Per Dr. Barry Matthisen D.C.

Can I get Whiplash from a crash with little or no damage to the rear of my car?

This is a question I often hear from patients and in trial, after all, it seems like common sense that if there is little damage to the rear bumper, how can someone possibly get hurt?

Statistically, low speed rear impact crashes account for the vast amount of whiplash injuries.  Research has shown that it takes about 6.5g forces to cause ligament/joint damage, and 8.5g forces to cause disc injury.  In human volunteer crash testing, we see that a crash of delta V 5 mph can cause 10-12g forces on a person’s head.  So, people can suffer serious neck injuries from crashes with little or no visible damage, and you can see this in research video at the Spine Research Institute of San Diego, where I have attended since 2002.

Billions of dollars have gone into research to create and produce whiplash injury prevention seats (WHIP seats) that you see in cars like Volvos.  These help in reducing injuries, but we know there are certain risk factors of why some people get hurt in a crash, and others do not.  There are two kind if risk factors, intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors.

Some common risk factors that increase the risk of injury are:

  • Head turned upon impact
  • Prior injury
  • Poor head restraints/poor head restraint position
  • Arthritis
  • Advanced age
  • Shoulder harness worn
  • Disc disease

When testifying as an expert in trial, a common insurance defense strategy is called the “MIST” policy.  This was implemented by insurance companies in the early 1990’s and stands for “Minor Impact Soft Tissue”.    They play on the common sense of the jury based on the myth that rear impact crashes with little or no damage to the vehicle can’t possibly cause injury.  They hire biomechanics to convince the jury that there can’t be enough force to cause injury (although they do not consider intrinsic risk factors for injury and are not qualified to examine the injured person for possible injury).  They hire doctors usually from out of state to render second opinions often following the MIST policy.   These Defense Medical Experts (DME’s) are immune to mal practice for their opinions, so they can render their opinions with impunity.   Many people trying to settle car crash claims run into this long-held strategy by the insurance companies and sometimes their attorney is unaware of the scientific facts while representing their clients.