The Low-Speed Car Crash Myth! No Visible Property Damage = No Personal Injury?


Low speed impact collisions are those that take place typically at speeds under 15 MPH. There is often little, if any, visible property damage done to the rear of the vehicle. However, those who are struck do sustain injuries, usually to their neck and back, most often referred to as “whiplash.” When these injuries occur, the injured party will seek compensation from the at-fault party. Most at-fault drivers will simply submit the claim to their insurance company to then takeover and handle the claim. When the insurer becomes involved, an adjuster is assigned to the claim with the task of minimizing the compensation received in a settlement with their insured. Most often this simply means trying to settle the claim with the injured party for the lowest amount possible without having to litigate.

In low speed crashes, the first thing an adjuster will do is point to the vehicle’s lack of visible property damage. This is a tactic they use in an attempt to minimize the injuries sustained from the low speed collision and ultimately frustrate the injured party. This logic is a myth; the speed of the vehicles at the time of the impact is only but one factor to take into consideration, not the sole factor to be used in determining the value of the claim.

Most bumpers are built to withstand a low impact collision with limited visible damage, but while there may be very minimal property damage, the vehicle’s occupants do get thrown around and snapped into various uncommon positions that cause the soft tissue injuries. In addition, you must take into account that when a vehicle is rammed, the seatbelts lock into place and force the occupants body that are thrusted forward due to the impact, to suddenly halt. As the seatbelt forces your body to halt, your head is forcefully snapped forward, and then backwards and causes what is known as “Whiplash.” The biggest contributing factor to Whiplash is that the occupants cannot brace themselves at the time of impact and therefore their bodies are manipulated into positions that are unusual and thus cause “Soft Tissue” injuries.

What legitimate relationship, if any, exists between the dollar amount of property damage (i.e. parts, labor and materials) and the dollar amount of the medical bills of a vehicle’s occupant? To what extent is an auto damage estimate a reliable predictor of the nature of the injury sustained by a vehicle’s occupant, or of the kind and amount of treatment required, or of the cost of that treatment? Considering that some people can suffer a herniated disc just bending over, while a professional racecar driver may total a Ferrari at 200 MPH and walk away unscathed, probably none.

There simply are no scientific test results, or statistical studies, that support the insurance industry’s proposition that no property damage = no injury. Neither are there any scientific test results, or statistical studies, that support the proposed hypothesis that little property damage = little injury, while big property damage = big injury. Simply put, it is a myth. If those propositions were scientifically true, all insurance adjusters would be walking around with those test results tattooed on their body.

The heart of the insurance companies’ argument that a vehicle’s occupant could not have been injured in a low impact collision is the "Delta V Myth" and the premise that if the Delta V of the car struck was less than five miles per hour the occupant of that vehicle could not have been injured.

“Delta V" essentially refers to the change of velocity (i.e. speed). In the classic rear-end collision, a vehicle is stopped and sitting still when struck from behind by another vehicle. The force of that impact immediately catapults the vehicle forward accelerating it forward from zero miles per hour to "x" miles per hour. That accelerated speed, or change in velocity, of the struck vehicle (caused by it being struck) is its "Delta V." It is an instantaneous occurrence in which the two cars make contact and, generally, spring off of each other, and then concludes in a matter of seconds.

During those seconds, both vehicles experience Delta V. The car rear-ended gains speed and experiences a positive Delta V, while the car that hit it loses speed and experiences a negative Delta V. However, depending on the relative weight of the two vehicles, the car doing the hitting can lose more speed than the vehicle it struck gains and therefore end up with a greater Delta V than the vehicle it struck. Therefore, the lighter vehicle will always experience a greater Delta V than then heavier vehicle regardless of whether it was the vehicle being hit or doing the hitting.

In these instances where the heavier vehicle is the vehicle struck, the driver of the hitting vehicle may have been subjected to a greater Delta V then the driver of the vehicle hit. This is when insurance adjuster will argue that because the driver doing the hitting was subjected to a higher Delta V and did not sustain injuries, the heavier vehicle with the driver subjected to a lower Delta V could not sustain the types of injuries alleged. This is false and is a myth. The reason being because the position of the drivers are different, their body characteristics are different, the vehicles are different, the head rests are probably adjusted different, one driver may have been flexing or shifting their body differently, the inconsistencies and differences are endless. In return, these differences lead to one logical conclusion, the biomechanics for the two drivers are simply different and the injuries resulting from the collision cannot be properly or accurately compared to one another.

Thus in effect, this mythological belief that low speed collisions can not cause significant injuries is not logical, nor is it accurate. If the injured party properly presents themselves for immediate medical treatment and diagnosis following the collision, then if the licensed medical professional determines that the injuries are present and those injuries were directly caused by the collision, the adjuster cannot (i.e. should not) dispute the extent of the injuries. Instead of accepting the reality that the myth is just that, a myth, insurance adjusters will try to use the myth to justify their settlement offer hoping the injured party will be too frustrated to argue with them and thus accept the lower offer.

It is critical to rebuff these low-offers by having detailed medical records showing the exact time of presentment to the doctor and the doctor’s diagnosis. Additionally, the injured party should follow the doctor’s treatment plan and keep an organized file of these medical records showing they received treatment as proposed by the medical provider.

If causation is not an issue in the collision, then the at-fault party should be held responsible for compensation for the full extent of the injuries. If the insurer fails to comply with your demand, and refuses to raise their offer, then the injured party should cut short negotiations and file suit. Keep in mind though as many attorneys will advise their clients, litigation is expensive and time consuming. Therefore, the preference of a settlement is evident, thus making detailed medical records and an organized attack plan a key component of resolving your claim in your favor.

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