Most Car Accident Victims Aren't Lawsuit-Happy

Better think twice about that old “whiplash” stereotype. Most people who complain about pain after an auto accident actually do feel it.

That conclusion comes from a new study led by University of North Carolina School of Medicine researchers, It’s is the first large prospective study to evaluate musculoskeletal pain outcomes after motor vehicle collision in the U.S.

Pain after an auto accident isn’t uncommon: Nearly 4 million people  in the U.S. come to hospital emergency departments after motor vehicle collision each year. The study, which enrolled individuals from eight emergency departments in four states, ishowed that persistent pain is common. Six weeks after their accident, more than 70 percent of individuals reported persistent musculoskeletal pain in one or more body regions. More than one third of study participants reported pain in four or more body regions.

Unfortunately, most people don’t believe them.

"In the U.S., if someone develops chronic neck pain or other pain after a car accident, and they go to their doctor or tell their friends, they are often not believed or are viewed with great suspicion, as if their symptoms are not real and they are just trying to sue someone," said Samuel McLean, MD, MPH, first author of the study and associate professor of anesthesiology and emergency medicine. "Our findings indicate that persistent pain is very common among those who aren't suing, and that only a minority of those with persistent pain are engaged in litigation."

Of the 948 people enrolled in the study, only 17 percent had contacted a lawyer for planned litigation six weeks after their accident. Among most of the people who weren’t planning to sue, persistent pain was still common: 28 percent had persistent moderate or severe neck pain, 13 percent had widespread musculoskeletal pain in seven or more body regions, and 4 percent had a fibromyalgia-like syndrome.

"It is hard enough to be suffering from a persistent pain condition after trauma that is moderate or severe, and/or occurring across many body regions,” McLean said. “Unfortunately, these patients also often have to deal with the additional burden not being believed. Hopefully the results of this study will contribute to helping doctors and the public understand that these symptoms are common, including among patients who aren't suing anyone."


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