How Car Accident Whiplash Injuries Are Assessed

Woman with whiplash after a car accident

Currently, there’s a whiplash grading system that’s used by personal injury lawyers who help whiplash victims, ICBC, medical doctors and often relied upon by the BC courts to assess whiplash severity from a car accident.

All about the Whiplash Grading System

After a car accident, people can walk away with a number of injuries, but the most common type of injury is whiplash. Whiplash refers to a wide range of neck injuries that are caused when the neck or upper back is suddenly distorted. Because the term whiplash can be used to refer to so many different types of neck injuries, it has been divided into four different classifications or grades.

Whiplash Injuries and Causes

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, between one-half and two-thirds of all injury claims are related to whiplash. They further estimate that just over 800,000 people are injured from whiplash each year. Although this type of injury can occur in any type of vehicular crash as well as a few other situations, they usually occur when a vehicle hits another one from behind. In fact, over a quarter of all drivers or passengers who were hit from behind while driving reported some type of whiplash injury. Because not all injuries are reported immediately, this number could be much higher.

There are a number of factors that can influence how badly a victim’s whiplash may be. These factors include the height and seating position of the injured party as well as their gender, but they also include the size and weight of each vehicle involved in the accident as well as how the victim is restrained in their car. The complex interplay of these factors determine the grade of whiplash that a victim may have.

Determining Whiplash Grade

Rather than examining the factors that caused the whiplash, doctors look closely at the damage that has been caused. After a doctor examines the victim’s head and neck, they can grade the individual’s whiplash based on the results of their examination. To create their diagnosis, doctors use x-rays and medical imaging tools as well as patient histories.

The whiplash grade will determine how much treatment the victim needs. The grading system currently in use has been developed by the Quebec Task Force, and it actually includes a fifth grade called grade zero which is used when the victim has no pain or physical symptoms. The other four whiplash grades and their symptoms are as follows:

Grade One

When an individual has grade one whiplash, they may feel neck pain, but their doctor may not be able to find any physical symptoms. The victim may also note that their neck is stiff or tender.

Grade Two

An individual who is experiencing grade two whiplash will have some neck pain. Their medical examination will also show that they feel tender and that they cannot move as easily as they should be able to move.

Grade Three

When a doctor examines someone who has grade three whiplash, they will notice a variety of neurological symptoms that include lessened tendon reflexes, muscular weaknesses, and sensory deficits. The victim may also feel a severe amount of pain that may vary in intensity.

Grade Four

The fourth grade of whiplash is the most serious of all, and many people who suffer from this grade may not be able to live like they did prior to their accident. The fourth grade may include neck pain, fractures, dislocations, or spinal injuries.

These four grades may also be referred to based on their severity:

  • Grade one is slight with no injury to the ligaments or neurological symptoms
  • Grade two is moderate with limited mobility, some ligament injury, and possibly some neurological symptoms
  • Grade three is moderate to severe with limited motion, ligament damage and some neurological symptoms
  • Grade four is severe and may require surgery, pain management, or other forms of treatment

If you have been in a vehicle accident, you may want to look for signs of whiplash. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following symptoms may indicate that you have whiplash:

  • Pain in your neck
  • Feeling stiff in your neck
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Blurry vision
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Having a hard time focusing or concentrating
  • Difficulty remembering things
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Unusual difficulty sleeping
  • Unexplained irritability

If your pain moves from your neck into your shoulders or upper arms, you should contact your doctor immediately. You should also contact your doctor if moving your head becomes too painful. Ideally, you should pay close attention to any feelings of numbness, tingling, or weakness.

Regardless of the grade that has been assigned to a whiplash injury, these injuries can create tissue or nerve damage that may become chronic. A doctor can help you to discover the best ways to treat your whiplash and alleviate your pain, but they cannot help you with the mounting pile of medical bills that you may be facing. If you are facing medical bills or missing work due to whiplash, you have a right to compensation. You may even be entitled to financial compensation for your pain and suffering.

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