Hergott: The pain of a car crash

Lawyer Paul Hergott discusses potential injuries following a car crash

Pain serves us well when alerting us to a burning hot surface. Not so much after a car crash.

We naturally avoid unpleasant things. We recoil from burning pain. And take extra care to avoid the sharp pains we’ve experienced when striking a thumb with a hammer, stubbing a toe, banging our head on a low surface and slicing a finger.

And pain alerts us to injuries and illnesses, so that we can take steps to have them diagnosed and progress with healing. Ongoing pain, with movement, can also be good if that movement would cause additional damage.

But for most car crash injuries, healing is optimized by remaining as mobile and active as possible. Pain that restricts or causes us to avoid movement can get in the way of healing and actually cause damage.

Waking up the morning after a crash with a splitting headache and spasming muscles, our instinct is to stay in bed.

You drag yourself into a doctor’s office to get a note to be away from work.

With increased pain trying to do housework and yard care duties, the instinct is to stop. And there’s no way a return to recreational activities will be attempted.

You end up at home. Doing very little. Getting out only a couple times a week for some sort of therapy.

Damaged muscles, with disuse, become even weaker. Overall lack of activity causes general deconditioning, with weakened muscles and lower cardiovascular health.

And weight gain.

There’s another unhelpful side effect of pain: sleep disruption. Pain and discomfort hold you back from falling asleep and wake you up at night.

Reduced income and increased expense inevitably lead to financial stress.

Put it all together and you’ve got a perfect storm for lowered mood.

A couple or so therapy sessions per week haven’t got a hope against ongoing deconditioning, stress, sleep dysfunction and depressed mood, all of which get in the way of recovery.

And the root of all that evil: pain!

Before you are lulled into the notion that I might have a clue about what I’m talking about, please understand that I have no medical training. The closest might have been grade 12 biology. Oh, and first aid.

This is a legal column and I’m about to give you some very important legal advice. I have a sneaking suspicion that it might also be good medical advice because I’ve spent over two decades consulting with experts in physical medicine and rehabilitation.

It’s hard. It’s really hard. But my advice is to do, do, do and try, try, try. This applies to all aspects of your life: work, household and yard chores, recreational activities and social activities.

If you are ever the least bit concerned that “doing” will cause damage, consult with your doctor and others on your medical team.

But consult in a way that shows your motivation to remain as active as possible.

Instead of: “I’ve just been in a crash and I can barely move, please give me a note to be away from work”, try: “I’ve just been in a crash and I can barely move, will I damage myself if I try to get through my work day?”

Let your medical team, not pain, do the job of holding you back to the extent necessary to optimize your recovery. Of course, that includes following instructions that might be given at times to let pain be a guide.

But how does this help your legal claim?

  1. The law actually requires you to take reasonable steps to make your losses as small as reasonably possible. By always erring on the side of trying, you avoid insidious insurance company arguments that you failed to do so;
  2. Your injuries are invisible. But your very genuine struggles to get through your work day and return to “life” generally are not. That gives me witnesses I can call on to help prove your case;
  3. Ever consider how hard it is to prove a negative? How can you prove you cannot work or participate in other aspects of your life if you don’t try?

And keeping your income and other losses as low as possible helps your bottom line. If you end up having to retain a lawyer to achieve fair compensation from ICBC, the lawyer’s fee will be a percentage of that compensation. Whatever level of percentage fees you pay leaves you with that much taken away from the fair amount required to compensate you for your losses.

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