Many of us have heard of someone that walks away from a severe car crash without a scratch, and as a car accident attorney, I also know many people that are in accidents that are not so severe yet end up with persistent pain and significant injuries.
Why is it that some people are hurt worse than others in similar impacts? That is a complex question with many answers. Much of it has to do with the mechanics of the impact, angle, speed, weight of the cars, height of the different cars, shock absorption of the car's frame, etc. Additionally, some people are more susceptible to injury than others. In my experience when someone under the age of 18 is involved in a car wreck, the vast majority of the time they suffer little in the way of injury and recovery very quickly. however, their parent or an older adult in the same car suffers significant injury, such as a slipped disc in their neck or back.
There are many factors that determine the amount of injury suffered from a car crash, but a new study shows one factor may be hereditary. "[P]ain after an MVC is not solely due to tissue damage at the time of trauma, but rather may also be strongly influenced by physiologic systems involved in the body's response to the collision. These physiologic systems influence the function of nerve cells that process pain in the brain, spinal cord and body tissues." Is immediate and long-term pain after a motor vehicle collision hereditary? from the Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), October 16, 2012.
The study involved more than 900 patients and included data about the severity of pain complained of at the emergency room, pain reported six weeks after the car collision, and based on the blood work taken from each patient. The study focused on dopamine receptors in the brain, particularly dopamine receptor 2 which has been shown to play a very important role in the transmission of pain. "The findings suggest dopamine pathways involving the dopamine receptor 2 contribute to the intensity of pain experienced immediately after an MVC,"
The study has identified genetic factors that put some individuals at a higher risk for persistent pain after a car accident and has concluded that persistent pain after a car crash has a biological basis.
What does this mean to your car accident case? It can help explain why some individuals experience more pain than others from injuries. The defense in injury cases is sometimes the "malingering defense", basically that the victim is faking their injury or pain just to get money. Defense lawyers sometimes try to argue that the accident was minor so it is unlikely the pain is real. There are many ways to deal with these bogus defenses, but now genetic evidence of experiencing more pain than others may be one of them in the coming years.
As genetic testing becomes more prevalent maybe this test will be done by primary care doctors or specialist that treat clients for injuries after a car accident. I can imagine that eventually pain management specialists will have access to this genetic testing and use it to help determine why the patient is experiencing the level of pain that they are, in conjunction with their actual physical injury as well.
On personal note, I have high cholesterol and have been on medication to control it for years. Recently, at my annual physical, my doctor offered me "cardio genetic testing", I was amazed to find out they can now isolate the genes that affect cardiac disease factors and then tailor more specific treatment of my high cholesterol. I have not gotten to results yet, however, it may point my doctor and I in a diffident direction for medication and other treatment.
With genetic science becoming more and more available and affordable, I can foresee genetic testing becoming an issue in some injury cases in the future. Most likely testing to support doctor opinions about the injury, how it was caused, and the likely continuing effects of that injury on the victim.