Common Injuries Following a Car Accident
For a high-income country, the United States struggles with vehicle safety. Every year, motor vehicle accidents kill around 32,000 Americans and injure 2 million more. Many of these injuries require surgery, and the medical costs can be staggering.
The most common types of injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents are:
- Broken bones and fractures
- Head and brain injuries
- Whiplash and other neck injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Injuries to internal organs
Broken Bones and Fractures
Car crashes can break just about any bone in the human body, but those most broken or fractured in an accident include femurs, lower leg bones, clavicles, arms, wrists, and facial bones. The type of surgery required to repair broken bones depends on the severity, type, and location of the break.
Internal Fixation Surgery
When broken bones won’t heal on their own through the use of a cast, splint or brace alone, doctors may need to perform internal fixation surgery, which involves placing the bones back in their proper place with surgical screws, pins, plates or rods.
Internal Fixation surgery can take several hours, and patients can take up to six weeks to recover. The cost of surgery for a broken bone depends on the severity of the break and can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
External Fixation Surgery
In more severe cases, doctors may utilize external fixation, which involves screwing rods into the bones and attaching them to an external frame that holds the broken bones in place while they heal. According to the National Library of Medicine, the average duration of external fixation is 10.5 days, and the average cost of an external fixation frame is $5,900.
Head and Brain Injuries
Car crashes are one of the leading causes of head and brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are serious and must be treated immediately to prevent or mitigate long-term damage. The most common types of TBIs are:
- Brain Contusions
- Coup-contrecoup brain injuries
- Penetrating brain injuries
Brain contusions are bruises that result from bleeding within the skull and are caused by a severe impact to the head. In cases where a brain contusion doesn’t stop bleeding on its own, a surgeon may have to perform a decompressive craniectomy remove them.
A decompressive craniectomy involves removing part of the patient’s skull to relieve intracranial pressure (ICP). ICP is caused by fluids within the skull and on the brain tissue and can be fatal if not immediately treated. Symptoms of ICP include headache, dizziness, difficulty moving or speaking, blurred vision and changes in behavior.
With a 30-day mortality rate of 26.4%, a decompressive craniectomy can be a dangerous procedure. In cases in which the procedure is successful, patients usually recover in about four to eight weeks. After a few months, patients may undergo cranioplasty, a procedure during which the missing part of the skull is replaced with either the original bone or some type of synthetic material.
Concussions are the result of a bump or blow to the head that causes the brain to move back and forth quickly and violently. Concussions can cause chemical changes in the brain and damage brain cells.
Concussions cannot be treated with medication or surgery, but they can still be serious. People who suffer concussions should have a doctor evaluate them within three days of the injury. In rare cases, concussions can develop into hematomas, collections of blood on the brain that can squeeze the brain against the skull. Patients should call 911 or visit the emergency department if they experience:
- Confusion or unusual behavior
- Slurred speech
- One pupil that is larger than the other
- Any loss of consciousness
- Weakness, numbness or loss of coordination
Coup-Contrecoup Brain Injuries
Coup-Contrecoup brain injuries happen when a blow to the head causes the brain to slam into the point opposite of the impact. In these types of injuries, there is damage both at the point of impact and on the opposite side.
Coup-contrecoup brain injuries are almost always severe, and they usually require surgical decompression. People who suffer these types of injuries often require extensive treatment and recovery time and may be permanently disabled.
Penetrating Brain Injuries
As the name implies, penetrating brain injuries occur when a foreign object penetrates the skull and brain. While gunshots are the most common cause of penetrating brain injuries, severe car crashes can cause them as well. These injuries can cause blood clots, severe bleeding, and oxygen deprivation to the brain.
People who suffer penetrating brain injuries should seek emergency care at once, and they should never try to remove any object from their skulls themselves; it could do far more harm than good. In fact, doctors often recommend leaving things like bullets or pellets where they are as opposed to removing them.
Whiplash and Other Neck Injuries
Whiplash occurs when a person’s head jerks violently back and forth and is a common injury in rear-end collisions. Symptoms of whiplash include:
- Pain when moving the neck
- Headaches at the base of the skull
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
- Pain in the shoulders or upper arms
- Loss of range of movement in the neck
- Dizziness or fatigue
- Memory problems
Whiplash usually gets better on its own, but it can cause long-lasting complications. In severe cases, whiplash patients may need a surgical procedure called a discectomy. During a discectomy, a surgeon removes part or all of the damaged discs in the neck and may have to surgically stabilize the area.
Other neck injuries commonly sustained in car accidents include pinched nerves, slipped or herniated discs, sprains and strains. People who experience neck pain following a car accident should have their doctor examine them as soon as possible.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Spinal cord injuries can be extremely serious, and about 40% of them are caused by car accidents. There are many types of surgeries for spinal cord injuries. Depending on the type of injury, patients may need to undergo a discectomy, spinal fusion, artificial disc replacement or other procedure.
Injuries to Internal Organs
Injuries to internal organs are also common in car crashes. Examples include punctured lungs, kidney damage and liver lacerations. These types of injuries will often require surgeons to stop the bleeding and then formulate a plan to repair the damage, which means multiple procedures may be required.
The Financial Impact of Car Accidents
Depending on the severity of one’s injuries, the medical costs of car accidents can be astronomical. On top of the medical costs, car accident victims can be out of work for weeks, months or even years following the crash. In some cases, victims may not be able to return to work at all.
Anyone who suffers a serious injury in a car accident should consult an attorney as soon as they are able. Attorneys who specialize in personal injuries can help people receive financial compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Property damage
- Other expenses related to the accident
Insurance companies have one goal: settling claims for the least amount of money possible. Therefore, people should never try to handle an accident claim on their own; there are too many legal nuances in personal injury claims for anyone but an experienced attorney to deal with. A competent lawyer will work diligently to make sure accident victims get everything to which they’re entitled.