When people imagine car accident injuries, they might picture broken bones, bruises, and burns. However, injuries are not always obvious. Sometimes, the most devastating injuries are the ones that can’t be seen. Internal injuries almost always have the potential to cause long-lasting and even life-changing complications, leaving victims unable to work and struggling to reclaim their independence.
Car Accidents and Internal Injuries
When two passenger vehicles collide, the force generated can be immense—sufficient not only to break bones but to send shockwaves throughout the entire body. While some injuries are visible to the naked eye and readily apparent, others may remain invisible. Healthcare professionals refer to many of these injuries as internal injuries. These injuries often cause significant pain, but they are not always easy to identify accurately. In medical terms, “internal injury” refers to an injury that affects any of the following:
- The ribs
- The skull
- The brain
- Subsurface tissue
- Organs of the thoracic and abdominal cavities
Two Categories of Trauma
- Penetrating trauma. Penetrating trauma injuries are a type of open wound injury. In general, penetrating trauma injuries occur when a foreign object penetrates the skin and enters the tissue of the body. These injuries are common in automobile accidents because broken glass, twisted metal, and other car crash debris can easily penetrate the skin.
- Non-penetrating trauma. Non-penetrating trauma, or blunt force trauma, is a type of impact injury. Non-penetrating trauma is usually caused by a sudden, powerful impact, especially to the head or other organs.
While penetrative traumatic injuries are typically easier to diagnose because they leave an evident entry point, they are not necessarily any more or less serious than non-penetrative traumatic injuries. In fact, non-penetrative traumatic injuries can be significantly more dangerous because car accident victims might ignore their symptoms in the absence of any obvious wound.
The Signs and Symptoms of Internal Injuries
Internal injuries can affect almost any organ or structure inside the body. While physicians have documented hundreds—if not thousands—of specific types of internal injuries, the following types of internal injuries are among the most commonly observed in car accident victims:
Internal bleeding is bleeding that occurs inside the body. It is often the result of significant physical trauma or another injury. Internal bleeding can be life-threatening if not properly treated.
The signs and symptoms of internal bleeding can include:
- Sudden weakness
- Unexplained vision problems
- Chest pain
A broken rib is a relatively common car accident injury. Broken ribs can present as hairline cracks, partial fractures, or total breaks.
Often, the most noticeable symptom of a broken rib is pain. This pain might worsen if you:
- Take a deep breath
- Press on the injured area
- Bend, twist, or otherwise move your body
Broken ribs are not typically life-threatening. However, a fractured rib could be accompanied by more significant injuries. In some cases, fragments of broken bone could penetrate the body’s internal organs, necessitating immediate medical attention.
The medical term for a collapsed lung is a “pneumothorax.” A pneumothorax occurs when air escapes from the lungs and “leaks” into the space between the lungs and the chest wall, effectively deflating part or all of one or both lungs.
The main symptom of a collapsed lung is sudden, severe chest pain, usually accompanied by difficulty breathing. Pain symptoms are usually dependent on the extent to which the lung is collapsed. Without proper medical treatment, the affected lung could continue to lose function.
Abdominal Aorta Aneurysms
An abdominal aorta aneurysm occurs when the major blood vessel running between the heart and the abdomen enlarges. Unlike other injuries, abdominal aorta aneurysms may not present any symptoms. However, even in the absence of pain, the aneurysm can still be serious. If the enlarged vessel ruptures, it could cause life-threatening bleeding.
When an abdominal aorta aneurysm is noticeable, its symptoms could include:
- Unexplained back pain
- A pulsing sensation in or around the navel
- Extreme, constant pain in or around the abdomen
A forceful blow to the abdomen could result in a ruptured spleen, the organ that helps the body fight infection and filter blood cells. Your spleen could rupture in a car accident if you sustain a penetrative or non-penetrative injury to the left side of your body. People who have enlarged spleens before their accident are at higher risk for ruptures.
The symptoms of a spleen rupture include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abdominal tenderness
- Pain in or around the left shoulder
- Cognitive disorientation, including confusion, lightheadedness, and dizziness
Traumatic Brain Injuries
A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the most common internal injuries sustained in car accidents. Examples of a TBI include:
- Concussions, which occur when the brain is forcefully slammed against the inside of the skull
- Contusions, or bruising to the brain
- Diffuse axonal injury, a severe and often disabling injury characterized by the tearing or rupture of axonal nerve fibers inside the brain
Some TBIs are relatively insignificant, warranting little more response than home care and rest. A minor concussion, for instance, could resolve without any medical intervention. However, TBIs should never be ignored, since brain damage could cause irreversible and permanent brain damage.
The symptoms of a TBI vary but could include:
- Speech problems
- Temporary memory loss or amnesia
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Depression or other sudden, unexplained mood changes
- Pupil dilation
- Insomnia or excessive drowsiness
What to Do After a Virginia Car Crash
Since internal injuries are often severe and sometimes disabling, car accident victims often require extensive medical care—care that can be extremely expensive, even for individuals with robust health insurance policies. If you were in a car crash and suffered internal injuries, you could bolster your chances of making a successful legal recovery by:
- Calling 911 immediately after the accident
- Seeking immediate medical attention, even if you have not sustained any noticeable injuries
- Taking photographs of your visible injuries, as well as the damage to your vehicle and any nearby property
- Asking potential eyewitnesses for their full names and contact information
- Following all of your physician’s instructions and recommendations
- Contacting an experienced personal injury attorney
An Attorney Can Help You Secure Fair Compensation for Your Internal Injury
While Virginia law affords victims the right to file a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent motorist who caused their injuries, recovering compensation is not always easy.
Insurance companies often discourage car crash victims from contacting an attorney, saying that a lawyer’s involvement will only prolong an eventual settlement. However, insurance companies are for-profit entities. Often, they are much more concerned with their own profitability than a victim’s right to compensation. Even if the adjuster offers you a fast settlement, they might not account for the totality of your damages.
An attorney can help you assess the value of your economic and non-economic damages. Depending on the nature and extent of your injuries, you could receive compensation for:
- Past, present, and anticipated medical expenses
- Physical rehabilitation
- Cognitive therapy
- Long-term care
- Prescription medication co-pays
- Lost income from work
- Diminished earning potential
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment
Contact an Experienced Virginia Car Crash Attorney
Virginia does not currently cap the damages that accident victims can receive from a personal injury lawsuit. However, you still have to act fast. Virginia has a strict statute of limitations that will prevent you from filing a claim for compensation if you wait too long to take action. Please send Kearney, Freeman, Fogarty & Joshi, PLLC a message online, or call us at 877-652-1553 to schedule your 100% free, no-obligation consultation as soon as possible.