When Should You Get Medical Care After a Car Accident?
Following a motor vehicle crash in Pennsylvania, you need to see a doctor for a physical examination to identify any injuries you might have suffered. According to the National Safety Council, an estimated 4.8 million people in the U.S. are injured in car accidents each year and seek medical attention. Accident-related injuries range from minor to serious, including everything from bruising and soft tissue damage to severe injuries such as traumatic brain injuries, fractures, and spinal cord injuries.
While obvious injuries will likely cause you to go to the hospital or your doctor’s office, you should seek medical attention to determine whether you have sustained hidden injuries such as whiplash, concussion, or internal injuries after any collision. This is important even if you do not have visible injuries since some potentially serious injuries might not show immediate symptoms but require prompt treatment.
Your insurance company likely provides a limited time in your policy for you to see a doctor following a collision to access your personal injury protection (PIP) benefits and pay for your medical expenses. Here is what you should know about when you should see a doctor following a collision in Pennsylvania from the attorneys at Raynes & Lawn.
Do You Have a Deadline for Seeing a Doctor Following a Pennsylvania Car Crash?
There are both legal and personal reasons why you should seek immediate medical attention following your car crash even though there isn’t a specific statutory deadline for doing so. However, all motorists in Pennsylvania must have personal injury protection (PIP) coverage as a part of their auto insurance. This benefit pays for medical expenses up to the PIP coverage limits on your policy. Many insurance companies require their insureds to receive medical treatment within a specific amount of time following their accidents to be eligible for PIP benefits. If you fail to see a doctor within that period, your company could deny your PIP coverage. You could also have an underlying injury that can grow worse over time, and delaying treatment could harm your ability to recover.
If you file a claim against the other motorist following your collision, the other driver’s insurance company will carefully review your medical records to see when you sought treatment. If there was a delay in when you went to a doctor following your accident, the insurance company will likely use that to try to reduce your claim or avoid paying it altogether.
Auto insurers look at photographs of the damage to both vehicles to identify damage and the points of impact. If the damage is not easily identifiable in the photographs or appears to be relatively minor, the company will likely argue that the accident couldn’t have caused the injuries you suffered. Getting immediate treatment for car accident injuries can help to show that they were caused by the collision and not by an intervening event so that you can recover the compensation you deserve for your losses with the help of a Philadelphia auto accident attorney.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention Following a Collision?
It is common for car accident victims to not notice symptoms of injuries during the immediate aftermath of a collision. You might not feel any pain right after your crash or even later the same day. However, you might begin experiencing a variety of symptoms in the days following your crash, including the following:
- Muscle stiffness
There are a couple of reasons why you might not notice symptoms of injuries for several hours or days following a collision. Everyone has a natural fight-or-flight response that kicks in when people face danger. To prepare you to react, your body will flood your system with adrenaline. This surge of adrenaline can mask pain signals right after a crash. If you are injured, your body will also produce endorphins as a response to pain signals. Endorphins are natural pain-relieving hormones that are released when people experience stress or pain. The combination of adrenaline and endorphins can mask injuries, so you might be injured following a car accident without realizing it.
You should see a doctor immediately if you experience any injury symptoms following a car accident. You should not assume that the injuries will resolve themselves without seeking car accident medical treatment. Instead, the adrenaline and endorphins in your system might limit your ability to feel the full extent of your symptoms initially. Once they wear off, you could find that your injuries are much more severe than you realized.
The Importance of Seeing a Doctor Immediately
Even if you are unsure if you have been injured or believe that you are fine, there are important reasons why you should seek immediate medical attention following a car crash. Some types of serious car accident injuries can have delayed symptoms. Without prompt medical attention and treatment, they could rapidly worsen.
At the accident scene, the responding officer will likely ask you if you have been injured. You should not say that you are uninjured. If you do, the insurance company can use your statement against you later when you try to recover compensation for your medical expenses. If you are unsure whether you have been injured, you can tell the officer that you want to see a doctor to get an examination. Once you are released from the scene, go to your doctor’s office or an urgent care clinic to see a doctor. Doing so can help to identify any injuries you might have, ensure you receive appropriate treatment, preserve your ability to receive PIP benefits for your medical expenses, and help to support your claim if you pursue compensation against the other motorist.
Injuries With Late-Appearing Symptoms
Several different types of injuries often have delayed symptoms. These injuries might not show symptoms for days or weeks following a car accident.
Whiplash is a common type of car accident injury that frequently occurs in rear-end collisions. This injury occurs when your head and neck are thrown forward and then backward because of the force of the collision. The sudden back-and-forth movement can hyperextend the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your neck and upper shoulders. Many people do not notice symptoms of whiplash for days and might put off seeing a doctor for longer.
