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Collapsed Lung From a Car Accident—Can You File a Claim?

Lung injuries sustained in crashes can have serious consequences

The chest, being the largest part of the human body, often absorbs the brunt of impact and sustains significant damage in a car accident.

A collapsed lung, medically known as pneumothorax, can result from chest trauma sustained in a crash. This condition interrupts the critical function of the lungs, which continuously supply oxygen to the bloodstream. When trauma compromises this vital process, it poses a serious threat to the victim’s life and overall well-being.

If you or a loved one has experienced traumatic lung or chest injuries due to an accident, it's crucial to seek legal guidance from an experienced car accident attorney before engaging with insurance companies.

In Houston, the dedicated legal team at Smith & Hassler can protect your rights and advocate for the maximum compensation you deserve for your collapsed lung.

What happens if the lungs are damaged in an accident?

If the lungs are damaged in an accident, the consequences can be severe and life-threatening. The lungs play a vital role in the respiratory system, supplying oxygen to the bloodstream and removing carbon dioxide from the body. When injured, the lungs may suffer from various conditions, including:

  • Pneumothorax: Also known as a collapsed lung, pneumothorax occurs when air leaks into the space between the lung and the chest wall, causing the lung to collapse partially or fully. This condition can result in difficulty breathing, chest pain, and potentially life-threatening complications.
  • Pulmonary contusion: A pulmonary contusion refers to bruising or damage to lung tissue, often caused by blunt trauma to the chest. Symptoms may include chest pain, difficulty breathing, coughing up blood, and decreased oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Rib fractures: In severe accidents, the force of impact can cause fractures or breaks in the ribs, leading to additional complications such as punctured lungs or damage to surrounding organs.
  • Respiratory distress syndrome: Trauma to the lungs can also increase the risk of developing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a severe lung condition characterized by fluid buildup in the lungs, leading to breathing difficulties and decreased oxygen levels in the blood.

Signs of a collapsed lung after a crash

Symptoms of a collapsed lung can vary depending on the severity of the condition. After a crash, individuals who experience a collapsed lung may notice the following symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of sharp chest pain, especially on one side of the chest.
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, particularly with exertion.
  • Rapid or shallow breathing.
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia).
  • Bluish discoloration of the lips or fingertips (cyanosis), indicating a lack of oxygen in the blood.
  • Dry, hacking cough.
  • Feelings of tightness or pressure in the chest.
  • Fatigue or weakness.

It's important to note that some individuals with a partially collapsed lung may experience minimal symptoms or may mistake them for other less serious conditions. However, if left untreated, a collapsed lung can lead to serious complications, such as respiratory failure or shock (more on this below).

If you or someone you know experiences any of these symptoms following a crash, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial. A collapsed lung requires prompt evaluation and treatment by medical professionals to prevent further complications and ensure optimal recovery.

What happens if you leave a collapsed lung untreated?

Leaving a collapsed lung untreated can lead to potentially life-threatening complications. When a collapsed lung is not promptly addressed, it can result in the following serious consequences:

Respiratory Failure

Without proper treatment, a collapsed lung can impair the ability to breathe effectively. As the lung continues to collapse and air accumulates in the chest cavity, respiratory failure may occur, leading to a severe decrease in oxygen levels in the blood.


In some cases, a collapsed lung can cause a condition known as tension pneumothorax, where air builds up in the chest cavity, exerting pressure on the heart and major blood vessels. This pressure can lead to decreased blood flow to vital organs, potentially resulting in shock and a life-threatening medical emergency.

Recurrent pneumothorax

Individuals who experience a collapsed lung may be at risk of recurrent episodes if the underlying cause is not addressed or if preventive measures are not taken. Recurrent pneumothorax can lead to chronic lung problems and may necessitate additional medical interventions.

Lung infections

A collapsed lung can create a breeding ground for lung infections, such as pneumonia. When air enters the pleural space, it can introduce bacteria or other pathogens, increasing the risk of infection and further compromising respiratory function.

Respiratory compromise

Over time, untreated pneumothorax can lead to progressive lung damage and respiratory compromise. Chronic respiratory issues, diminished lung capacity, and impaired oxygen exchange may significantly impact overall health and quality of life.

