In many car accident cases, insurance companies will contend that a lack of visible property damage to the vehicles involved will equate to a lack of significant personal injuries resulting from the accident. However, research demonstrates that this assumption is often incorrect. In many situations that result in serious physical injury to the vehicles occupants, a vehicle may have no readily visible damage.
Hoping to reduce the cost of car accident claims, in the 90’s a prominent insurance company published a set of guidelines and subsequently trained its claims adjusters to deny accident injury claims when the damage to the vehicle involved was valued at $1,000 or less.
MIST Segmentation Plan
This was known as the Minor Impact Soft Tissue (MIST) segmentation plan. Other insurance companies, hoping to similarly reduce their claims paid, soon jumped on the MIST bandwagon, and delaying, denying, and defending these MIST claims is very common in low speed, low property damage motor vehicle collisions.
The objective of the MIST segmentation plan was to reduce the costs of insurers by arguing that it is impossible for crashes with minimal vehicle damage to cause significant or permanent harm to the body. It became common practice for insurers to summarily dismiss these claims with zero compensation regardless of any medical evidence presented. Insurers have even gone so far as to treat MIST claims as fraudulent claims. However, research has shown that the MIST protocol relies upon faulty logic and in fact, injuries from low speed crashes causing minimal vehicle damage are commonplace. Law Professor Jeff Stempel from the University of Nevada has criticized insurance companies that utilize these tactics and has called this the practice “institutionalized bad faith.” This conduct by insurers has netted insurance companies billions in profits and further harmed people who have already been hurt.
A research study published by Dr. Emil Seletz demonstrated that the damage suffered by a vehicle in a car accident is not a reliable way to predict whether the vehicle’s occupants were injured in the same accident. The study points to other characteristics of the crash as well as variables about the occupants themselves that have a greater impact on an accident’s outcome. The study points to the fact that vehicles are designed to absorb crash impacts and transmit energy while, unfortunately, human bodies are not. Therefore, a car that does not appear to be damaged may nevertheless contain people who have suffered serious and life impacting injuries.
Personal Injury Factors
Factors impacting the likelihood and severity of personal injury surrounding the crash itself include the size and weight of the vehicles as well as the speed at which they were traveling; the type and position of the seat and head restraints; and the ability of the vehicles to absorb the shock of the crash.
The so-called “human factors” include the height, weight and sex of the occupants; the occupant’s awareness of the impending collision; the direction the occupant was facing at the time of the impact; and individual tissue tolerance.
A study by Arthur Croft and Michael Freeman explains that the gravitational force equivalent, commonly referred to as “G-force”, to which a vehicle occupant is subjected is one of the major factors in injuries in vehicle accidents. When a motor vehicle is rigid in structure, there is a spike in G-force exhibited on the passengers and drivers, even if the body of the car appears to have suffered no damage at all. However, when a car is crushed, the car’s occupants decelerate over a longer period of time and are subjected to a smaller G-force and therefore their injuries are less severe. This concept demonstrates the flawed logic insurance companies are applying when dismissing injury claims when vehicles suffer little to no damage. If fact, in cases involving whiplash, a common car accident injury, insurance companies are very likely to deny claims based on the incorrect assertion that no injury is possible when no vehicle damage took place.
It seems clear that property damage in low-speed motor vehicle crashes does not provide a reliable means of determining the merit of claims for injuries and does not provide a reliable means of predicting long-term injury outcomes. In a car accident, when a person is hurt, endorphins can make it appear that you are not injured and postpone certain signs of injury. This means it is possible that for days or perhaps even weeks, the consequences of the accident may not be apparent.
Delayed medical treatment in conjunction with minimal car damage and an insurance company strategy to dismiss these claims for injury, or to settle them quickly before symptoms emerge and victims are able to consult an attorney, countless people each year are likely deprived of the reasonable compensation to which they are entitled.
If you have been injured because someone else was negligent, you should contact Aaron M. House at House Law LLC by calling 816-875-4260 for a free consultation to discuss your case.