Debunking the No Damage, No Injury Myth

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In many cases, insurance companies argue that a lack of visible property damage to cars means that no one was hurt in the collision. This simply isn’t true. In many cases, such as the one shown above, damage to the vehicle is hidden.

Even if a vehicle isn’t damaged much at all, that doesn’t mean its occupants aren’t injured. If you drop a carton of eggs at the grocery store, you don’t look at the outside of the package to see if any eggs are broken. You open the carton and look at the eggs themselves.

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The same is true of injuries to passengers in car wrecks. Many scientists and researchers have found that even where there isn’t much damage to the vehicle, it doesn’t mean there wasn’t injury to the occupants. One auto engineer explained this concept in the context of race cars:

High-performance racing cars as seen on the Grand Prix circuit are designed with state-of-the-art crash engineering. The main outside structure of these racing cars is designed to allow for crushing and to dissipate energy in the event of a collision…. These design factors in high-performance crash engineering account for the low driver-injury rates, even though the collisions involve very high speeds. So here we see heavy vehicle-body damage and relatively low occupant injury rates. i.e., the body of the racing car is sacrificed to prevent driver injury or death.
The amount of crush or damage received by a motor vehicle in a collision is an indication of velocities involved when the stiffness of the motor vehicle and object or objects is known. However, the crush damage does not relate to the expected occupant injury, i.e., the more vehicle damage, the more chance that the occupant is injured, is not a conclusion that can be made. In fact, it is more likely the reverse. If the occupant is decelerated over a greater time/distance due to a large crush/arresting distance, then the likelihood of injury is reduced.
This conclusion has been demonstrated by both mathematical expression and practical examples. The first example is that of the pole vaulter who survives his 5-meter (16-foot) drop by the crush of the padding or mat. It is this crush which breaks the vaulter’s fall and hence allows for increased stopping distance and time. The second practical example is that of the high-performance racing car which makes use of a rigid driver compartment for protection. However, the compartment is surrounded by a body which is designed to allow for crush or deformation due to a collision. The result is a reduced number of injuries or fatalities.

Part of the cause of many connective tissue injuries is that cars aren’t designed to crush in lower-speed collisions, like racecars are. Instead, bumpers are designed to minimize property damage due to bumper regulations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”). The NHTSA specifically says that car bumpers are “not a safety feature intended to prevent or mitigate injury severity to occupants in the passenger cars.”

A typical car crash case deals with physics, biomechanics, and other fields of specialized knowledge in wreck dynamics. Applying these scientific principles to the facts of any case requires resolution of the following issues:

  • The amount of force required to cause a given degree of vehicle damage.
  • How much of that force that would be transmitted to the injury victim.
  • The amount of force required to cause the injuries sustained in the crash.
  • The amount and type of treatment needed for those injuries.
  • How much force it would take to cause a certain injury to a certain person.
  • What kind of injury could be expected in a particular crash.
  • How long it should take someone to recover from these types of injuries.

In most situations, the answer to each of these questions lies outside the common understanding and experience of a jury. That is, without the proper scientific testimony, a jury would be guessing or speculating about the answers to these questions. Under legal rules of evidence, only a qualified expert may give opinions on these issues.

In many cases, insurance companies will argue that the answers to these questions are “common sense.” However, all peer-reviewed scientific studies to address the issue have debunked this argument.

Instead of being adopted following rigorous scientific testing, this theory was instead adopted by an auto insurer seeking to minimize the amount of claims paid:

In the mid-1990s, a set of guidelines was published by a leading U.S. auto insurer for claims adjustors concerning the handling of certain types of crash-related injury claims. This training manual identified injury claims resulting from motor vehicle crashes with US$1000 or less in claimant’s vehicle property damage as those that should be categorized, or “segmented,” separately from all other injury claims. Claims adjustors were instructed that, as a general precept, crashes with minimal damage are unlikely to — or cannot — cause significant or permanent injury. Thus, any claim for injury in the presence of minimal vehicle property damage was to be handled as a type of fraudulent claim and claims adjustors were instructed that, regardless of medical evidence of injury, the injury should not or could not have occurred because of the nature of the crash, and the claim goal was to close without payment. The MIST claims segmenting protocol continues to be used up to the present time, and many other insurers have adopted similar claims handling practices based on an assumed lack of relationship between vehicle property damage below a certain monetary level and the potential for injury.

