Lack of Relationship Between Vehicle Damage and Occupant Injury

car crash victim, whiplash injuries can last a lifetime

In the mid-1990’s a major car insurance company published a set of guidelines and trained its claims adjustors to deny injury claims when the car damage was low. Other insurance companies followed suit.

The purpose of the Minor Impact Soft Tissue (MIST) segmentation strategy was to reduce insurers’ costs by claiming that crashes with minimal damage were unlikely to-or could not cause significant or permanent bodily injury. Insurers treated such injury claims as fraudulent regardless of medical evidence. The goal was to close these cases without payment.1

A technical paper 2 published in February 1997 by Malcolm C. Robbins 3 presents a clear understanding of vehicle body performance when it is subjected to crash dynamics and the relationship to occupant dynamic responses and resulting injury. Using mathematical equations and models, this paper explains the flawed rationale behind correlating the amount of crash damage and the degree of occupant injury.

Notes from the paper 2 state:

  • One of the major factors relating to occupant injury due to a collision is the G force to which the occupant is subjected. 4a, 5a
  • The use of stiff motor vehicle bodies and chassis will produce a spiked G force loading to occupants, even if little damage occurs to vehicle body or chassis.
  • The classic whiplash injury associated with a great deal of litigation is most likely founded on the flawed reasoning that if there was little or no vehicle damage, no injury can result. In fact, the reverseis more likely.
  • If the occupant is decelerated over a greater time/distance due to a large crush/arresting distance (i.e. the more the car is crushed, the more it takes on the G force which reduces the amount transferred to the occupant), then the likelihood of injury is reduced.

Arthur C. Croft 6 and Michael D. Freeman 7 conducted a study, published in 2005 in the Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research, “to synthesize the published literature for evidence that allows for validation of a system that can accurately predict injury presence, severity, or duration based solely on vehicle property damage levels.1

This study of actual accidents reflects the scientific conclusion based on the mathematical expression and practical examples in the earlier tecnical paper(2) by Malcom C. Robbins. 3

Some notes from the study by Arthur C. Croft(6) and Michael D. Freeman7:

  • In two longitudinal studies, no significant correlations were found between crash severity and long-term symptoms. 8
  • It seems clear that property damage in low velocity motor vehicle crashes do not provide a reliable means of assessing the validity of injury claims and provides no reliable means of prognosticating long-term outcome.
  • It is likely that other factors, such as being aware of an impending impact 4 and relative head restraint rating 9 or geometry 10 are competing, and perhaps stronger, determinants of injury risk than property damage in low velocity crashes of this type.

Their conclusion states “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.1

The Human Cost

When a person is injured in a car accident, endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, can make it appear that you are not injured and delay other signs of injury. This means it is possible that the effects of the accident may not be felt for days or maybe even weeks. 11

When combining these facts with minimal car damage and a strategy by insurance companies to dismiss these injury claims, thousands of people have likely been deprived of the reasonable compensation to which they are entitled insurance policy. By implementing these policies, insurers deprived injured victims of compensation intended to help pay medical bills unless the injured victim contacts an attorney and is willing to fight in the courts.

We can attest from experience the MIST strategy to reduce costs is still followed by auto insurance companies today.

If you suffered injury despite modest property damage to the cars, you should consult a lawyer familiar with challenging insurers reliance on such patently false theories used to deprive injured victims fair compensation.

1 “Correlating crash severity with injury risk, injury severity, and long-term symptoms in low velocity motor vehicle collisions”, by Arthur C. Croft, Michael D. Freeman, Published in Med Sci Monit, 2005; 11(10): RA316-321, November 2005
2 Robbins, M., “Lack of Relationship Between Vehicle Damage and Occupant Injury,” SAE Technical Paper 970494, 1997, doi:10.4271/970494. Copyright 1997 Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.
3 Malcolm C. Robbins. City and Guilds in Manufacturing and Mechanical Engineering, B.Sc. degree in Production Engineering, Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers and the Institution of Production Engineers and Industrial Managers in the UK. Previously full-time faculty member of the Mechanical Engineering Department at San Diego State University. Currently a consultant and expert Forensic Engineer, specializing in the reconstruction of accidents involving automobiles and products. Mr. Robbins may be contacted at 6229 Caminito Marcial, San Diego, California 92111-7218 USA, phone:(619) 268-8543.
4 Malliaris, A. C., R. Hitchcock and M. Hansen, “Harm Causation and Ranking in Car Crushes,” SAE paper 850090, 1985.
5 Malliaris, A. C., R. Hitchcock and J. Hedlund, “A Search for Priorities in Crash Protection,” SAE paper 820242, 1982.
6 Arthur C. Croft. Spine Research Institute of San Diego and the Center for Research into Automotive Safety & Health, Spring Valley,California, U.S.A.; Southern California University of Health Sciences, Whittier, California U.S.A
7 Michael D. Freeman. Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.
8 Ryan GA, Taylor GW, Moore VM, Dolinis J: Neck strain in car occupants: injury status after 6 months and crash-related factors. Injury, 1994; 25: 533–37
9 Farmer CM, Wells JK, Werner JV: Relationship of head restraint positioning to driver neck injury in rear-end crashes. Accid Anal Prev,1999; 31: 719–28
10 Olsson I, Bunketorp O, Carlsson G et al: An in-depth study of neck injuries in rear end collisions. In International IRCOBI Conference September 12–14; Lyon, France, 1990; 269–80
11 Delayed Car Accident Injuries