The following are common symptoms of whiplash:
- Persistent headaches typically at the base of your skull
- Ongoing pain in your neck or upper back
- Vision issues
- Loss of the range of motion in your neck
- Numbness in your arms
While whiplash is a common injury, you still need to seek medical care to ensure you receive proper treatment and learn whether you might also have other injuries.
Back and Spinal Injuries
You can suffer injuries to your back and spine in a car wreck, and these injuries might not immediately cause obvious symptoms. However, if you do not receive a prompt diagnosis of and treatment for a spinal injury, it can worsen and result in serious consequences. If your spinal cord is impacted in a car accident, it can begin to bleed or swell without treatment. Any symptoms such as problems balancing, back pain, or weakness in your limbs should prompt you to get immediate emergency care.
Concussions don’t always cause people to lose consciousness. They are traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) that can happen when a crash causes your brain to move inside of your skull and strike bone. Concussions often happen together with whiplash injuries. The force of the movement can cause damage to the nerves, blood vessels, and brain tissue.
A concussion might show the following symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dizziness or confusion
- Blurry vision
- Loss of consciousness
Seatbelts and airbags are important safety devices and can save your life. However, you can also suffer internal injuries from seat belts and airbags because of the blunt force they can deliver to internal organs, including your kidneys, heart, and lungs. Impacting a seatbelt or airbag can also break ribs or cause injuries to other tissues.
You might not know that you are bleeding internally at first since you might not have any outward signs of injury. Some of the signs of internal bleeding include the following:
- Weakness in the legs
- Difficulty breathing
- Blood in your stool or urine
- Coughing up blood
- Abdominal pain
Internal bleeding can be life-threatening. If you notice any of these symptoms, go to the emergency department immediately.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Being involved in a car crash can be a traumatic experience. In some cases, people can develop a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Researchers have found that an average of 22.5% of car accident victims develop PTSD.
The following are common symptoms experienced by people who have PTSD:
- Flashbacks of the accident
- Detachment or avoidance
- Intense, irrational fear
PTSD can be debilitating and last for six months or longer if you do not receive treatment.
Following a car crash, you should see a doctor within 48 to 72 hours to receive a medical examination. Even if you do not think you have been injured, a doctor can assess you for hidden injuries to help prevent additional damage.
Why Medical Attention Following an Accident Is Critical
In addition to it being important for you to prioritize your health, there are two other reasons why it’s important to seek medical attention following a collision. A doctor can determine whether you are injured and how serious your injuries are. Once you are diagnosed, the treatment you receive can help to facilitate a faster recovery and allow you to feel more comfortable.
Seeing a doctor promptly and following their recommendations is also critical evidence that your injuries were caused by your accident. Your medical records can show the extent and severity of your injuries and the course of your treatment. This type of evidence is essential if you file a car accident claim. If you don’t see a doctor, it will be hard for you to recover compensation for your accident and resulting losses.
Make sure to follow all recommendations you receive from your doctor until you are released from treatment, including setting and attending appointments with specialists, taking prescribed medications, completing diagnostic exams, and following through with physical therapy. Having thorough documentation of your injuries and treatment can strengthen your claim and prevent the insurance company from claiming that you are malingering.
Understanding Limited vs. Full Tort Insurance in Pennsylvania
Under 75 Pa.C.S. § 1705, motorists in Pennsylvania have two choices when they purchase automobile insurance, including limited tort or full tort insurance. If you choose limited tort insurance, it means that you are choosing the Commonwealth’s no-fault insurance system. With this coverage, you will file your claim for your injuries and income losses with your insurance company even when the other driver was at fault. You won’t be able to pursue a claim against the other driver unless your injuries are serious. Limited tort insurance does not allow you to recover compensation for your non-economic losses and only pays for your medical expenses and 80% of your income losses up to your policy limits. Some people choose limited tort insurance because it costs less than full-tort insurance. However, it is better for you to choose the full tort option to ensure you can receive full compensation following an accident.
If you choose full tort insurance, you can file a lawsuit against the other driver to recover compensation. If the other driver was at fault, they and their insurance company will be responsible for paying your medical bills, lost wages, property losses, and non-economic damages.
Personal injury protection is called first-party benefits in Pennsylvania. This coverage is required of all motorists in Pennsylvania to make sure that they have coverage for medical expenses following accidents. However, the benefits available from first-party benefits coverage are limited.
