I’m fortunate in that I don’t get many headaches, a blessing I attribute to good hydration and genetic good fortune. I’ve never had a traumatic head injury and have had only two concussions. On the rare occasion that I do get headaches, they are debilitating. It is hard to enjoy life when you have anything north of a mild headache.
Juries struggle with figuring out how to value personal injury cases when the primary injury is a closed head injury that caused — and may continue to cause — headaches.
Why? Because headaches are mostly subjective. So the credibility of the plaintiff – which is usually 90% of the game at trial – becomes the entire game because you can’t know the pain level inside someone’s head. Similarly, how do you really prove short-term memory loss? Instead, decide if you believe the victim’s report of pain or loss of function is what she says it is.
Certainly, objective injuries surrounding the claim — like a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome — bolster the settlement value of injury claims. But, ultimately, it boils down to the credibility of the victim.
What Is the Settlement Value of Headaches?
The average verdict for headache injuries is $72,168. The median verdict is $13,359.
The awards ranged from $1 to $14,810,734. One percent of the awards in headache cases were over $1 million. This data is a bit older but I feel pretty confident the 2021 average and median would be similar.
Putting this in context, the average award in a personal injury case nationally is approximately $791,756. So verdicts in headache cases are 5% of the national average? This is not unreasonable in many cases. But I believe in cases where there is a significant collision and lingering headache symptoms, like post-concussion syndrome which is what our lawyers frequently see, the settlement payouts are a great deal higher.
Head Injury Compensation Payout Averages
The median award for those under 18 was $7,463. For plaintiffs between 19 and 39, the median award was $8,858. Once you get over 60, the awards rise to $13,454. Here are a few more head injury compensation payouts statistics of interest:
- Skull fracture average verdict: $271,385
- Closed head injury average verdict: $271,385
- Head and skull injuries overall average verdict: $123,603
How Is Headache Settlement Value Calculated?
Verdicts in headache cases can exceed a million dollars, albeit rarely as we saw in the statistics above. What do those cases have that the average case does not?
These head injury cases usually have three components: (1) an objective head injury, (2) severe property damage, and (3) the testimony of a doctor who believes that (a) the headaches caused by the accident, and (b) there is no expectation that the plaintiff will get relief from the headaches in the future.
I’m not saying that without these the plaintiff is not seriously injured. But being seriously injured and getting a jury verdict on a head injury claim commensurate with those injuries is two different things.
Interestingly, a full 42% of the car accident headache injuries in the study involved rear-end accidents. Intersection collisions made up 21% and turning collisions made up another 11%. [It is important to remember that these settlements and verdicts statistics are all civil tort cases. The law treats worker’s compensation cases differently, and the values of those cases are typically much lower.]
- The settlement value of car accident cases in Maryland
- Brain injury lawsuit settlements in motor vehicle accidents
- Sample verdicts and settlements in rear-end car accidents, a type of accident that commonly causes reoccurring headaches
- The settlement value of post-concussion syndrome lawsuits in motor vehicle accidents (2021 update)
Headache Values By the Numbers
Sometimes, a good graphic helps better than seeing the numbers on the page.
Sample Headache Verdicts and Settlements
Below are settlements and verdicts in headache injury cases. You can find several Maryland cases (and a disclaimer on how to use these verdicts) here. (Writing this on June 8, 2021.)
YEAR / STATE
CASE / INJURY SUMMARY
2021 – Texas
A 57-year-old woman boarded a transit bus. Seconds later, the bus moved while the woman was still standing. The bus driver suddenly braked the vehicle. This caused the woman to fall to the floor. She suffered headaches, a concussion, a cervical strain, and shoulder impingement syndrome. The woman underwent two months of physical therapy. She continued to experience headaches. The woman alleged negligence against the bus driver. She claimed he failed to wait for her to sit down before putting and properly brake the vehicle. The woman also made a vicarious liability claim against the local transit authority. The defense denied liability. They argued that the woman should have braced herself with straps and bars as she reached her seat. The jury found the transit authority 90 percent liable and the woman 10 percent liable. They awarded $199,000.
2021 – Maryland
A 67-year-old woman was sideswiped at the intersection of Route 198 and Van Dusen Road in Laurel. She suffered headaches, lumbar sprains and strains, and abdominal strains. The woman underwent two physical therapy rounds. She continued to experience difficulties with bending, kneeling, and climbing stairs. The woman alleged negligence against the at-fault driver. She claimed he made a negligent lane change and failed to maintain an appropriate lookout. The Prince George’s County jury awarded $75,000.
2021 – California
A 53-year-old welder fell off a ladder at a worksite. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, subdural hematoma, a rib fracture, and a pulmonary contusion. The man remained unconscious in the hospital for two days. He developed a stroke. The man underwent in-patient neurorehabilitation. He developed a neurocognitive disorder. The man experienced memory issues, concentration problems, vision impairments, slurred speech, bilateral hearing loss, post-traumatic headaches, left-sided hemiparesis, discogenic lumbar disease, anosmia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. He now required in-home attendant care. The man filed a workers’ compensation claim. He received a $2,198,986 settlement.
