A World of Hurt: Car Accidents and Chronic Pain
According to recent estimates, 6 million people in Canada, that’s 19% of the Canadian population, that are reporting some form of chronic pain. And many of those who suffer from chronic pain were originally hurt in a car accident.
Usually, pain is a good thing. By a young age, we associate pain with danger and do what we can to avoid it. We learn to rest injured body parts. And we also find out that pain is an early warning sign of sickness and infection.
But chronic pain plays by a different set of rules, at once complex and mesmerizing. Recent advances in neuroimaging show us that, unlike ordinary pain, chronic pain can actually alter the structure of your brain. And these changes could lead to learning and emotional problems.
In general, there are two types of chronic pain—cases with and without an identifiable cause. The first kind is often the result of injury or disease. But the second type is harder to pin down.
Chronic pain demystified
In some cases, known as chronic benign pain, the nervous system sends out false pain messages from old injuries. This can happen even though the tissue healed long ago. Chronic pain often involves soft-tissue injuries, which don’t heal the relatively simple way skin and bone injuries do.
These soft tissues include:
- spinal discs
Common soft-tissue injuries include sprains, strains, and whiplash—a common car accident-related injury. But pain is often a combination of several factors. Biology, psychology, and physiology all have a part to play. Because of this, no two people can ever experience the same injury in the same way.
Chronic pain is common after a car accident
Chronic pain could refer to one of two conditions. One is chronic pain syndrome. The second is fibromyalgia. Both can arise after a personal injury. These injuries could be sustained in a car accident or otherwise. The pain is real—significant and debilitating—even without an identifiable cause. Even after running every test available, they can’t see the damage. Many soft-tissue injuries aren’t visible to MRIs or CT scans.
Chronic pain syndrome refers to pain in a specific location. Your back, neck, or shoulders, for example. Fibromyalgia refers to pain in many places spread throughout the body. In both cases, the pain is felt for at least six months, though many suffer for years.
Chronic pain and fibromyalgia can both result from injuries like those sustained in a car accident. But they can have other causes as well. Medical conditions like arthritis, for example. These diagnoses can apply to many conditions so long as the pain involved is persistent.
Accident victims are often accused of faking their pain
Chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia are often seen as psychological conditions. This is because it’s so difficult to prove the pain is real. Our present technology is limited in that regard, and often can’t pinpoint the source of the injury.
This can lead to insurance doctors saying your pain isn’t real. If it can’t be proven through accepted testing methods, the claims must be false. Because most soft-tissue injuries clear up after a few weeks, they’ll claim that the perceived pain can’t be related to the accident. Worse, they may accuse you of faking it. Or at least exaggerating things.
The Supreme Court of Canada on chronic pain
Regardless of what insurance doctors say, chronic pain is very real. And it can have profound impacts on the lives of both victims and their families.
And yet, the insurance companies persist. In Saadati v. Moorhead (2017), the Insurance Bureau of Canada argued there should be no compensation for conditions “feigned or exaggerated.” But the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) thought otherwise. They rejected the bureau’s claims and ruled that psychological and physical pain were equally worthy of compensation.
The SCC decided that it didn’t matter if chronic pain was “real” or imagined. The associated suffering is very real to the victim and that’s what matters the most.
But even post-Saadati, car accident victims with chronic pain face attacks from insurers and doctors alike. Attacks that call into doubt both their credibility and sincerity. As a result, the legal process is drawn out and more stressful than it should be.
In an earlier unanimous SCC decision, Martin v. Worker’s Compensation Board of Nova Scotia (2003), the cCourt had “no doubt that chronic pain patients are suffering and in distress.” The bench further found that chronic pain sufferers are:
“subjected to persistent suspicions of malingering on the part of employers, compensation officials and even physicians.”
What chronic pain sufferers need if making a claim
When suing for pain and suffering related to chronic pain, you need two things. The first is a medical team that believes in you. The second is a supportive group of family, friends, and colleagues that knew you before and after the accident.
Your honesty, credibility, and integrity are going to be central issues going forward. Assembling a reputable medical team with a thorough understanding of pain disorders is a must. Rheumatologists and physiotherapists can give you much needed care and treatment. They also make for great expert witnesses if the case goes to trial.
The second group consists of people who can speak directly to your character. Who can tell others how the accident has changed your life. Describe the negative impact the pain has had on you. Testimony from individuals who care about your well-being can make all the difference when it comes to convincing a judge and jury.
The hope for a more understanding tomorrow
As the medical community learns more about chronic pain, we may eventually come to a day when we understand this condition a lot better. Already, institutions like the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) recognize chronic pain as a legitimate pain-related disorder. There are court rulings establishing a direct relationship between car accidents and chronic pain. Perhaps we’re drawing nearer to a day when people will stop quibbling about the details and focus on how we can help the victims.
In the meantime, insurance companies put up as many roadblocks as they can, using any excuse possible to deny a claim. Chronic pain is inherently invisible. And this makes it a perfect target for insurers eager to refuse to pay out to deserving claimants. And that is why we have to fight so hard—day in, day out—to protect your rights.
What to do if your chronic pain claim has been denied
Whether chronic pain is real or imagined, the resulting suffering is undeniable. It affects a broad cross-section of the population, many of whom were hurt in a car accident.
Though insurance companies are quick to deny chronic pain claims, there is legal precedent aplenty to back you up. Even if they say you’re faking or exaggerating your pain, the highest court in the land has already weighed in on the matter. And they say your suffering is real.
You’re going to need a team in your corner if you decide to file suit. The first part of this team is a group of specialists who believe your pain is legitimate. Second is a group of people who can speak to how the accident has affected your quality of life. And third is a dedicated legal team sympathetic to what you’re going through that will do all they can to help you out.
Get the compensation you deserve
If you or a loved one is suffering from a chronic pain disorder as the result of a car accident, contact Mackesy Smye today to see what our dedicated team of personal injury specialists can do for you today.