Understand your rights to compensation after a whiplash injury at work
Whiplash is a common type of workplace injury that can have serious and long-lasting consequences for workers. These injuries can occur in a variety of settings, including office environments and construction sites or while driving as part of work-related duties. Whiplash injuries can result in significant pain and discomfort, as well as limited mobility and the inability to perform work-related tasks.
Fortunately, most Montana workers who suffer a whiplash injury at work are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits to aid in their recovery.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is a type of soft tissue injury that affects the neck and upper spine. It’s caused by a sudden impact that causes the neck to be violently jolted forward and back again, resulting in neck sprain. The delicate muscles, ligaments, nerves and tendons may be affected, and you might not immediately realize you’ve been injured until several hours or even days after the incident.
What are the different grades of whiplash?
The symptoms experienced by an individual with a whiplash injury will depend on how badly their neck was compressed or hyper-extended during the accident. Doctors assign different grades to whiplash according to the severity of symptoms.
The different grades of whiplash include the following:
- Grade 0 means there is no injury.
- Grade 1 results in only pain.
- Grade 2 means there is pain and other visible signs of injury.
- Grade 3 means there is pain, other visible signs of injury and neurological effects.
- Grade 4 involves severe pain and significant, dangerous neurological effects.
The higher the grade of a whiplash injury, the more likely it is for the person to experience multiple symptoms and have trouble performing their regular everyday activities and work duties.
What are the symptoms of whiplash?
Symptoms can vary with whiplash, but some of the most common whiplash symptoms include the following:
- Painful or stiff neck
- Shoulder pain
- Lower back pain
- Bruising or swelling
- Numbness or pain in the hands or arms
- Tingling sensations
- Tinnitus or ringing of the ears
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Muscle spasms
What are the most common causes of whiplash at work?
Although whiplash is an injury that is often associated with car and truck accidents, workers may also experience whiplash from:
- A repetitive stress injury
What kinds of jobs put workers at a higher risk of experiencing whiplash injury?
Certain workers are at a higher risk of accidents that can lead to whiplash injuries. Any workers whose jobs involve driving, lifting heavy equipment or working around raised or slippery surfaces are at an increased risk of whiplash, including:
How is whiplash treated?
Whiplash doesn’t have a cure, but it can be treated. Pain medications and muscle relaxers can help ease the pain, but immobilization is often the main goal in treating whiplash; many people are fitted with cervical collars to keep their necks steady. Hot and cold packs can ease the swelling and inflammation of the injury. Some people may need physical therapy as well.
In more severe instances of whiplash, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) therapy or radiofrequency (RF) nerve ablation may be used. These options involve using electrical currents or RF energy to target the affected nerves, muscles, ligaments and tendons. In some cases, some people might even require spinal surgery.
Montana workers’ compensation eligibility
In Montana, workers’ compensation is available to workers who suffer on-the-job injuries like whiplash. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system, so in most cases, even if a worker suffers injuries from an accident they caused, they can still file a claim for benefits.
Most employers in Montana with 1 or more full- or part-time employees are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. Workers’ compensation benefits are usually not available to independent contractors, volunteers, domestic employees and some sole proprietors.
Types of workers’ comp benefits
The following workers’ compensation benefits are available to injured workers in Montana:
- Medical benefits for all necessary medical treatment and expenses
- Lost wage benefits if you’re unable to work during your recovery (typically two-thirds of your average weekly wage)
- Death benefits for certain dependents if you die from a work-related injury
Steps to file a workers’ compensation claim in Montana
Montana workers who suffer work injuries can take the following steps to file for workers’ compensation:
- Get medical attention as soon as possible so you’ll have documentation of your injury.
- Report the injury to your employer within 30 days of your accident or injury.
- Your employer will file a First Report of Injury (FROI) form on your behalf within 6 days, as well as a workers’ comp claim within 1 year.
- If your claim is accepted, you’ll begin receiving benefits on the 5th day of your wage loss.
- Contact a workers’ comp attorney for help with filing an appeal if your claim is denied.
Can I file a lawsuit against a third party in addition to a workers’ comp claim?
If the accident that caused your whiplash injury was the fault of a third party (someone other than your employer), you can file a workers’ compensation claim and a separate third-party personal injury lawsuit against that party. This may be the case if you were injured in a work-related car accident because of another driver’s negligence or a manufacturer’s defect, for example.
A workers’ compensation attorney can help you determine any potentially liable parties in your case.
Minimizing your risk of whiplash injuries
Workers can take several steps to minimize their risk of whiplash injury at work, including:
- Using proper positioning. Ensuring that your seat and headrest are positioned correctly can help to minimize the risk of whiplash injury in the event of an accident. Make sure that your headrest is at the appropriate height and that you are sitting with your back properly supported.
- Using safety equipment. If you work in a job that requires protective equipment, make sure that you’re wearing it at all times. This may include helmets, seat belts or other protective gear.
- Practicing safe driving. If you operate a vehicle as part of your job, make sure that you’re following safe driving practices, such as obeying traffic laws, avoiding distractions and driving defensively.
- Exercising and stretching. Regular exercise and stretching can help keep your neck and back muscles strong and flexible, which can reduce the risk of whiplash injury in the event of an accident.
- Reporting hazards. If you notice any hazardous conditions in your workplace, such as slippery floors or unsafe equipment, report them to your employer immediately. Taking action to address these hazards can help to prevent accidents and injuries.
- Avoiding sudden movements. Be mindful of sudden movements of your head and neck, especially if you’re performing physically demanding work.
Contact a Montana workers’ compensation attorney
The workers’ compensation system was designed to give workers quick and easy access to the medical care and income they need after a work injury, but unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. If your workers’ compensation claim is denied or you want advice on how much compensation your case should be worth, contact a workers’ compensation attorney who can explain your rights and help you recover maximum compensation.
If you’ve been injured in an accident at work in Montana, contact the Great Falls workers’ compensation attorneys at Murphy Law Firm. Our dedicated attorneys have more than 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers in Montana get the compensation they deserve.
Contact us today for a free consultation of your case.