The MIST protocol uses vehicle property damage as a construct for injury presence rather than probability, as all injury claims in the presence of <$US1000 vehicle property damage are considered to be false, while crashes with >$US1000 vehicle property damage are considered as possibly injury producing, with the medical records used as the determinant of injury presence and severity.[1]

As demonstrated by this excerpt, the lack of injury in minor property damage collisions was assumed, rather than scientifically correlated, regardless of the evidence of medical evidence of injury. Thus, this theory was adopted without scientific testing and only after ignoring evidence tending to show the theory was false.

Below is a summary of research and actual testing of this theory, which shows that it is scientifically invalid:

Conclusion

Source

“Based upon our best evidence synthesis, the level of vehicle property damage appears to be an invalid construct for injury presence, severity, or duration. The MIST protocol for prediction of injury does not appear to be valid.”

A.C. Croft & M.D. Freeman, “Correlating crash severity with injury risk, injury severity, and long-term symptoms in low velocity motor vehicle collisions,” Med. Sci. Monit., 11(10): RA316, RA320 (2005).

“A major building block of the foundation for MIST relies on the concept that vehicle damage and occupant damage must be closely linked. In other words, there must be a linear relationship between how hard a vehicle is struck (∆V or change in velocity) and serious injury rates….

[¶] While one would expect a linear relationship, none was found….The two crashes which resulted in long-term disabling neck injuries had the highest peak acceleration (15 and 13 g), but not the highest change in velocity. This is of much concern for the MIST methodology, as it shows serious neck injury resulting from high peak accelerations in high-energy, but low-damage and low-∆V settings….

[¶] In summary, Brault et al concluded that trying to tie ∆V to injury rates does not work. Siegmund et al echoed the same findings while trying to create a model of rear-end crash dynamics and long-term injury risk. Again, there was no connection between ∆V and long-term injury risk. Finally, Davis reached the same conclusion in a meta-analysis of the medical literature on ∆V and long-term injury risk.

Why is this uncoupling of crash damage and long-term injury rates occurring? Some clues can be found in studies presented at international congresses that show that vehicle stiffness has increased to reduce property damage in low-speed crashes….

Clearly, the lack of a direct link between ∆V and long-term…neck injury rates calls into question the validity of a no damage, no injury policy.

[¶] The vast majority of work published in the last 10 years would not support MIST.”

C.J. Centeno, M. Freeman, W.L. Elkins, “A review of the literature refuting the concept of minor impact soft tissue injury,” Pain Res. Manage. 10(2): 71-74 (Summer 2005).

“A common misconception formulated is that the amount of motor vehicle crash damage offers a direct correlation to the degree of occupant injury.

[¶] One of the major factors relating to occupant injury due to a collision is the G force to which the occupant is subjected….[T]he G force sustained by the vehicle beyond the crush zone or arresting distance is transferred to the occupant.

[¶] The crush damage does not relate to the expected occupant injury, i.e., the more vehicle damage, the more chance that the occupant is injured, is not a conclusion that can be made. In fact, it is more likely the reverse. If the occupant is decelerated over a greater time/distance due to a large crush/arresting distance, then the likelihood of injury is reduced.”

M.C. Robbins, “Lack of Relationship Between Vehicle Damage and Occupant Injury,” SAE Technical Paper No. 970494 (1997).

“The injury risk is shown to be almost constant irrespective of the degree of vehicle deformation. Severity measures based on deformation depth are obviously not good predictors of neck injury risks. Other factors, such as whether stiff vehicle structures have been involved or not, have shown to be more related to neck injuries ….[I]n order to significantly reduce the number of … neck injuries in rear end impacts, minor and moderate crash severity must be the main focus since they account for the majority of the incidences.”

B. Lundell, L. Jakobsson, B. Alfredsson, M. Lindstrom, L. Simonsson, “The WHIPS seat – A car seat for improved protection against neck injuries in rear end impacts,” Proc. 16th ESV Conference, Paper No. 98-S7-O-08 (1998).

Crash information from Florida law enforcement agencies demonstrate that crashes not involving bicycles, pedestrians, or vehicles exceeding 10 miles per hour resulted in an average of 318 fatalities and 46,752 injuries per year between 1994 and 1999.

Affidavit of Millie J. Seay, Director, Office of Management Research and Development for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (Jul. 11, 2000).

These test results have been published, presented at scientific conferences, and subjected to peer review. Such studies conclusively demonstrate that the amount of vehicle damage has no correlation to the severity of injuries to the vehicle’s occupants.

[1] See A.C. Croft & M.D. Freeman, “Correlating crash severity with injury risk, injury severity, and long-term symptoms in low velocity motor vehicle collisions,” Med. Sci. Monit., 11(10): RA316, RA317 (2005).