One of the most frustrating hurdles you face as an injury attorney is the problem of low property damage cases. Insurance adjusters have been trained to flag claims with less than $1000 in property damage for special investigation.
They have been taught that these low damage collisions were unlikely to have actually caused any injury, and as a result must be handles as a potentially fraudulent claim.
It certainly seems logical, doesn’t it? If the crash barely dented the bumper, then certainly there couldn't be serious injury?
The problem with this line of reasoning is that it is not only completely false, but defies the laws of physics!
The scientific literature is replete with studies that show there is zero correlation between property damage and injury severity.
In this issue we'll give you the evidence you can use to arm yourself against the “No Crash No Cash” Myth and rationally explain how your clients can be injured in collisions that were not serious enough to cause catastrophic damage to their vehicles.
Before we discuss the seminal paper from Freeman and Croft that dispels the myth of low property damage crashes, let's examine why we're seeing more and more low damage collisions to begin with.
The answer is quite simple. The decline in property damage is driven by the same force that dictates most of the decisions in the insurance industry: saving the carriers money.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), funded by a conglomerate of major insurance companies, performs extensive crash testing on vehicles. In addition to publishing the results of the tests the IIHS also reports the cost to repair the damage.
The more expensive the repairs on a particular type of crash the less attractive that vehicle appears to potential buyers.
This has caused the auto manufacturers to specifically engineer bumpers that are designed not to crumple during low velocity collisions. If the bumper isn't damaged during the crash, the costs to repair the vehicle are kept low.
This works out great for the insurance companies since they don't have to pay for extensive repairs, and the auto makers win because the repair costs associated with their vehicles can be advertised as a selling point.
So who loses in the equation?
You guessed it: the injured driver. It's no coincidence that since the IIHS has been conducting crash testing, injuries from low speed collisions have risen dramatically. While insurance carriers would have us believe this is a function of greedy plaintiffs and overzealous attorneys, it's a matter of simple physics.
Energy can be neither created nor destroyed– it is simply transferred. This is what happens when an occupant is in a vehicle that is struck and the bumper does not deform. Instead of the bumper crumpling to ab- sorb the impact, the energy is transferred to the occupant.
This is an easy concept to explain to your clients (I know this because I teach this to my patients in my office).
I simply ask them if they've ever watched a NASCAR race and seen a crash where the car is destroyed, but he driver walks away without serious injury.
The reason for this is that the walls in the track and the race cars they are driving are engineered with crumple zones specifically to absorb the impact so it doesn't injure the drivers.
So the basic physics reason for the phenomenon is pretty simple, but what published research exists that you can use as ammo to sup- port your argument?
One of the best papers on this topic was published in the journal Medical Science Monitor by Art Croft and Michael Freeman, two of the most published researchers in the field of motor vehicle occupant injuries.
The researchers reviewed the existing literature that examined injuries from car crashes at various speeds. Literally thousands of crashes were represented in the papers they reviewed.
One study in particular yielded some valuable insights. Crash pulse recorders were used to measure the Delta V, or closing velocity of various collisions.
In an analysis of injuries in rear impact collisions, 24% of injuries were reported in collisions with delta V’s of 0-3.1 mph, and another 49% of injuries were reported with delta V’s of 3.1-6.2 mph.
Think about that for a second: a full 73% of injuries occurred at speeds of 6.1 mph or less!
Considering the average bumpers in modern automobiles are designed not to crumple at speeds of less than 10 mph (and studies have shown some bumpers don’t deform even at 15 mph), it is not only plausible but expected that a crash without significant property damage could cause injury to the occupants.
The authors conclusions were quite pointed. They summarized their findings saying, “A substantial number of injuries are re- ported in crashes of little or no property damage.
Property damage is an unreliable predictor of injury risk or outcome in low velocity crashes.
The MIST (Minor Injury Soft Tissue) protocol for prediction of injury does not appear to be val- id."
I like to point out that if I don’t expect the body shop to look at my medical records to deter- mine how they need to fix my patients’ cars, why would the repair bills for the vehicle have
any bearing whatsoever on the treatment I render in my office?
While the pain that your clients experience in low velocity collisions is very real, for years the insurance industry has denied that it had any physiological basis.
This has been in large part because the medical community has not been able to provide objective diagnostic evidence of “soft tissue injuries”.
You’ve learned from previous newsletters how our office provides you with the objective evidence you need to show damage to the ligaments in the spine that are often painfully torn in crashes.
This diagnostic evidence, when combined with the body of literature that shows disc and ligament injuries can occur at relatively low speeds, gives you a solid foundation on which to fight for your clients and get them the compensation they deserve.