Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Whiplash Definition:

Soft tissue (nerves and muscles) damage to the neck or lower brain area, often caused by a rear-end motor vehicle collision.

The 27th Edition of Stedman's Medical Dictionary defines whiplash injury as follows:

"Flexion-extension injury, (the) forceful application of a forward and backward movement of the unsupported head that may produce an injury to the cervical spine or brain."

The Attorney's Dictionary of Medicine defers on a definition of whiplash injury writing simply, "same as whiplash injury of the neck" and then defines that term as follows:

"An injury of the neck sustained when the head is suddenly and violently hyperextended or thrown backward, then flexed and thrown forward. Such injuries generally occur in automobile accidents (in cars having no head support in the rear) when the car is rammed from the rear."

Michael Young, writing in Medical Proof of Whiplash, noted:

"Nearly one-third of all motor vehicle accidents are rear-end collisions.... [I]t is this type of accident that is responsible for most whiplash injuries.

"During a collision, the head and torso are thrust in opposite directions in a very short period of time. So it it not surprising that most of the symptoms of whiplash are centered in that part of the body between the head and the torso - the neck."

In O'Bray, Justice Milvain wrote:

"In the course of that accident, the plaintiff sustained injuries of the type that are usually loosely termed whiplash by we people in the lay field. The gentlemen in the medical profession raise their hands in horror every time they hear that term used and tell us that it is soft tissue damage that's effected. And the soft tissue damages are, of course, of very different varieties in different people and under different occasions.

"It appears clear to me that Mrs. O'Bray did suffer a soft tissue damage injury in the occipital area, that is to say, at the top end of her spine or her head joint on it. She tells us in the witness box that immediately following the accident, and when I say immediately I mean within hours afterwards, she did suffer a stiff neck, that she had stiffness and pain in the shoulder area, and that very severe headaches would be produced in her head commencing in the occipital area, and that prior to this injury she had never suffered any headaches of this nature, though she did have the usual frontal type that most of us experience on occasion."


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Duhaime's Legal Dictionary
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Duhaime's Legal Citations & Abbreviations
  • Melton, Michael, Medical Proof of Whiplash (Costa Mesa, California: James Publishing Inc., 2008)
  • O'Bray v. John Doe, 5 Alta. L.R. (2d) 286 (1978, Alberta Supreme Court)
  • Pugh, Maureen, (ed.), Stedman's Medical Dictionary, 27th Ed. (Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000), page 904
  • Schmidt, J.E., Attorney's Dictionary of Medicine, Volume 6 (Newark, New Jersey: LexisNexis, 2009), page W-23

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