Anybody that tells you that people cannot be injured in low property damage-bumper kiss type accidents is presenting a generic and biased point of view.
Human logic has a tendency to equate the severity of auto accident property damage to the severity of injury potential produced by these accidents. This is a common misunderstanding of intuitive reasoning.
Most jurors have this bias, however they still tell us during voir dire that they can be fair and impartial jurors.
Just about everyone that has been driving long enough has rear-ended someone. It isn’t a pleasant experience to have a claim brought against you for a minor property damage car accident for which you were at fault. Personal integrity is often compromised when the person who caused the accident fails to take responsibility for their negligence. They take the position that, Yes, I rear ended him but he didn’t get hurt.
Logically, you can’t say that neck and back injuries that develop within 24 hours after a low property damage accident have no causal connection to the accident that preceded them.
Insurance companies take the advantage of this intuitive misunderstanding in defending these cases. They use biomechanical experts, who make a good living expressing opinions that low property damage equates to no injury potential despite their lack of medical training.
If that proposition is true, then there should be a direct correlation between the accident-related property damage and the severity of injuries sustained by the occupants of a vehicle. However, some people walk away unscathed from a motor vehicle accident where their vehicle is totaled while others are injured in accidents with low property damage. So there is no direct correlation between property damage and injury potential.
Some people do walk away from minor property damage rear-end car accidents without injury. In my experience, however, many are legitimately injured, and some never recover from their injuries.
Do we fully understand the connection between low property damage accidents and the musculoskeletal injuries that follow them? The answer to that is, no. However, today we know more about how people are hurt in these accidents than we did in the past.
Whiplash injuries commonly referred to as Cervical Acceleration De-acceleration trauma (CAD trauma) cause unusual spinal movement. Sudden acceleration of the occupant’s body is followed by sudden de-acceleration of the body (whiplash). If the rear of a vehicle is not hit straight on, there can be oblique forces of rotation further complicating the biomechanical sequence of a whiplash body movements which increases injury potential.
Torso overspeed means that energy released form a compressed seat back during a rear-end collision can occur at the same time as forward movement of the body, which occurs during de-acceleration phase of a rear-end accident. This recoil of the seat back adds energy to the forward movement of the body during de-acceleration and contributes to the potential to injure the lower back. Older governmental standards for stiffer seat backs have contributed to this injury potential sequence.
Vascoelasticity is a property of human tissue’s reaction to forces and loads. Under loading the tissue becomes stiffer and more brittle. Since acceleration and de-acceleration loading and unloading, including path reversals, occur in one-third of a second, this makes normal muscles, cartilages, tendons and ligaments more prone to injury when exposed to whiplash body movements. The most vulnerable tissues to vascoelasticity injuries are the discs, facet joints and supportive ligaments of the spine.
The problem with crash testing is that these tests cannot be done at increasing incremental speeds until an actual spinal injury occurs. This would increase energy imposed upon the volunteers to the point where they would actually be injured. This approach would be highly unethical and would violate human rights and result in legal consequences to the researchers. Cadavers and crash test dummies can’t provide us with 100% accurate crash test results. Therefore, due to these research limitations and the complexity of head and torso movement during a rear end collision, the threshold collision changes of velocity that produce spinal injury at this juncture have not be accurately determined.
The most accurate way for jurors to determine the injury potential of a low property damage rear end motor vehicle accident is to compare the plaintiff’s physical condition before the accident to the plaintiff’s physical condition that develops after the accident. If there is no evidence of any other trauma in the interim between the accident and the appearance of spinal symptoms, then this lends credence to the proposition that the low property damage accident was the cause of the injuries claimed by the plaintiff.
Therefore, contrary to popular belief, and contrary to what intuitive logic suggests, low speed rear end impacts often do result in cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine injuries.