How collapsed lungs are diagnosed

Diagnosing and treating a collapsed lung typically involves a series of steps. Initially, a doctor or some other type of healthcare provider conducts a thorough physical examination to assess symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing, and rapid heartbeat.

Imaging tests like chest X-rays or CT scans are commonly employed to confirm the presence and severity of the collapsed lung. Pulse oximetry, a non-invasive test, may be utilized to measure oxygen saturation levels in the blood, aiding in the evaluation of respiratory function.

Collapsed lung treatment options

Once diagnosed, the treatment approach varies based on the severity of the pneumothorax. In instances of small or uncomplicated collapses, observation without immediate intervention might suffice, particularly if symptoms are mild and stable.

For moderate to severe cases, supplemental oxygen therapy is often administered to alleviate breathing difficulties and enhance blood oxygenation. In more serious scenarios, a chest tube insertion procedure, performed under local anesthesia in a hospital setting, may be necessary to remove excess air from the chest cavity and facilitate lung re-expansion.

In recurrent or persistent pneumothorax cases, pleurodesis—a procedure involving the introduction of a chemical agent into the pleural space to induce adhesions between the lung and chest wall—may be recommended to prevent future collapses. In rare or severe instances, surgical interventions like thoracoscopic surgery or thoracotomy might be warranted to repair lung tissue and minimize recurrence risks.

Overall, timely diagnosis and appropriate medical management are crucial to prevent complications and promote recovery in individuals with collapsed lungs.

How long does a collapsed lung take to heal?

The healing timeline for a collapsed lung can vary depending on several factors, including the severity of the collapse, the individual's overall health, and the chosen treatment approach. In general, a partial or small collapse may resolve on its own within a few days to weeks with rest and appropriate medical monitoring. However, more extensive collapses or those accompanied by complications may necessitate a longer recovery period, extending from several weeks to several months.

Treatment modalities such as supplemental oxygen therapy, chest tube insertion, or surgical interventions can also influence the healing duration. Following medical intervention, individuals typically experience gradual improvement in symptoms over time as the lung re-expands and respiratory function returns to normal.

During the recovery period, it's crucial for individuals to adhere to their healthcare provider's recommendations, which may include rest, avoiding strenuous activities, and attending follow-up appointments to monitor progress.

Seeking compensation for a collapsed lung

Determining the amount of compensation for a collapsed lung resulting from a car accident or another traumatic event involves various factors: the severity of the injury, the extent of medical treatment required, the impact on the individual's daily life and ability to work, and the long-term implications for their health and well-being.

Compensation for a collapsed lung typically encompasses both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages may include medical expenses (such as hospital bills, surgery costs, medication, and rehabilitation), lost wages or income due to missed work, and any necessary future medical treatment or care. Non-economic damages may cover pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and other intangible losses experienced as a result of the injury. Since individuals with lung injuries may experience pain with every breath they take, the pain and suffering award is often substantial.

To determine an appropriate compensation amount, it's essential to thoroughly document the injury, its impact on the victim’s life, and the financial losses incurred. This may involve gathering medical records, documenting treatment expenses, obtaining expert opinions on the long-term effects of the injury, and calculating lost wages or earning capacity.

Seeking guidance from a car accident lawyer can be invaluable in navigating the legal process and advocating for fair compensation after a collapsed lung. An attorney can assess the specifics of the case, negotiate with insurance companies on behalf of the injured party, and, if necessary, pursue legal action to ensure they receive the compensation they deserve for their injuries and losses.

Protect your rights with a car accident attorney

Insurance companies may attempt to reduce or deny a collapsed lung claim by employing various tactics. They might argue that the injury was pre-existing or unrelated to the accident, dispute the severity of the injury or the necessity of medical treatment, or contend that the victim's own actions somehow contributed to the accident.

Additionally, they may undervalue the claim or intentionally delay the claims process to pressure the victim into accepting a lower settlement. As such, it's essential for individuals facing such challenges to seek legal representation from a skilled car accident attorney who can advocate for their rights and pursue fair compensation for the losses.

If you or someone you love sustained a collapsed lung or some other type of lung injury in a Houston-area car accident, the attorneys at Smith & Hassler would be honored to listen to your story and offer insight into how they can help. Our dedicated legal team has recovered millions for injured Texans and is ready to help you find your way forward after a crash. To learn more about how we can help with your potential legal case, contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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