If you suffer whiplash in a car accident, you deserve to be compensated for your losses. That compensation can vary widely, though, because whiplash injuries can range from minor to life-changing. Minor whiplash injuries can settle for less than $10,000 while serious injuries can settle for over $100,000. Your degree of fault and available insurance coverage will also matter.
Why is the range of average whiplash settlement amounts so wide?
You can expect anything from under $10,000 to over $100,000 to settle a personal injury claim involving whiplash injuries. The reason for this huge range in potential settlement amounts is that the settlement largely depends on 3 factors:
- the severity of your whiplash injuries,
- whether you were partially to blame for the accident, and
- how much insurance coverage is available.
Each of these factors can drastically increase or reduce an expected settlement.
What are the different grades of whiplash injuries?
Not all whiplash injuries are the same. In fact, whiplash injuries are notorious for spanning a broad spectrum of severity. Some are minor and resolve themselves in a matter of weeks. Others are life-changing and cause severe symptoms and other medical complications that do not go away. Doctors use a grading system for whiplash injuries:
- Grade 0: No neck symptoms or physical signs of injury,
- Grade I: No physical signs of injury, but there are symptoms of tenderness, stiffness, and pain in the neck,
- Grade II: Tenderness, stiffness, and pain in the neck as well as physical signs of a reduced range of motion and point tenderness,
- Grade III: The same symptoms and signs present for Grade II whiplash, plus neurological effects like headaches or numbness, and
- Grade IV: All of the above symptoms, plus a fracture or dislocation in the neck.1
Because the compensation you deserve in your settlement is meant to cover things like your medical bills and your pain and suffering, the more severe your whiplash injuries, the higher your settlement should be.
How does my degree of fault play a role in an average settlement payout?
Depending on your state’s personal injury laws, your role in causing the crash can:
- reduce your settlement, or
- bar you from recovering anything.
The shared fault laws that states use fall into 2 broad categories:
- contributory negligence, and
- comparative negligence.
Very few states use contributory negligence. Those that do bar you from recovering any compensation if you contributed any responsibility for the accident.2
Most states, including California, use comparative negligence. There are 2 types of comparative negligence rules:
- pure comparative negligence, which reduces your compensation by your percentage of fault no matter how responsible you were,3 and
- modified comparative negligence, which reduces your compensation by your percentage of fault, but bars you from recovering anything if you were more than half at-fault.4
For example: Ralph is in a car accident and suffers whiplash. He is entitled to $100,000 in compensation for his losses. However, a jury finds that he was 60 percent at fault for the accident. In a contributory negligence state, he would recover nothing because he was more than 1 percent at fault. In a modified comparative negligence state, he would recover nothing because he was more than half at fault. But in a pure comparative negligence state, he would recover $40,000.
These reductions in your award will affect the settlement negotiations. If it appears that you were partially responsible for the car accident that hurt you, the insurance company will lower its settlement offer.
How does insurance coverage impact a personal injury claim?
When you are hurt in an accident, you would file an insurance claim against the at-fault party’s liability coverage. That liability insurance policy, though, will likely have policy limits. If those limits are below what you deserve for your car accident injury, you will have to look elsewhere to recover the remaining money.
In a car accident, if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured, it can make it difficult to receive all that you are entitled to receive for your whiplash injury claim.
How can I estimate a settlement amount?
You can estimate a baseline for your settlement amount in several ways. The most common one used by personal injury attorneys and insurance adjusters is the multiplier method. This method:
- adds up all of your economic damages, like your property damage, medical expenses, and lost wages,
- estimates your non-economic damages by multiplying your economic damages by a number between 1 and 5, which is chosen to reflect the severity of your injuries, and then
- adds your economic damages to this estimate of your non-economic damages.
This total estimates what compensation you deserve if you were completely without fault for the accident. It can get reduced by your share of responsibility. Recovering the full amount will depend on the insurance coverage available.
A personal injury lawyer can walk you through the process. Understanding the extent of your losses can help you make an informed decision about whether a settlement offer provides fair compensation for your losses.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is a neck and back injury that strains and sprains the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the area. The injuries occur in a traumatic accident, often a car accident, that forces the head to move suddenly. This rapid movement makes the neck snap like a whip. This can damage the tissue in the neck and upper back.
Symptoms of whiplash generally include:
- neck pain,
- back pain,
- muscle stiffness,
- reduced range of motion,
- muscle tenderness, and
- numbness or a tingling sensation in the arms.
While some of these types of injuries will not require treatment in the emergency room, these soft-tissue injuries can grow worse over time.
However, whiplash injuries can cause other medical complications that require additional medical care. Some of these common injuries are severe:
- concussions, from the brain hitting the inside of the skull from the force of the impact,
- traumatic brain injuries (TBIs),
- neck fractures,
- torn muscles,
- chronic pain, and
- nerve damage.
These complications can require ongoing medical attention, including extensive physical therapy and other medical treatment to treat your neck injury. This should increase a personal injury settlement. By establishing an attorney-client relationship with a skilled car accident attorney, car accident victims can increase the expected average payout for their settlement.
What types of car accidents can lead to whiplash injury settlements?
Car crashes are the most common source of whiplash injuries. In these motor vehicle accidents, you will often get roughly jostled with little warning. This can snap your head forward, backward, or to the side in ways that cause whiplash injuries. However, certain car crashes are more likely to cause whiplash injuries. These include:
- rear-end collisions,
- head-on collisions, or
- t-bone accidents.
Motorists in these auto accidents are more likely to have a bigger whiplash case. By getting the legal advice from a car accident lawyer at a reputable law firm, you can recover the compensation you deserve in a personal injury case.
- Pastakia, Khushnum, and Saravana Kumar. “Acute whiplash associated disorders (WAD),” Open Access Emergency Medicine, vol. 3 29-32 (27 Apr. 2011).
- See, e.g., Coutlakis v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 796 S.E.2d 556 (2017) (Virginia).
- See, e.g., Li v. Yellow Cab Co., 13 Cal.3d 804 (1975) (California) and Florida Statutes 768.81.
- See, e.g., Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code 33.001.