I’m fortunate in that I don’t get many headaches, a blessing I attribute to good hydration and genetic good fortune. On the rare occasion that I do get them, they are debilitating. It is hard to enjoy much of anything in life with anything north of a mild headache.
Juries struggle with figuring out how to value personal injury cases when the primary injury is a head injury that caused — and may be continuing 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. Instead, you have to decide if you believe that their report of pain is what they say 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.
Settlement Value of Headaches
According to Jury Verdict Research, the average verdict for headache injuries is $33,423. The median verdict is $11,092. 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? Wow.
Juries are more inclined to believe older people… or they think young people should just deal with it. The median award for those under 18 was a $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.
Verdicts in headache cases can exceed a million dollars. What do those cases have that the average case does not? Those cases usually have three components: (1) an objective head injury, (2) severe property damage, and (3) the testimony of a doctor who believe 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 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%.
- Settlement value of car accident cases in Maryland
- Sample verdicts and settlements in rear-end car accidents, a type of accident that commonly causes reoccurring headaches
- Chances of winning a personal injury case and how much money claims are worth
Sample Headache Verdicts and Settlements
Below is are settlements and verdicts in headache injury cases. You can find several Maryland cases (and a disclaimer on how to use these verdicts) here.
- 2017, Nebraska: $103,000 Settlement. Plaintiff has the bad fortune of getting rear-ended in three accident over a six-month period. She suffers a neck injury and headaches in the first crash which are exacerbated by the second two. She sues all three defendants. Ultimately, she settles with all three.
- 2016, California: $3,750,000 Settlement. A 54-year old female is watching her grandson one day when she decides to drive him to a nearby park. While on the way, a vehicle driven by defendant runs a red light and strikes the driver’s side of her vehicle. As a result of this collision, plaintiff has complicated brain injuries which cause her many problems. Three months after the accident, she has a CT, which shows blood in her left frontal lobe and diffuse axonal shearing in the left occipital and frontal lobes. She is diagnosed with a neurocognitive disorder, and suffers daily from dizziness, nausea, severe migraine headaches, short-term memory problems, and word-finding difficulties, along with many other symptoms. Her past medical records show that her thyroid and menopause symptoms were well controlled before the accident. Defendant argues that her cognitive deficits are the result of pre-existing conditions and over-medication and that her migraines are ‘medication induced rebound headaches.’ The case settles before trial for $3,750,000.
- 2016, New York: $1,000,000 Arbitration Award. Plaintiff is involved in a rear-end collision in which he is rear-ended and pushed into the vehicle in front of him. He suffers head trauma in the form of moderate hearing loss on one side and after undergoing cochlear implant surgery still has some deficit permanently. He has developed vertigo, headaches, and tinnitus, which will also remain permanent. He suffers pain frequently and must take medication for the headaches. The case goes to arbitration, and the defendant offers their insurance policy limits while the arbitrator awards $1,000,000.
- 2016, New Jersey: $525,000 Settlement. A male in his mid 50’s is in a collision with a defendant driver who fails to stop at a red light. He argues that the impact caused closed head trauma and a concussion. Shortly after, he begins developing cervical pain that radiates. This is confirmed by an MRI and EMG, and later require a cervical fusion, since a conservative course of treatment does not work. Plaintiff’s neurologist testifies that he will permanently suffer a moderate cognitive deficit, memory and concentration issues, as well as periodic headaches. Before trial, the case settles for $525,000.
- 2015, New York: $225,000 Settlement. A female driver, in her 40’s, is stopped at an intersection, waiting to turn left, when she is rear-ended by the vehicle behind her (which appears to have been pushed by the vehicle behind it). Due to this collision, she suffers cervical trauma. Before the accident, she had asymptomatic degenerative changes, but since the accident, she has been experiencing severe, frequent headaches along with radiating cervical pain. The defendant driver alleges that her difficulties are due to her underlying conditions, 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. Before going to trial, the case settles for $225,000.
- 2015, Texas: $166,232 Verdict. An adult male is in a vehicle stopped for traffic in a construction zone when the vehicle is struck from behind by a commercial truck. He suffers a spinal cord injury and a closed head injury, which results in permanent cognitive deficits, headaches, and daily seizures. The defendant agrees that his negligent actions caused the injuries. But defendant disputes, like they always do, the extent of the plaintiff’s claimed injuries. A jury agrees to award plaintiff $146,231.28 for his injury and $20,000 to his minor child for loss of consortium.
- 2015, California: $100,000 Settlement. A 23-year old plaintiff is stopped at a traffic light when she is rear-ended by defendant’s vehicle. She suffers neck injuries and develops occipital neuralgia, which causes her to suffer intermittent headaches. After trying nerve block injections to treat the pain, and not experiencing relief, she visits a pain management expert. She is placed off work for several weeks and incurs over $10,000 of medical expenses. The defendant argues the extent of plaintiff’s injuries. However, the case still settles for the policy limits before trial for $100,000.