Being able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver can provide you with the ability to seek full compensation for all of your losses instead of being restricted to only your out-of-pocket losses.
Why You Should Keep Copies of Your Medical Records and Bills
Medical documentation of your injuries, treatment, and medical expenses are critical for supporting your claim. Ask your medical providers for copies of your medical bills and records when you receive treatment. Read through these documents to ensure that your doctor properly described your accident and your medical history. Make sure that your symptoms are accurately described. If you see any errors, ask for them to be corrected. Incomplete or inaccurate information in your medical records can be used by insurance companies to try to show that the accident didn’t occur in the way that you claim or to challenge the cause or severity of your injuries.
Other Steps to Take Following a Car Accident
In addition to seeking medical attention immediately, there are other things you should do right after your collision to preserve your ability to pursue compensation. Make sure to do all of the following things:
- Call 911 to summon the police and other first responders. If the other motorist tries to get you to not report the accident, don’t listen. Failing to report your accident will make it hard for you to prove that it happened and that it caused your injuries. If an officer doesn’t respond to the accident scene, you must file a written accident report with the state within five days.
- Use your smartphone to take photographs and video of the accident scene. Pictures can provide important evidence of how the crash occurred and the contributing factors. Take photographs of the damage to your car and the other vehicle, any debris on the road, the angles of the vehicles, the other vehicle’s license plate, make, and model, weather and road conditions, and other relevant details such as nearby traffic lights, intersections, and tire skid marks.
- Exchange information with the other driver. You are legally required to exchange your name, driver’s license information, and insurance information with the other driver involved in your crash. If you can, take a photograph of the other driver’s license and insurance card. Ask to see their vehicle registration, and note whether the driver is the person who owns the vehicle or if it is owned by someone else. If the other driver is uncooperative or belligerent, remain in your car until help arrives. Be sure to tell the dispatcher about the other driver’s behavior and refusal to provide their information, and make sure to get a good description of the driver and their license plate number in case they leave the accident scene.
- Talk to anyone who saw your accident, and ask for their names and contact information. Third-party witnesses can provide good evidence about what happened in your collision and are generally considered to be trustworthy since they are unbiased parties.
- Write down what you remember about your accident as soon as possible. Be detailed in what you write. Documenting what you recall right after your collision can be helpful later since your memory of important details can fade over time.
- Keep a journal about your injuries and how they affect you. Each day, write about how your injuries affect your ability to enjoy activities you previously engaged in and your level of pain. Don’t exaggerate anything. Instead, be honest about how your injuries affect you.
- Get a copy of the accident report. If the police responded to your accident, request a copy of the police report from the responsible agency. If they didn’t, get a copy of the accident report from the state.
- Schedule a consultation with a personal injury attorney at Raynes & Lawn. After you have received treatment for your injuries, you should see an attorney to learn about your legal options. Bring your medical records, bills, wage statements, photographs, journals, and the names of the witnesses with you. Your lawyer can review what happened and help you understand the next steps.
How an Attorney Can Help
Any accident can be stressful and confusing. When you are injured in a crash, the experience can be even more overwhelming. While insurance companies are legally required to fairly process claims, they often take steps to try to reduce how much they might have to pay or to avoid paying claims altogether. Trying to deal with the insurance company while also recovering from your injuries can be difficult. An experienced accident lawyer should understand the various tactics auto insurers might use to avoid paying claims or to reduce their value and can take steps to counter their actions.
When you work with an attorney at Raynes & Lawn, your lawyer will fully investigate your accident and help you gather evidence to support your claim. Retaining an attorney also means that you can concentrate on your recovery while your lawyer handles all aspects of your claim for you. Our attorneys are dedicated to pursuing justice for our clients and work to recover full compensation on their behalf. With the help of an attorney, you might recover far more compensation than you might if you attempted to handle the claims process yourself.
We have helped thousands of clients recover compensation for their injuries over the past five decades. To learn more about your case, call us for a free consultation today at 1-800-535-1797.
For the general public: This Blog/Website is made available by the law firm publisher, Raynes & Lawn, for educational purposes. It provides general information and a general understanding of the law but does not provide specific legal advice. By using this site, commenting on posts, or sending inquiries through the site or contact email, you confirm that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the Blog/Website publisher. The Blog/Website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction.
For attorneys: This Blog/Website is informational in nature and is not a substitute for legal research or a consultation on specific matters pertaining to your clients. Due to the dynamic nature of legal doctrines, what might be accurate one day may be inaccurate the next. As such, the contents of this blog must not be relied upon as a basis for arguments to a court or for your advice to clients without, again, further research or a consultation with our professionals.