Getting SSDI Benefits After a Car Accident

shoe with an injured man laying in the background

Those injured in motor vehicle accidents may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Car crashes can leave people with serious physical and mental injuries. While some heal with treatment and time, others have lasting effects that may keep people out of work for extended periods or permanently.

Qualifying for SSD Benefits with Car Crash Injuries

To draw SSDI benefits for car accident-related injuries, people’s medical conditions must meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability. The medical criteria for conditions deemed severe enough by Social Security to cause impairment are described in the agency’s Listing of Impairments, also known as the Blue Book. Additionally, their conditions must be expected to cause them disability for at least 12 consecutive months, permanent impairment or be likely to result in death. Some of the most common conditions resulting from motor vehicle collisions that qualify for SSDI include spinal disorders, soft tissue injuries, fractures, and mental and emotional disorders.

Injuries and Disorders of the Spine

Listed injuries such as a broken vertebra, slipped discs and degenerative disc disease may be caused or worsened by car accidents. People may qualify for SSDI with such disabling injuries if one of the following conditions exists:

  • An x-ray or MRI shows a diagnosis of lumbar spinal stenosis and they experience weakness, painful cramping and severe deficiency in their ability to walk
  • An x-ray or MRI shows compression of a nerve root, a positive straight leg raising test, limited spine movement, weakness, decreased reflexes or sensation and muscle atrophy
  • An operative or pathology report showing a spinal arachnoiditis diagnosis and a need to adjust positions more than one time every two hours

Sans objective medical evidence such as imaging, pathology and operative reports, Social Security may use people’s statements regarding their symptoms and the associated functional limitations to help make disability determinations.

Burns and Soft Tissue Injuries

People may obtain SSDI benefits for burns and soft tissue injuries, such as those to the muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, skin and blood vessels, which commonly result from motor vehicle collisions. SSDI may be awarded for these types of injuries when they cause impaired functional use of the affected area or body part. In addition to showing a diagnosis of such injuries, people must also show they have had and continue to receive treatment to help restore their function.


Under certain circumstances, fractures of the arm and hand may qualify as disabling conditions. To receive benefits for breaks or cracks of the arm, elbow, or wrist bones, people must show the bone has not healed properly, they lack any functional use of the arm and they have tried surgical intervention and other treatments to help restore the use of the arm.

People may also receive SSDI benefits for fractures of the leg and foot bones. To qualify for benefits under the pelvic, thigh, shin or tarsal bone fracture listing, the fractures must not have a solid union of the bone and must be non-healing. Additionally, they must suffer extreme difficulty walking, which will persist for at least 12 months and requires them to use devices such as walkers or crutches.

Mental and Emotional Disorders

The trauma of getting into a motor vehicle crash can leave people struggling with mental and emotional disorders, which may make them eligible for disability benefits. Generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and other such conditions qualify for SSDI when characterized by at least three of the following symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle tension
  • Restlessness
  • Tiring easily

Further, people must show extreme or seriously limiting problems in completing tasks; recalling, understanding, or using information; using socially appropriate behaviors; taking care of themselves or adapting to changes.

Assessing Ability to Work

In addition to having a qualifying medical condition, Social Security bases SSDI eligibility on whether applicants’ disabilities prevent them from working. On a case-by-case basis, the SSA assesses people’s residual functional capacity or the most they can still do given the limitations resulting from their conditions. Only those who can no longer perform their prior job duties, complete the tasks of any past jobs or adjust to new jobs may get approved for benefits.

To evaluate applicants’ residual functional capacity, or RFC, Social Security considers the claimant’s medical history, symptoms and associated effects, treatments and associated effects, physician opinions and clinical signs. The SSA considers people’s RFCs in relation to the exertional and non-exertional demands of work such as sitting, walking, carrying, pushing, bending, reaching, making fine finger movements, comprehending and remembering instructions and communicating. Social Security also considers factors such as applicants’ age, work experience, and education in determining whether disabling conditions resulting from car accident injuries or other causes meet the required level of impairment.

Social Security Disability

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