A worker’s guide to dealing with whiplash after a workplace accident
Also commonly referred to as a cervical sprain or strain, whiplash is one of the most common types of injuries that people experience. This injury often occurs in a car crash or truck accident due to the sudden movement of the head forward and backward.
While most people know about the risk of getting whiplash from a car or truck accident, you might not think about the other ways you could sustain this type of injury at work.
Continue reading for insights on whiplash injuries in the workplace and how to file a claim to get maximum workers’ compensation benefits if you’re hurt on the job.
Attorney Ben Gerber and Natalie Elkins discuss what to do if you’ve injured
your back and neck at work.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is a serious type of neck strain that occurs when a sudden force causes your head and spine to move rapidly forward and backward, leading to an injury. Whiplash affects all of the parts of your neck and upper shoulders, including your spine, muscles, ligaments and nerves.
While there are different grades of whiplash, even a mild case of this injury could leave you with pain that lingers for days, weeks, months or years.
What are the different stages of whiplash?
The symptoms of whiplash include neck pain, stiffness and tenderness in the upper back and shoulders. The symptoms can extend into the arms, and headaches are also common.
The severity of whiplash is assessed according to a grading system that includes the following 4 stages:
- Grade 1: Pain is the only symptom.
- Grade 2: Pain is present along with other signs of an injury that could include bruising or swelling.
- Grade 3: Pain exists along with neurological symptoms that might include headaches, dizziness or vision problems.
- Grade 4: Severe pain exists along with neurological symptoms that are disruptive to daily life.
How are workers most likely to get whiplash at work?
Many people drive for a living, and this is a common way to get whiplash. However, you could also be at risk of developing whiplash if you:
- Play professional sports
- Perform work tasks that involve being at heights
- Use equipment that could cause a blow to the head
Even a slip-and-fall accident in a warehouse, grocery store or office could lead to a whiplash injury, depending on how the person falls.
What medical treatments are typically needed after a whiplash injury?
Typically, when you go to the doctor with back or neck pain after an accident, they’ll order X-rays to find out if there’s a spinal fracture that could lead to permanent damage.
Other injuries, like herniated discs can’t be seen in an X-ray, so your doctor may also order the following:
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Low-dose painkillers to be taken at home
- Follow-up visit with your primary care doctor in 2-3 days
The types of ongoing treatment needed for whiplash will depend on the severity of the injury but may include:
- Over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy
- Nerve block (an injection to block pain)
It’s crucial to rest your back and neck in the days following your accident so you don’t cause further injury. You may be required to take time off work and wear a brace to give your injuries time to heal.
Whiplash can last for several days or even years, depending on the severity of the injury. It can cause long-term effects for some people, including:
- Jaw pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
The injury may seem to go away temporarily but come back if the injured area is aggravated with activity. In rare cases, a person who has a whiplash injury may experience numbness or tingling in their hands and fingers. It’s important to seek medical care right away in cases that involve numbness or severe pain.
What to do after an accident that may have caused whiplash
After a workplace back or neck accident, the most important thing to do first is to seek medical treatment right away. Some people don’t realize they were seriously injured until pain and stiffness set in a couple of days later. After an accident, a person’s body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol which prevent them from feeling the full extent of the pain. After these hormones wear off, the injuries then become more apparent.
After the pain sets in, a person may notice swelling, pain, stiffness and soreness. These symptoms shouldn’t be ignored—even when it appears as though injuries aren’t serious. The longer you wait to seek medical treatment after sustaining whiplash injuries, the longer the treatment may take.
Most people with whiplash are treated in the emergency room after an accident and then may seek follow-up care with their primary care physician or a chiropractor. If you try to ignore your injuries, the pain could become debilitating over the course of several weeks.
What legal options are available after a whiplash injury?
After seeking medical treatment, make sure you report the accident to your employer within 30 days.
Next, you’ll want to contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney. A lawyer can help individuals file a claim for workers’ compensation with their employer and ensure they obtain full compensation.
