I’ve Been in a Car Accident—Do I Need an MRI?

MRI machine

Many injuries after a car accident show visible signs: A broken arm, a cut that needs stitches, or a bruised and swollen sprained ankle. But some injuries can only be detected by medical professionals using sophisticated diagnostic tools. An MRI after a car accident can find damage to soft tissue and internal organs that might otherwise be missed.

When an accident is someone else’s fault, the victim needs to know the complete extent of his or her injuries. Only then can they begin to calculate their expenses and losses to know how much compensation is fair. Even a minor fender-bender can cause serious injuries that can result in permanent damage. This can mean years of medical bills and lost wages. An MRI can be the first step in diagnosing wounds that can change a victim’s life.

What an MRI Will Show

At the emergency room after a car accident, a victim may get an x-ray or a CT scan. X-rays will detect a broken bone or a joint dislocation, but don’t go beyond a view of a person’s skeleton. CT (computed tomography) scans use a series of x-rays to show a more detailed 360-degree view of the body. With a CT scan, a doctor can spot fractures that might be too small to be picked up by an x-ray. Some injuries to internal organs can also be seen.

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It uses powerful magnets and radio waves to capture images of the internal organs, muscles, nerves, blood vessels and bones. Medical professionals can see the body in much greater detail than what is shown with an x-ray or CT scan.

An MRI is the best way to clearly see some car accident injuries, such as:

  • Spinal injuries
  • Head and neck injuries
  • Internal organ damage
  • Joint inflammation
  • Cartilage damage
  • Nerve compression
  • Torn or detached ligaments, tendons and muscles

Delayed or Missed Diagnoses Without an MRI

Man with neck pain after a car accident

After being hurt in a car accident, a victim’s top priority is to get appropriate medical care so they can start healing and feeling better. Treatment can be expensive, and compensation can often be had from the at-fault driver and their insurance company.

How much compensation can someone expect for a personal injury claim after a car accident? We can’t even begin to answer that question without knowing how badly the victim was hurt. That’s why it’s so important to get a full diagnosis of all injuries right away. That way, all current and future costs can be calculated and covered in a settlement.

An MRI is often the best way to find injuries that do not show up right away or that might be mistaken for something far less serious than they actually are. 

For example, let’s say a victim of a violent crash has some back pain. It is normal after a wreck to have some muscle strain, and in many cases, it will go away after a day or two. However, it could be a herniated disc. It might feel like muscle strain at first, but it is actually a more serious condition that will irritate the surrounding nerves, causing pain or numbness.

Or, abdominal pain may be explained away as bruising, when in fact, there could be internal organ damage that requires surgery. Again, there’s a better chance of detecting it with an MRI.

A herniated disc or organ damage can be seen with an MRI, but without those diagnoses, the victim may waste precious time with treatments that won’t have any benefit. Meanwhile the costs of failed treatments and medications can pile up, when an MRI would have found the real problem right away.

Why it May Be Hard to Get an MRI, and Why You Should Insist

In the emergency room after a crash, a victim might ask “Do I need an MRI?” The medical professionals in charge may order an x-ray or a CT scan instead. Their concerns are focussed on the patient’s immediate condition and ensuring they are out of danger and stabilized. If there are serious injuries or the need for surgery, the patient will be admitted to the hospital. Otherwise, it is often left up to the victim to see their primary care physician later for further treatment of non-emergent issues.

Another reason MRIs may not be ordered right away is their cost. Depending on a victim’s insurance coverage, they may be looking at out-of-pocket costs of anywhere between $800 and $3,000.

Despite the cost, there are situations when it’s a good idea to request an MRI, either in the emergency room or at a follow-up doctor’s appointment. Patients should describe how they’re feeling clearly and honestly. Something they may think is “no big deal” could very well be a serious result of the crash that will show up on an MRI.

Any of the following symptoms after a car accident could signal a serious injury, especially if they continue or get worse after a few days.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Pain or stiffness
  • Neck or back pain
  • Loss of feeling
  • Confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Abdominal pain or swelling

Get a Lawyer’s Help to Get an MRI

Judge's mallet and stethoscope, illustrating that a lawyer can help you get an MRI after an accident

It’s a good idea for victims to consult with an attorney after a car accident that was not their fault. They can help clients navigate the confusing insurance claim process and gather all of the information necessary to get fair compensation.

Lawyers also work with a vast network of professionals in many fields, including medicine. There may be some cases when a victim doesn’t have a doctor, or their doctor doesn’t feel an MRI is necessary. Personal injury attorneys can often help their clients get the medical help they need, including MRI scans.

The cost of the MRI will be included in a compensation claim filed by the attorney, along with any other diagnostic tests and treatment. Our St Louis car accident lawyers continue to work for their clients even after an accident settlement is reached. They regularly work to negotiate with doctors and insurance companies to have the cost of an MRI and other uncovered medical bills reduced for their clients.

How MRI Helps Injury Claim

A victim of a car accident is the only one who can explain the pain and discomfort they are suffering. For many hidden injuries, an MRI can provide the proof that they are not exaggerating or faking it.”

The diagnosis from an MRI scan will get them on the road to recovery as quickly as possible. It  also provides clear documentation of the extent of a victim’s injuries to insurance companies or a judge and jury. An MRI after a car accident is a powerful piece of evidence that can’t be ignored—and can help a victim receive full and fair compensation.


Car Accidents


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