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Common Injuries Children Sustain in Car Accidents

child in a car

The sudden impact of a vehicle collision affects children differently than it does adults. Not only are kids’ bodies still developing, making them vulnerable to injuries, but they can’t always express how pain feels. And even if a child seems fine, there’s no telling what kinds of injuries will show up later. If your child has been in an accident, it’s important to know what symptoms to be aware of and to let all caregivers know what to look for. 

The Most Common Injuries to a Child in an Accident

Children in car seats are certainly at a reduced risk of injuries than those who are not. In fact, the National Safety Council reports that infants who are appropriately tethered in an accident are 71% less likely to be hurt, and toddlers are 54% safer than those not in car seats. Older children who have outgrown booster seats are always safest in the back seat. 

But even when children are properly restrained, their little bodies can suffer serious injuries in car accidents. In fact, replacing car seats after a crash is even recommended because of the damage done by the impact of a collision. 

Here are some of the ways they can be harmed and the reasons why such injuries affect them so severely. 

Head and Neck Injuries

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) states that head injuries are the most common injuries sustained by children in car accidents. When a vehicle stops abruptly or is hit from behind, the impact is likely to make a child’s head and neck move rapidly back and forth. This can cause brain trauma, skull fractures, contusions, and whiplash. Babies under 1 commonly endure concussions and unconsciousness in hard collisions, while skull-base fractures are more common among children 1-3 and 4-7 years old. 

Whiplash is a very scary injury for children because, before puberty, their spines are only 25% as strong as an adults. Injury to the neck, when kids are not fully developed, is likely to have a longer-term effect on their health since it may damage the spine, bones, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. 

Facial Injuries

Broken glass upon impact can cut the fragile faces of children. Scarring from accidents is not uncommon. And while airbags do save lives, young kids who sit in the front seat often sustain broken noses and lose teeth when an airbag goes off in a crash.

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 rates of rib fractures than toddlers or elementary-aged children. Lung injuries are more likely to happen to older children. 


According to Stanford Children’s Health, children’s bones are more elastic compared to an adult’s so they are less likely than an adult to suffer a fracture. Still, bracing for impact at any age can cause broken bones. Some common injuries to a child in an accident include hand, wrist, and foot fractures. Even the pelvis can be broken by a seat belt. 

Spinal Cord and Nerve Damage

If thrown from a vehicle or in a rollover accident, kids might sustain spinal cord injuries that can cause paralysis or another permanent disability. Nerve damage is also common in severe accidents. 

What Kinds of Injuries Don’t Show Up Until Later in Children?

Your child may seem fine after being in a car crash, but not seeing blood or tears does not mean they are unharmed. Some injuries are not visible, and sometimes adrenaline after an accident can mask symptoms of pain in a child. For these reasons, it’s important that a doctor examines them even if they are not exhibiting pain right away. And even if no conclusive injuries are found it is a good idea to let babysitters or other caretakers know to watch for symptoms of pain. Wincing, limping, excessive sleep, unusual crying, and confusion can all indicate pain.

Common injuries that don’t show up right away include:

Internal Bleeding/Organ Damage

Children lack the abdominal muscles and body fat that adults have, making them more susceptible to internal bleeding and organ damage upon impact. Abdominal injuries aren’t visible and may have delayed onset hours, days, or even weeks after the accident. If a child complains of stomach pain or has abdominal swelling or distention, it could indicate trauma to the appendix, bowel, kidney, liver, or spleen. Be sure to keep an eye on symptoms and seek medical care if they present.


Symptoms of Internal Bleeding:

  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Vision loss
  • Lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blood in stool or urine
  • Rectal bleeding

Symptoms of Organ Damage:

  • Bruised stomach
  • Lower stomach pain
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
child in a car seat
Image by SonerCdem from Getty Images by Canva.com

Head Injuries

Immediately after a car accident, there may be no immediate changes to the brain and therefore no indications of trauma. However, the brain can begin swelling several days after impact and in fact, studies suggest that delayed brain edema after a head injury may be more frequent in children than in adults. This is a very good reason to continue to monitor children for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) after an accident. 


Symptoms of Brain Injury:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance 
  • Ringing in ears
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness or tingling

Post-Traumatic Stress

While not a physical injury, psychological stress from an accident can definitely be included in what kinds of injuries show up later. Days, weeks, and months after a car accident, The Child Trauma Institute says children who experience trauma such as a car accident may regress and act younger, become clingy, or demand extra attention. Parents and caregivers should be on the lookout and seek help from a licensed counselor if a child exhibits PTSD symptoms.

Age-specific Symptoms of Psychological Stress:

  • Young children: separation anxiety, fear of darkness, and wetting the bed
  • 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 riding in a car or driving 

Seeking Legal Help from an Attorney is Crucial After a Child is Involved in an Accident

Because babies and kids are still developing, injuries they endure in an accident can affect them for years to come. Insurance companies only want to pay a minimum amount to crash victims, and that amount is unlikely to cover all doctor’s visits, surgeries, physical therapy, and cognitive and psychological help a child may eventually need. 

As a personal injury attorney who is familiar with childhood trauma and the long-term expenses it can cause, I advocate for young crash victims and their families and will do everything possible to get a reasonable compensation amount. I can walk you through filing a lawsuit on your child’s behalf so you can take comfort in knowing they will be taken care of financially now, and in the future. Contact me today to schedule a consultation.