2021 – California
A 40-year-old man cleaned a chandelier in his girlfriend’s salon. He leaned against what he thought was a guard, which opened. The man fell over 10 feet. He suffered a concussion, a skull fracture, intracranial bleeding, a C5-6 herniation, neck fractures, a collarbone fracture, thoracic fractures, rib fractures, a pneumothorax, and pulmonary contusions. The man also suffered anterograde amnesia for approximately 20 hours. He initially underwent a chest tube procedure for his pneumothorax. One week later, the man underwent a scapular repair procedure. He also underwent cervical procedures, wore a cervical collar for several weeks, underwent rehabilitative therapy, and performed breathing exercises. The man continued to experience anosmia, spinal radiculopathy, chronic headaches, dizziness, and nausea. He also now suffered from acrophobia. He alleged negligence against his girlfriend. The man claimed she failed to maintain safe premises and comply with California building codes. He received a $1,600,000 settlement.
2021 – Mississippi
A 51-year-old man was sideswiped. He suffered a concussion and briefly lost consciousness. The man also suffered soft-tissue injuries. He experienced recurring post-concussion headaches. The man alleged negligence against the at-fault driver. He claimed she made a negligent left turn and failed to yield the right-of-way. The man received a $31,639 verdict.
2020 – Washington
A man approached a green light at an intersection on Thanksgiving Day. Another man ran a red light and collided with his vehicle. He suffered constant headaches and soft-tissue injuries to his shoulder, neck, and back. The man underwent chiropractic and massage therapy to treat his injuries.
2020 – Michigan
A police cruiser struck a 25-year-old landscaper’s vehicle. An ambulance transported the man to a hospital, where staff diagnosed him with a traumatic brain injury that caused him to lose consciousness and experience memory problems. He was also diagnosed with tears in his right leg.
While hospitalized, he received speech, cognitive, occupational, and physical therapy. He was then transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation facility, where he stayed for a month. The man now experienced chronic pain syndrome and sensitivity to light and sound. He was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. His doctors claim that he was now permanently disabled.
2018 – Washington
The plaintiff is driving in downtown Seattle when he slows down for traffic ahead. The defendant is following too closely behind and hits the rear of Plaintiff’s vehicle. It is a very minor impact collision with minimal property damage. The plaintiff claims to be suffering from headaches and back sprains because of the accident.
2018 – Iowa
Plaintiff is proceeding through a 2-way stop intersection in Sioux City and Defendant admittedly runs a stop sign and strikes her on the back rear side. The plaintiff brings suit for alleged injuries which include severe headaches and soft tissue injuries to her neck and back. The defendant admits fault for the accident but disputes the nature and extent of Plaintiff’s injuries. The jury awards $16,628 for past medical expenses and $8,832 for pain and suffering.
2018 – Alabama
Plaintiff minor is riding in the back seat with her mother when Defendant veers into their lane hits them after taking his eyes off the road to look for his dropped cell phone. The defendant is charged with being under the influence of drugs. The plaintiff suffers a mild contusion on her head and claims injuries including headaches, dizziness, loss of appetite, and loss of concentration.
2018 – Louisiana
The plaintiff is stopped at an intersection in New Orleans when Defendant cannot stop and rear-ends him. The plaintiff alleges injuries including neck and back sprains and persistent headaches. Bench trial results in an award of $5,113 for past medical expenses and $25,000 for pain and suffering.
2017 – Nebraska
Plaintiff has the bad fortune of getting rear-ended in three accidents over six months. She suffers a neck injury and headaches in the first crash that are exacerbated by the second two. She sues all three defendants. Ultimately, she settles with all three.
2016 – New York
Rear-end accident. Plaintiff suffers from head trauma causing vertigo, headaches, and tinnitus, which will also remain permanent. He is in pain frequently and must take medication for the headaches and also suffers some hearing loss.
2016 – New Jersey
Plaintiff suffers from cervical trauma resulting in frequent headaches along with radiating cervical pain. The defense argues causation as the collision only resulted in minimal impact damage. Plaintiff argues that she had no prior symptoms or treatment, and it is only after the accident that her long history of headaches started.
2015 – Texas
Plaintiff suffers a spinal cord injury and a closed head injury, which results in permanent cognitive deficits, headaches, and daily seizures. Liability is admitted but damages are disputed.
2015 – California
Plaintiff, a 23-year-old female, suffers from neck injuries and develops occipital neuralgia in the back of her head. Occipital neuralgia a headache that starts in the back of the head and neck and travels behind the eyes to the scalp. Nerve block injections are not effective and she misses extensive time from work.
2015 – Minnesota
Plaintiff is rear-ended by the defendant’s vehicle, and as a result, she suffers injuries to her neck and right shoulder. She also has permanent headaches. She sues the defendants for pain and suffering, medical expenses, lost earning capacity, and loss of spousal consortium. The defendant argues that her own negligent driving contributed to the collision.
2014 – New Jersey
The plaintiff in her mid 30’s suffers a cervical herniation and occipital neuralgia, which causes frequent headaches. She undergoes extensive treatment including physical therapy, injections, and medications. A jury awards her $775,000, and the case then settled for $100,000 policy limits because of a prior high/low agreement.