It’s especially a good idea to seek legal counsel if your work injury claim is denied. Insurance companies have an interest in trying to get you to take as little as possible for an injury and waive your right to sue, so it is best not to face them alone.
Which types of workers are covered under Georgia workers’ comp?
In Georgia, most employers with 3 or more workers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Any worker that is a W2 employee and not an independent contractor should be covered by their employer’s workers’ comp insurance.
While most employees are covered, there may be a few professions where workers’ comp laws don’t apply, such as farm laborers and domestic workers. In these cases, you’ll still want to consult with a lawyer to find out if you’re eligible to file a workers’ comp claim or what to do if you aren’t eligible.
Find out who is eligible for workers’ compensation benefits in Georgia and who is not (exceptions). What are the determining factors involved in eligibility?
What workers’ comp benefits are available to workers with whiplash?
Workers’ comp benefits are based upon the severity of a person’s injury along with how it impacts their ability to continue working in their current position. Under workers’ comp, you could be entitled to benefits that include the following:
- Medical expenses. These include all necessary medical supplies and equipment, treatments, appointments, medications and surgeries.
- Lost wages. If your injury prevents you from working during your recovery, you’re entitled to two-thirds of your average weekly wage for a period of time that varies based on your disability.
- Death benefits. These are paid to your surviving dependents if you die from a work-related accident or illness.
When can you seek workers’ comp benefits and sue a 3rd party after a car accident?
Seeking compensation for whiplash injuries gets complicated if you were in a car accident with a 3rd party during your work day. In these cases, workers might be able to seek workers’ comp benefits from their employer while also filing a lawsuit against the 3rd party.
If the other party negligently caused the accident, you may also be able to get compensation for pain and suffering and other non-economic damages that are not available through a workers’ comp claim.
How can you maximize a whiplash claim?
Since whiplash symptoms can potentially keep you from being able to work in your regular position for months, you’ll want to do your best to maximize your claim.
First, you’ll want to make sure to report the accident and injury to your employer as soon as possible.
Next, you’ll want to use these strategies to avoid complicating your case:
- Be prepared to seek your own medical advice after using the employer-required physician.
- Keep detailed records of your medical care reports, bills and lost work time.
- Watch out for potential private investigators, which includes avoiding posting on social media.
- Work with an attorney to appeal any denial of the claims.
- Meet all deadlines and attend all legal proceedings and appointments.
Tips, tricks and advice for maximizing your workers’ compensation settlement.
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What are the average settlements for whiplash claims?
The settlement you might receive for a whiplash claim takes into account factors such as the severity of the injury, your medical expenses and your ability to continue working.
Georgia allows injured workers to receive two-thirds of their average weekly wage, up to $725 per week while they’re unable to work.
This amount is adjusted for those who can return to work on partial duty. Since these settlements often involve tens of thousands of dollars in compensation, you’ll want to make sure you take your claim seriously.
How can a workers’ comp attorney help after a work-related whiplash injury?
One of the biggest mistakes people make is trusting their employer to do everything right regarding their workers’ comp claim. Unfortunately, your employer runs a business, which means they might be focused on keeping their expenses low by avoiding a hike in their insurance rates. Oftentimes this prompts them to dispute claims.
A workers’ compensation attorney can help you with the following:
- Document the accident and prove your injuries were work-related
- Keep records of your current medical expenses and other financial needs
- Ensure all paperwork is filed on time
- Negotiate a fair settlement with your employer and their insurer
- Help you file an appeal if your claim is denied
After a workplace accident, talk to a workers’ compensation lawyer as soon as you can. Don’t sign anything from an insurance company or your employer without speaking to a lawyer first.
There are a number of common tactics that employers and insurance companies use in an attempt to reduce their liability in a workers’ compensation case.
Contact a Georgia workers’ compensation attorney
If you’ve recently suffered whiplash or another on-the-job accident, contact the experienced Atlanta workers’ compensation attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys today. Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers across Georgia recover maximum compensation after an injury. We’re here for you and ready to fight for the compensation you deserve.