Whiplash Injury: Vehicle, Seat, Occupant and Tissue Responses

By Richard H. Adler, Attorney at Law

Gunter Siegmund, Ph.D., Eng.* is one of the leading research scientists in the field of motor vehicle collision injuries who works out of the School of Human Kinetics at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. Canada. Dr. Siegmund recently published the results of his research and analysis of neck and back injuries in auto accidents. Dr. Siegmund’s findings set out in the Journal of Whiplash & Related Disorders, Vol. 3 (2) 2004, have relevance for persons who have sustained traumatic neck, back or head injuries as well as for the healthcare providers treating them.

Dr. Siegmund’s study explored how numerous factors such as vehicle, seat, occupant, and tissues affect the potential for whiplash injury in a specific collision. He also considered how bumper, seat and head restraint designs have the potential to reduce the severity of occupant exposure to neck and back “whiplash” injury in an auto accident. Some of the most significant findings were that:

“Modern automobile bumper standards only address damage to the vehicle and its safety systems. “The neglect of the cargo, i.e., the occupants, has been reinforced by insurance and consumer associations that assign value to vehicles that exhibit little or no residual damage after a collision severe enough to cause a whiplash injury in some individuals . . . . this increased focus on preventing vehicle damage rather than occupant injury may be one reason why over the last few decades the risk of whiplash injury has increased . . . . “

“Recent epidemiological data have shown that the duration and severity of whiplash symptoms increase with increasing vehicle acceleration.”

“Overall, the effectiveness of head restraints in reducing frequency of whiplash is quite low . . . . collision severity alone is an incomplete measure of whiplash injury potential.”

“The magnitude of head and neck kinematics (e.g., acceleration, velocity and displacement) and kinetics (e.g., forces and torques) increases with increasing collision severity (e.g., vehicle speed change or vehicle acceleration) when all other collision, vehicle and occupant factors remain constant. Response variation due to these other factors, however, is relatively large–particularly between subjects . . . . . . Therefore, both large inter-seat and inter-subject variations limit the utility of standard vehicle-based measures of collision severity–whether speed change, peak acceleration or average acceleration-for-predicting the kinematic response of a specific occupant to a specific collision.”
Insurers train their claim representatives to measure and evaluate occupant injury based on the extent of vehicle damage rather than on the actual nature and extent of the injuries to the person based on reliable clinical practice standards documented by their doctors and other care providers. Dr. Siegmund ‘s research shows the fallacy of that approach once again not only in what is set forth above, but in his additional conclusion that:

“[v]ariability in the dynamic response and injury tolerance between individuals is large and suggests that vehicle design improvements may not prevent whiplash injuries in all individuals.”
The personal injury recovery specialists at Adler Giersch ps obtain excellent settlement results from insurance representatives, and provide legendary service to those who sustain neck, back, brain and other traumatic injuries in motor vehicle collisions. They do so in part by staying on top of developments in medical and other research published in articles such as that written by Dr. Sigmund. Consultations for your patients are free through our offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Everett and Kent.

* Gunter Sigmund, Ph.D. is also affiliated with the MacInnis Engineering Associates, Richmond, BC, Canada.