- 2015, Minnesota: $43,384 Verdict. Plaintiff is rear-ended by defendant’s vehicle, and as a result, she suffers injuries to her neck and right shoulder. She also suffers a permanent headache condition. She files suit against 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. But the jury awards the plaintiff $43,384.35 and finds that defendant’s negligence was a direct cause of the crash, but that plaintiff did not sustain a permanent injury as a result.
- 2014, Washington: $1,134,175 Verdict. A 39-year old male is traveling in his vehicle when it is struck in the rear by defendant’s vehicle. He totals over $25,000 in medical expenses, and several years after the collision, he is forced to close his dog boarding business as his symptoms continue to reoccur. He has neck pain caused by mechanical dysfunction in his facet joints, which results in occipital headaches. Plaintiff suffers from these headaches several times a week, each one lasting anywhere from 12-48 hours at a time, and they do not disappear unless he does not work. Physical labor causes his neck and back injuries to flare up. A jury awards him $1,134,175.
- 2014, Oregon: $1,003,842 Verdict. A 49-year old male, who owns a lawnmower repair business, was at Best Buy to purchase a computer. A store employee directs him to where the computer cases are, where another store employee happens to be on a stair ladder taking printer boxes off of the shelf. One of these boxes falls, striking plaintiff’s head, resulting in chronic headaches. Best Buy admits liability but argues the extent of his injuries. A jury awards him $1,003,842, including $600,000 in noneconomic damages.
2014, New Jersey: $775,000 Verdict. Plaintiff is in her mid 30’s when the defendant driver fails to stop at a stop sign and collides with her vehicle. She suffers a cervical herniation that causes permanent symptoms such as occipital neuralgia, which in turn causes frequent headaches. She has tried different treatments, including physical therapy, injections, and medications. A jury awards her $775,000, and the case then settled for $100,000 policy limits due to a prior high/low agreement.
2014, Washington: $600,000 Settlement. Plaintiff, a male owner of a taco truck, was in a collision when defendant failed to yield the right of way and made a left turn into his vehicle. Immediately after the incident, the plaintiff is dazed and confused. He 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. Due to his cognitive loss, he is unable to manage his business and loses it. A jury awards him $600,000, which combines the policy limits from the defendant’s insurance policy and plaintiff’s underinsured motorist benefits from his insurance company.
2014, New York: $350,000 Arbitration Award. A female in her early 20’s is rear-ended, and she begins to develop headaches shortly after. Over the course of four years, she receives conservative treatment. But her condition continues to worsen. Her neurosurgeon instructs her that the subluxation and instability at C5-6 results in the spasms which give way to the onset of headaches. She attempts to live with the condition, however, she experiences an episode of intense headaches, lasting about two weeks. At this point, she opts for the surgery. Since surgery, her condition continues to be relatively pain-free. The defendant attempts to argue that her condition could not have been related to the collision, as it was a low-speed impact. However, plaintiff had no prior difficulties, is young, and the onset was shortly after the incident. The arbitration award is $350,000, but due to a high-low agreement that was entered, the case settled for $175,000.
2014, Florida: $318,541.58 Verdict. A male is involved in a collision with a vehicle owned by City of Pensacola, the defendant. He argues that he suffers headaches and neck pain from the collision, and his treatment has led to a spinal fusion. The defendant denies that plaintiff suffers a permanent injury, and denies that the accident caused or contributes to the alleged headaches and his spinal fusion. A jury awards the plaintiff $318,541.58.
Headache Injury Claims
Post-traumatic headaches after a car accident often occur in a two week period following trauma due to a whiplash injury to the neck. The classic presentation of this type of a headache starts in the back of the neck and then radiates to the frontal region. This type of a 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 is often going to 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 is going to be critical to the outcome. This is particularly true where there are a normal brain MRI and other brain imaging tests.
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 is going to be critical to the outcome. This is particularly true where there is a normal brain MRI, brain CT, and x-rays.
If the onset of the headaches were more than two weeks after the crash, then you are going to have a hard time getting a neurologist to support your claim.
Insurance companies also have experts who are quick to deny migraine headaches are caused by car accidents. Many neurologists do not believe post-traumatic migraines occur after automobile accidents. Defense experts typically claim migraine headaches are genetic disorders which run in the family, particularly if the victim claims a headache on one side of the head. The reality is that many 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 which how much pain is attributable to the trauma of the crash. responsible for neck pain and chronic daily headache as she experienced these symptoms after both of them.