Whiplash after a Car Accident: Can You Recover Damages?

Reviewed by Louis Patino, JD, DC

Louis Patino, JD, DC
A former U.S. Army Combat Medic, Dr. Louis Patino is a distinguished attorney recognised by Top Attorneys of America, Expertise, and the American Institute of Trial Lawyers. He has a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Southern University and a Doctor of Chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic.

whiplash after car accident

Whiplash is a common neck injury in an auto accident, but that doesn’t make it any less serious. Often, it has long-term effects and can cause chronic neck pain and other injuries. But what are the symptoms of whiplash, what should you do about it, and can you recover compensation when you’ve sustained whiplash after an auto accident?

Whiplash may seem minor, but it can have a profound impact on your life and finances. If your whiplash injury was caused by someone else’s negligence, you deserve to hold them accountable. Book a free, no-obligation case review with our personal injury attorney in McAllen and San Antonio and discover your legal options.

Whiplash Injuries and What Causes Them

Whiplash is a sprain or strain to the neck muscles caused by the head suddenly and violently moving forward and back. It’s a common car accident injury, especially in rear-end crashes, as the head lurches forward, resulting in a snapping motion.

When an abrupt force causes the head to jerk, such as in a car crash, the soft tissue in the neck extends and stretches. Many whiplash injuries are mild, but they can get worse and have long-term complications, resulting in significant pain and discomfort and limited range of motion.

Symptoms of Whiplash: How Do You Know if You Have a Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash is easy to miss because the symptoms don’t present immediately. It’s also undetectable on an X-ray, so even if you receive medical treatment at a hospital, you won’t necessarily know if you’ve suffered whiplash. You could feel fine after a crash, but whiplash can happen even in minor crashes.

While most whiplash symptoms appear a few days after a crash, it may be months before you start to feel them.

Whiplash symptoms vary depending on how severe the injury is. If you have a mild injury, you may have a sore neck, which can be uncomfortable and tender to the touch.

The most common symptoms of whiplash include:

Neck Pain and Stiffness

Neck pain can range from a dull ache to a sharp or burning pain. You might also have chronic pain that radiates to the head, shoulders, and back, making it hard for you to turn your head or even walk.

Legs and Arms Tingling

A common symptom of whiplash injury after an auto accident is a tingling sensation in the arms, hands, and fingers. You might also feel numbness in these areas. This happens when the intense pressure on the head during a car crash pinches or damages the nerves in the neck, causing weakness or tingling throughout the shoulder, arm, and hands.


Headaches are also common after a whiplash injury, as the head sustains most of the damage. The intensity and location of the pain can vary, from the side of the head to all over or just behind the eyes. According to the International Medical Society of Paraplegia, 60% of patients experience headaches after whiplash.

A Concussion

A concussion is a separate condition that frequently occurs after auto accidents, but it’s especially likely to happen after a whiplash injury. A concussion is when a violent blow or shunt causes the brain to rapidly jolt back and forth — precisely what happens to the head and neck during whiplash.

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury, albeit a minor one, and the effects are usually temporary. These include blurred vision, confusion, and difficulty concentrating, which should never be ignored.

Left untreated, a concussion can affect brain function over the long term, cause depression and fatigue, and impair focus and coordination. These can have a lasting impact on an individual and their quality of life, including their relationships and performance at work.

The Long-Term Impact of Whiplash after a Car Accident

Most people who suffer whiplash after a car accident recover after a few days or weeks without further complications or side effects. But severe cases can leave people with chronic pain — even years after the original incident.

Chronic whiplash is severe neck pain that spreads into the arms and leads to loss of motion. If you’re older, have existing back or neck pain, or have had whiplash before — whether from a car accident, sports injury, or blow to the head — you’re more likely to develop chronic whiplash after a car accident, but it can affect anyone.

What to Do if You Have Whiplash after a Car Accident?

During and immediately after a car accident, your body will produce adrenaline, so you likely won’t immediately notice even if you have whiplash.

Even if you feel pain, you may be tempted to “tough it out” to avoid the hassle and cost of seeing a doctor or because you don’t want to complain. However, this will make it harder to prove your injuries if you decide to file a personal injury claim, and you might have injuries that need treatment, which may become more serious if you ignore them.