2014 – Washington
Plaintiff develops headaches, along with neck and back pain, after he goes home. He sees his primary care provider who diagnoses him with post-concussive syndrome, neck and back sprains, and dizziness.
A neuropsychological evaluation shows that he has memory, attention/concentration, and visuospatial deficits as well. Because of his cognitive loss, he cannot manage his business and loses it.
2014 – Florida
Plaintiff suffers headaches and neck pain from a collision, and his treatment has led to a spinal fusion. The defendant denies that the plaintiff suffers a permanent injury, and denies that the accident caused or contributes to the alleged headaches and his spinal fusion.
Headache Injury Claims
Post-traumatic headaches after a car accident often occur in two weeks following trauma because of a whiplash injury to the neck. The classic presentation of this type of headache starts in the back of the neck and then radiates to the frontal region. This type of headache is attributed to myofascial trauma. Some neurologists think that referred pain from damage to the myofascial tissue is the most common source of these often chronic headaches.
Most of these headaches resolve in six months. But 10-20% do not resolve. Sometimes, headaches are a harbinger of even greater trauma. Headaches are the most common physical manifestation of a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Can you win a personal injury case when the primary injury is headaches? Absolutely. But it will often be a fight. The biggest defense insurance companies have headache cases is that you cannot see the injuries. Ultimately, the jury’s confidence in the honesty and integrity of the plaintiff will be critical to the outcome. This is particularly true with a normal brain MRI and other brain imaging tests.
What Does the Defense Lawyer Argue in Headache Cases?
Can you win a personal injury case when the primary injury is headaches? Absolutely. But it will often be a fight. The biggest defense insurance companies have headache cases is that you cannot see the injuries.
Ultimately, the jury’s confidence in the honesty and integrity of the plaintiff will be critical to the outcome. This is particularly true with a normal brain MRI and other brain imaging tests.
Insurance companies also have experts who are quick to deny migraine headaches are caused by car accidents, particularly if that crash is not significant. Many neurologists do not believe post-traumatic migraines occur after automobile accidents. You would think it would be a hard argument to make, but our lawyers see this defense all the time. Defense experts typically claim migraine headaches are genetic disorders that run in the family, particularly if the victim claims a headache on one side of the head. Our automobile accident lawyers have seen a lot of mild traumatic brain injury cases in which post-traumatic headaches have migraine features. So it might not technically be a migraine, but it sure feels like one if you are the victim.
When the defense lawyer has a liable plaintiff that is hard to call a liar, they sometimes argue that the victim’s pain medications since the car crash have caused an analgesic rebound or medication overuse headaches.
Exacerbation of Existing Headaches
The toughest headache cases are an exacerbation of injury when the victim already struggled with headaches and claims the crash made them worse. Defense neurological experts argue that it is impossible to sort out how much pain is because of the trauma of the crash. You can win these cases. But you need a credible client and a great expert witness.
- Tinnitus from car accidents
- Chances of winning a personal injury case and how much money claims are worth
How Can I Get a Lawyer to Help Me?
My law firm, Miller & Zois, LLC, handles car accident and other traumatic injury cases involving headaches. Contact us today online or call us at 800-553-8082.
Headache Medical Literature
Below are some new articles on headaches and some older studies that are often used by experts in injury litigation involving headaches and head injuries:
- Capi, M, et. al (2020) Persistent Post-Traumatic Headache and Migraine: Pre-Clinical Comparisons, Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Apr; 17(7): 2585. Our accident lawyers see cases with persistent post-traumatic headaches (PPTH) and migraine headaches. This article distinguishes the two different headaches.
- Planchuelo-Gómez A, et. al (2020): White matter changes in chronic and episodic migraine: a diffusion tensor imaging study, Journal of Headache and Pain 2020 21:1. Many of our law firm’s clients report migraine headaches after a car crash. This new study looks a white matter changes that occur during episodic and chronic migraines.
- Nordhaug LH, et. al (2018): Headache following head injury: a population-based longitudinal cohort study (HUNT), Journal of Headache and Pain 2018; 19(1): 8. This article underscores how a “mild head injury” can be a big deal. The authors found that mild head injury patients that are hospitalized are more likely to develop new headaches or have an exacerbation of prior headache.
- Frost RB, et. al (2013): Prevalence of traumatic brain injury in the general adult population: a meta-analysis. Neuroepidemiology 2013 40(3):154–159. Meta-analysis shows 12% of victims who lose consciousness are ultimately diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury. Men were found to be twice the risk of women for a TBI.
- Hickling, E. J., et. al (1992): Motor vehicle accidents, headaches, and posttraumatic stress disorder: Assessment findings in a consecutive series. Headache, 32, 147–151. The study looked at psychological disorders as a result of car crashes.
- Elkind AH (1989) Headache and facial pain associated with head injury. Otolaryngol Clin North Am 1989; 22(6):1251-1271. This article discusses the need to diagnose the severity of head injuries immediately to avoid missing progressive injuries and how headaches should raise the doctor’s concern.