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Most Car Crash Victims Don’t Sue Despite Chronic Pain


Auto injury victims have long been accused of faking their symptoms to earn a payout, but a new study shows that in most cases, that accusation is patently false. Researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that the vast majority of patients fail to pursue litigation after an auto collision, despite suffering from chronic pain.

“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,” explained Samuel McLean, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and associate professor of anesthesiology and emergency medicine at the University of North Carolina. “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.”

In the first large prospective study evaluating musculoskeletal pain after a car accident, researchers analyzed the medical records of 948 auto injury patients at eight different emergency departments in four states. Overall, 70% of those patients reported ongoing musculoskeletal symptoms six weeks after the auto accident. Over a third of patients felt pain in four or more body regions.

Despite this persistent pain, only 17% of patients had contacted a lawyer six weeks after their accident. Among patients not pursuing litigation, 28% had moderate to severe neck pain, 13% had widespread musculoskeletal pain, and 4% had fibromyalgia-like symptoms.

“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. Unfortunately, these patients also often have to deal with the additional burden of 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,” said Dr. McLean in a press release.

While depression and post traumatic stress do play a role in chronic pain, this study reminds us that the physical symptoms of auto injuries are indeed real. Countless studies have documented the tissue damage, inflammation, and nervous system changes that can occur after whiplash injuries.

Whether or not you plan on suing the responsible party, it is important to seek early treatment to avoid developing chronic pain after a car accident. Chiropractors can safely and effectively alleviate acute and chronic symptoms after auto injury, so you can get back to living your life free of pain.


McLean SA, et al. Incidence and predictor of neck and widespread pain after motor vehicle collision among US litigants and nonlitigants. Pain 2014. 155(2): 309-321.

Written by: Marissa Luck on January 22, 2014.on January 24, 2014.

  • Tags: auto injuries, neck pain, whiplash


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