Early Action Is Crucial

That’s why the first thing you should do after a car accident is to seek treatment from a medical professional. Your doctor will ask questions about the event and your symptoms and run a CT scan and other tests to rule out injuries like broken bones. This is your opportunity to explain the accident and document any injuries you have, whether they’re visible — such as cuts and bruises — or invisible, including disorientation, a headache, or ringing in the ears. It’s also important to mention any emotional symptoms, such as difficulty regulating your emotions, memory problems, or confusion.

While whiplash won’t appear on imaging scans, your doctors will examine your head, neck, and arms to assess your range of motion and reflexes and check for any tenderness.

From here, your doctor will put together a treatment plan, including rest, avoiding activities that could aggravate your injuries — such as contact sports — and taking over-the-counter medication to reduce pain and swelling.

Can You Claim Compensation for Whiplash after a Car Accident?

If you have whiplash after a car accident caused by the reckless or negligent actions of another, you may be entitled to compensation.

But a successful compensation claim relies on evidence. Being able to show a clear relationship between the crash and your injuries is crucial. Otherwise, the other party may claim that your whiplash occurred at a later date — not at the time of the accident.

This can make it challenging to claim compensation specifically for whiplash, as symptoms rarely appear immediately. This is especially the case if you have delayed whiplash, where symptoms can take weeks or months to present.

This is why documenting your accident becomes so valuable. By seeing a doctor, you have a record of your early symptoms and injuries — injuries which, if required, a medical expert can testify led to your whiplash.

How Much Compensation Can You Expect to Receive?

If you’re entitled to compensation, the amount you will receive depends on several factors. Compensation is typically broken down into two categories:

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the monetary losses you’ve experienced because of your whiplash and accident as a whole. These might include any lost wages due to inability to work and medical bills. Your medical expenses might be extensive, especially if you have chronic whiplash and need long-term treatment.

Common treatments for whiplash include physical therapy — including massage therapy — to reduce neck and shoulder pain, chiropractic treatments, pain medication, and — in the worst cases — epidural injections to block pain impulses and encourage the tissues to heal. You might also need to wear a neck brace to support and protect your muscles and ligaments as they heal. The specific treatment you need will depend on the severity of your neck injuries. Either way, such treatments can be costly, and you may be entitled to claim these costs as part of your economic damages.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages are subjective, as they are designed to compensate you for pain and suffering, emotional turmoil, and loss of enjoyment.

If you have whiplash after a car accident that causes long-term confusion and memory problems because of concussion, or if you struggle with mobility in your neck and arms even months after your accident, you will likely be entitled to more compensation because it’s had a bigger impact on your life.

Even if you only had minor whiplash that caused discomfort for several weeks and then resolved without causing any long-term effects, you will still be entitled to some damages — even if that’s only the monetary expenses you incurred during your recovery.

Try out our personal injury calculator to find out how much compensation you could be entitled to.

When to Talk to a Personal Injury Lawyer

Consulting a personal injury lawyer is one of the first things you should do after seeking medical treatment. A car accident lawyer in San Antonio or McAllen can advise you on whether you have a claim and achieve the best possible settlement on your behalf.

Negotiating with insurance companies is par for the course when filing a personal injury claim. If there’s one thing to know,  insurance companies will do everything they can to pay you as little as possible.

Some of the things they might do include:

  • Speaking to you to try to get an admission of guilt (even if you apologize for the accident to be polite, they could use that to argue that you played a signficant role in the incident)
  • Disputing that your injuries happened because of the accident
  • Putting pressure on you to accept a low settlement to avoid a lengthy negotiation.

When you work with a personal injury lawyer, they will advise you on whether you could be entitled to a higher settlement offer, collect evidence, and put together the best possible case to get the payout you deserve.

Getting whiplash after a car accident can be painful and distressing, but you could recover damages to support your recovery and help you move forward. If you have a neck injury after an accident that wasn’t your fault, our personal injury lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us today by filling in the contact form or calling 855-LAW-NINJA for a free case evaluation.

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