people involved in car wrecks with minimal damage to sustain significant personal injuries. Often, we can help them recover for these injuries. Our car accident lawyers know how to help injured folks who don’t show the damages on their car.