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Delayed Injury After A Car Accident? It’s Pretty Common.

What Is A Delayed Injury?

Blackwell Law Firm - Helping Personal Injury Victims Across AlabamaAlthough people use the phrase delayed injury, these are real and serious injuries people suffer at the time of a car accident. They are very real. Over the days and weeks following a serious wreck, these injuries begin to impact the victim. Delayed injuries are those that you don’t realize in the first few moments or hours after a wreck.

If you are an Alabama football fan, you may have heard the story of Coach Bryant playing against Tennessee with a broken leg. It’s a story which adds to Coach Bryant’s legendary toughness. Of course, it’s an added bonus the game involved one of Alabama’s biggest rivals. Beyond Coach Bryant, sports fans have seen many players somehow make it through a game or competition despite a serious injury.

We consider such endurance to be “toughness.” That may be a lot of it. But, other issues also come into play. The competitive athlete may experience a rush of adrenaline which masks the pain. The competitive athlete may experience distraction from the injury due to his or her focus on the game.

Several years ago, ABC printed a news article discussing athletes and injuries. The article starts with a story about a sports photographer who continued taking photographs even after being pierced with a javelin. I imagine it was quite a sight to have a photographer with a spear basically sticking out of his leg. He’s quoted as saying it was not very painful at the time! That’s some real focus. I’m sure it hurt the next morning!

Why Are Pain And Injuries Sometimes Delayed?

Why do we experience delayed pain or injury following a car accident? Many of our Huntsville car accident clients tell us they felt fine in the moments after a wreck only to wake the next morning in severe pain. Injury symptoms can be delayed for several reasons.

Shock and Adrenaline. The moments after a car accident can be scary. Suddenly, cars are out of control. A violent crash occurs. You are shaken. Slowly, you try to figure out what happened and if you are OK. You may not even realize it in the moment. But, shock and adrenaline often come with a sudden trauma. People often refer to this as fight or flight mode. This can mask the pain you are suffering. When the shock wears off, you begin to feel the pain.

Distraction. The events following a car accident can cause more distraction. What do I say to the police officer? How do I handle my damaged car? Is everyone else OK? How am I going to get home or to work? You may have many issues. You may focus on these issues like the athlete focuses on the game. Afterwards, you really begin to hurt.

Latency. What do I mean? Over time, your injured tissue can become more inflamed. Injured muscles can tighten. Damage to a nerve can begin to cause radiating pain or numbness. Injuries can worsen. They can begin to hurt more and more. We see many cases where this happens.

Masking. This is also a frequent issue. I’ve had many accident cases involving masking. What is masking? It’s when you hurt multiple parts of your body. One of your injuries is so immediately painful and limiting, you don’t really focus on the others.

What Symptoms May Show Delayed Injury?

Car accident victims can suffer numerous types of delayed symptoms. These can include:

  • Headaches. You can suffer headaches from a head injury. If untreated, even a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) can produce significant long-term impairments. You can also suffer headaches from injury to your neck. Many people begin suffering headaches from muscle injury in their cervical area.
  • Neck / Shoulder Pain. Neck and shoulder pain can develop or worsen over time. Additionally, these injuries often mask each other. One area may hurt worse and you may not realize you suffered significant injury to the other as well.
  • Numbness. When you suffer a significant injury to your neck or back, it can put pressure on a nerve. Many people begin to develop worsening numbness down an arm or leg due to this injury. If you start suffering radiating pain or numbness, don’t wait. See a doctor.
  • Behavior / Personality Changes. This is also a serious issue with TBI. In the emergency room, medical professionals are busy poking and prodding the injured person. When the injured person gets home (or in the days and weeks following the injury), friends and family begin to notice subtle changes in behavior or personality.
  • Back Pain. Back pain can have many sources. Maybe it’s just a pulled muscle. But, it might be a more serious herniated disc injury. In the first moments following a wreck, you may not even notice the pain. But, over time, it can worsen. Many patients experience this problem.

Many cases involve delayed pain and problems. It is common. If you begin suffering pain and problems in the days or weeks following an accident, it is essential you see a doctor. In many of our cases, the insurance company questions injuries not reported in the emergency room. When our clients report the problems to their physicians, we are able to develop the testimony of the doctor to support the injury.

What Can I Expect From The Emergency Room?

Not Much! After your car accident, maybe you went to the local emergency room. I see lots of car accident victims who first went to a local ER like the ones at Huntsville Hospital Main or Madison Hospital.

Maybe you arrived by ambulance. Maybe you waited and went on your own later. Either way, you arrive at the ER. You are suddenly in the middle of a chaotic scene.

What can you expect? The ER staff will likely run a bunch of tests on you. Their tests are often focused on determining whether your injuries are life-threatening or require immediate hospitalization. For example, the ER may take x-rays of your back to see if you suffered any spinal fractures. Yet, they may not take more detailed MRIs which are necessary to detect a ruptured disc. Many non-emergency injuries are missed or ignored in the ER. I’ve written several past articles discussing how ERs fail to diagnose or treat traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). You can read many of my TBI articles on this blog.

If you continue to suffer pain and limitations after being discharged from the ER, it is very important that you follow-up with a doctor. Emergency rooms miss many injuries. Some injuries develop or worsen over time. Follow-up care is essential.

Can Masked Injuries Put Me At Risk?

Yes. They can. I’ve seen many cases where a person does not realize they are hurt in a specific area. The person tries to return to work or other activities. This can cause more injury and disability.

This is an issue in many car accident cases. It’s also an issue in many Alabama workers compensation cases. In work comp cases, insurance companies and employers often push people to return to work before they are able to return safely.

Can Delayed Injuries Impact A Car Accident Claim? What Should I Do?

Yes. Here is an example. You are in a car wreck. You are shaken up. You go to the ER and report soreness in your neck and back. Then, over time, you begin to realize your hand hurts. You start having problems gripping things like a pen or coffee cup. Several weeks later, you go to your doctor to discuss this issue. Your doctor discovers that you fractured a bone in your hand. Eventually, you require surgery for the hand fracture.

Here is the problem. When you start your claim with the insurance adjuster, he or she wants to ignore the later discovered hand injury. The insurance adjuster may even argue they are not paying for that injury because you did not report the issue in the ER. If you are handling the claim yourself or if you hired a billboard lawyer, then the insurance company will probably not pay you the full value for that claim.

Seek skilled legal counsel. Your lawyer can prepare the case and obtain testimony from the treating doctors to support the claim. Just last week, I obtained testimony from an orthopedic surgeon to support a hand fracture my client suffered in a head-on collision that was not reported in the ER. When the insurance company initially refused to pay for the injury, we began preparing the case for its full value. We routinely get testimony from doctors to support the injuries suffered by our clients.

So, yes, a delayed injury can impact your insurance claim. Here is what you need to do. First, talk to your doctor as soon as you realize you are hurt. Follow-up on medical care. Explain the car accident and how you began hurting to your doctor. Your doctor needs this information to support your claim. Second, seek legal counsel that will actually work with the evidence to prepare your case for its maximum value. Do NOT hire a billboard lawyer who will simply send the records to the adjuster and accept his or her offer.

Delayed injuries can present issues for your claim. But, you can recover full damages for them.


From its office in Huntsville, the Blackwell Law Firm helps people across Alabama following serious accidents and injuries. We have handled car accident, truck accident and workplace accident cases in courtrooms across our state. If you have any questions about a personal injury in Alabama, let us know. Our consultations are always free and confidential. We are happy to answer your questions.