Girl holding her neck with apparent neck injury

Broadly speaking there are two ways in which whiplash car injuries can occur:

  1. Cervical hyperextension results from a standing or slow moving vehicle being hit hard from behind throwing the person’s body forward while the head lags behind, hyperextending the neck.
  2. A moving vehicle stops suddenly throwing the occupant’s head forward quickly. Forward flexion will be limited by the chin striking the torso, but further damage is often caused by hyperextension during the recoil.

Severity of a whiplash car injury

In 1995 the Quebec Task Force on Whiplash Associated Disorders created a tiered system of whiplash with five levels ranked 0-4 QTFC (Quebec Task Force Classification):


  • No complaints about neck pain
  • No physical signs


  • Pain, stiffness or tenderness in the neck
  • No physical signs


  • Neck complaint
  • Decreased ROM (range of motion)
  • Point tenderness


  • Neck complaint
  • Decreased ROM
  • Point tenderness
  • Neurological signs:
  • Weakness in muscles
  • Sensory deficits
  • Diminished or non-existent tendon reflexes


  • Neck dislocation fracture or complaint
  • Most fractures occur at either the C2, C6 or C7 part of the spine, with the most deadly occurring closer to the skull at C1 or C2.

For more information check out the information provided on Physio-pedia. Chances are that if you have level 3 or 4 whiplash (as classified by the Quebec Task Force on Whiplash Associated Disorders criteria), then you already know about it. If you are suffering from levels 1 or 2, then you likely will not be able to launch a lawsuit until it has crossed the threshold into chronic pain as diagnosed by a physician.

Level 1 and 2 whiplash

You may not be able to sue for whiplash if you have a level 1 or level 2 whiplash injury because these injuries:

  • Are soft tissue injuries with no (or limited) physical symptoms
  • Can usually resolve themselves on their own even without treatment.

However, if pain persists for 12 weeks (or three months) or longer then you could have a strong legal case.

In such situations rather than sue for ‘whiplash’ you would sue for chronic pain. Chronic pain can only be diagnosed by a doctor, who may determine that you are suffering from temporary pain. If you believe that you are suffering from chronic pain caused by a motor vehicle accident or other incident which occurred as a result of negligence from another party, then you should visit your doctor and call a lawyer immediately.

Even before pain is diagnosed as chronic, you should contact your lawyer, as your pain may develop into a chronic issue over time, and the sooner you contact a lawyer the higher your chance of success will be.

How much would I receive from a success whiplash suit?

In Canada the Supreme Court has capped damages for pain and suffering at an adjusted figure of $250, 000, but most whiplash lawsuits will come in well under that amount. For a whiplash injury which resolves itself in 12 weeks or under, you could reasonably expect to be awarded as much as $8, 000 depending on the circumstances. You will also be entitled to compensation for any time that you spent off work as a result of your injury. For chronic pain lawsuits, you will likely be entitled to more compensation.