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3 Ways a Car Accident Might Affect a Child

child's bike after a car accident

A car accident involving a child has both immediate and long-term effects. Babies and kids don’t exhibit the same symptoms of trauma as adults do after an accident. It can be difficult to identify the kind of medical help a child currently needs, and how much emotional support and mental therapy they will need in the future. 

Because insurance companies only want to pay a minimum amount to crash victims, it’s crucial for parents to speak with a personal injury attorney who is familiar with childhood trauma and the long-term expenses it can cause.    

A Car Accident Involving a Child Can Cause Multiple Types of Injuries

Being involved in an accident can cause physical, mental, and emotional trauma for a child. 

Physical Injuries

While the National Safety Council reports that car seats reduce the risk of fatal injury by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers, children’s small bodies make them vulnerable to severe injuries even when properly restrained. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows us that head injuries are the most common injuries sustained by children in car accidents. Stopping abruptly or the sudden impact from another vehicle causes a child’s head and neck to move rapidly back and forth.

Not surprisingly, older children who sit in the front seat are more likely to be injured than those sitting in the back. Front-passenger airbags do save lives, but they are powerful enough to break the noses or even the necks of smaller passengers.


The most common physical injuries in a car accident involving a child include:

Facial Lacerations

Glass from broken windows is likely to cause cuts on a child’s fragile face, resulting in possible scarring. Children can also lose teeth upon impact in a car accident. 

Chest injuries

As car seat restraints and seat belts tighten during a crash, children’s ribs and lungs can be crushed. Babies under a year old have higher incidence rates of thoracic injuries and rib fractures than toddlers or elementary-aged children. Lung injuries are more likely to happen to older children. 


When they brace for impact, kids may suffer hand, wrist, and foot fractures. In a high-impact crash, a seat belt can break the pelvis. While some fractures require a simple brace while they heal, others may require complicated surgeries to ensure the bones continue to grow properly.

Spinal Cord and Nerve Damage

A serious car accident such as a rollover poses a much greater chance of catastrophic injuries. Children thrown from the vehicle might sustain spinal cord injuries that can cause paralysis or another permanent disability.

Post-Traumatic Stress

Even if there are no physical injuries or the physical injuries heal, emotional injuries remain long after a car accident involving a child. The loud screech of tires, flashing lights, shattered glass, screaming—those are all terrifying things for a child to experience. After a crash, many kids are left with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which can cause flashbacks of the collision and greatly affect their behavior. Symptoms of PTSD vary with age:

In young children: separation anxiety, fear of darkness, and wetting the bed

In elementary-aged children: nightmares, insomnia, misbehaving, outbursts of anger, and changes in social behaviors.

In pre-teens or teens: Poor grades in school, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and a fear of driving. 

The Child Trauma Institute says children who experience trauma such as a car accident may also regress and act younger. They may become clingy or refuse to be left alone, and demand extra attention. 

Treatment of PTSD may require cognitive behavioral therapy to help the child cope with their emotions, along with medication. It can be difficult to get insurance companies to cover this type of treatment, as they may try to place blame for the behavior on something other than the accident. According to the CDC, symptoms of PTSD in children can mimic those of ADHD. Testimony from expert mental health professionals may be required to confirm the cause of the behavior and estimate the cost for current and future treatments. This is why it’s so important to have a personal injury attorney who will cover all the bases. They will find experts who will testify for the benefit of the child.

child sitting in a car seat
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Brain Trauma

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, brain injuries, whiplash, skull fractures, and contusions are common in car accidents involving children. Concussion and unconsciousness are more common among children under 1, while skull-base fractures are more common among children 1-3 and 4-7 years old. 

While it’s always unfortunate when an adult experiences a traumatic brain injury from an auto accident, a child with a brain injury may live a long life of mental illness and developmental delays. Children with TBIs are likely to have problems with their thinking and behavior that affect learning, self-regulation, and social participation, all of which are important to becoming productive adults.

After a head injury resulting from a car accident, neurological deficits may not show up for years. Frontal lobe functions like higher-level reasoning and interpersonal skills develop later in a child’s growth. Delays in this area will likely show up in adolescent years if the frontal lobe is damaged. Likewise, a baby who experiences an injury to the reading and writing centers in the brain may not reveal delays until entering school. 

Therapies to help children recover from brain injuries can often be beneficial and may include speech and cognitive therapies. The family of the child may also need to enter counseling to help deal with the life-changing effects of the accident. 

You Can Bring a Personal Injury Lawsuit on Your Child’s Behalf

As you can see, a car accident involving a child can cause life-altering injuries — some of which you may not yet be aware of. After an accident, insurance companies will almost always try to pay less than the cost of a child’s medical care, and certainly won’t consider paying for future expenses or compensating your family for pain and suffering. At Kane Personal Injury, our attorneys will help you file a lawsuit on your child’s behalf to ensure you get the monetary support that allows your child to receive the necessary therapy for as long as it’s needed.

Kane Personal Injury Is Here For Your Kids

I am passionate about children and have a strong desire to help them deal with pain and trauma. In fact, I began my career as a school guidance counselor and a licensed therapist specifically to help children in need. Shortly after, I discovered that a career in law would allow me to help children and their families get compensation and closure from highly difficult situations. 

While practicing law, I continue to keep up my license with the New Mexico Counseling and Therapy Board. I also maintain my Pre-K through 12 School Counselor License and hold a Developmental Specialist II Certificate with the New Mexico Infant Toddler Program. I, and everyone at Kane Personal Injury will do everything possible to represent your child and get the compensation you deserve. Contact me today to schedule a consultation.