Call or Chat 24/7

Serving clients across Minnesota
with 12 convenient office locations.

Chiari Malformations and Auto Accidents

A Chiari malformation is a condition in which a brain structure called the cerebellum is forced through an opening at the base of the skull. If an auto accident results in a Chiari malformation, the personal injury lawyers at Milavetz Injury Law will fight to prove the defendant’s liability.

Auto accidents can cause a variety of different medical issues. One of the problems that may occur after a crash is a Chiari malformation. Some people are born with a Chiari malformation, although they may not experience symptoms until after having an injury like whiplash. Other people develop a Chiari malformation after an injury.

If you developed a Chiari malformation or have noticed new symptoms of the condition after being involved in a car accident, call the Minneapolis Chiari malformation lawyers at Milavetz Law, P.A.

What is Chiari Malformation?

A Chiari malformation is a neurological condition. This involves the structure of the brain known as the cerebellum, which is located at the bottom and back of the skull. It’s involved in functions like balance and coordination.

The cerebellum is located near the foramen magnum, which is the hole at the base of the skull that the spinal cord passes through. Normally, the cerebellum is located entirely inside the skull and doesn’t enter the foramen magnum at all.

In a person with a Chiari malformation, part of the cerebellum is pressed through the foramen magnum. National Institutes of Health states the most common type, which is known as type 1, only the lower part of the cerebellum, known as the cerebellar tonsils, passes through the foramen magnum. This can also be called a Chiari I malformation. There are also other types of Chiari malformations, but these are less common and only occur in people who are born with them.

A structure called the brain stem normally passes through the foramen magnum. This is a part of the brain that controls a variety of basic bodily functions. Certain nerves and blood vessels also pass through the foramen magnum. When part of the cerebellum is pressed into the foramen magnum by a Chiari malformation, this puts pressure on these other structures. A variety of symptoms may result.

Can an Auto Accident Cause a Chiari Malformation?

The first case of a whiplash injury causing a Chiari malformation was reported in 2001. Since that time, it’s been discovered that the formation of a Chiari malformation after an injury like whiplash is actually relatively common.

In the past, Chiari malformations were thought to be exclusively congenital, meaning that they were believed to be a condition that someone must be born with. However, this is now known not to be the case. In fact, Chiari malformations can occur after a traumatic event such as a car crash. 

After a car accident, a Chiari malformation can form because of a drop in the level of cerebrospinal fluid, or CSF. CSF is a clear fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. The brain is held up by this fluid, which helps to keep it in place and prevent it from being pulled downward by gravity. The CSF is normally kept in by coverings of connective tissue, which are called meninges. 

If there’s a rupture in the meninges, then some of the CSF can leak out. As the level of CSF goes down, there will be less of it available to hold the brain in place. Gravity will pull the brain downward, and the cerebellar tonsils may be pushed out through the foramen magnum, causing a Chiari malformation.

Because of the evidence that Chiari malformations can be acquired, some experts even argue that the condition should be called a syndrome rather than a malformation.

Can Whiplash Cause a Chiari Malformation?


It’s well-established that a neck injury such as whiplash can lead to a Chiari malformation. One large study published in Brain Injury, the official journal of the International Brain Injury Association, examined 600 patients with whiplash.

They received MRI scans to check for evidence of a Chiari malformation. When the patients were scanned lying down, nearly 10 percent of them had a Chiari malformation (compared with about 5 percent of a control group of people who didn’t experience an injury).

Another very important finding of this study was that the position the patients were in during the scan made a huge difference. When patients were sitting up during their MRI scans, more than 23 percent of the whiplash patients had evidence of a Chiari malformation. However, the rate for uninjured people didn’t change.

MRI scans are most commonly done with the patient lying down, but this study provides evidence that many cases of Chiari malformation may be missed with this method of scanning.

Symptoms of Chiari Malformations after an Auto Accident

If you have a Chiari malformation, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons states you may experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Headaches that are usually felt at the back of the head and made worse by coughing, sneezing, or straining
  • Neck pain
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Double vision or blurred vision
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Loss of sensation in the arms and upper torso

These symptoms are related to the pressure that the cerebellum puts on the brainstem and other structures in the foramen magnum, as well as to the pressure caused by the formation of a syrinx in the spinal cord.

surgical procedure may be needed to address the symptoms of a Chiari malformation. This involves removing some tissue to make the foramen magnum larger in order to relieve the compression caused by the cerebellum.

Furthermore, an auto accident can worsen an existing Chiari malformation by forcing more of the cerebellum through the foramen magnum. In such cases, people who were born with asymptomatic Chiari malformations may experience symptoms that didn’t exist before their motor vehicle accident.

Getting a Lawyer to Fight For You

If you’ve experienced symptoms of a Chiari malformation after an auto accident, and the accident was someone else’s fault, you deserve justice. You shouldn’t have to bear the costs of your injury on your own. The negligent party can and should be held legally liable for the harm they caused to you. 

Insurance companies will often try to deny coverage for any symptoms of a Chiari malformation because they claim that the condition was preexisting. Of course, this isn’t necessarily true. The Chiari malformation may have been caused by the accident.

Even in the case of a preexisting Chiari malformation, if it is determined that the accident triggered your symptoms, the person who caused the accident can still be held responsible and ordered to compensate you for the cost of treating those symptoms.

In order to maximize the chances of receiving the full amount of compensation that you deserve, it’s best to seek the help of an attorney who’s experienced in working with Chiari malformation cases. These cases pose some unique challenges, and specialized knowledge is needed to get the best possible results.

At the Minnesota law firm of Milavetz Injury Law, our personal injury attorneys have years of experience handling personal injury cases, including Chiari malformations caused by car crashes.

We have the comprehensive knowledge and skills necessary to successfully litigate your case. We fight for justice for every one of our clients because we believe that you should never face financial hardship due to an injury that was caused by someone else. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

Badge for Avvo Rating 10.0 Superb Top Rated Personal Injury
Badge for Avvo Client's Choice 2019 Personal Injury
Badge for Super Lawyers
Badge for American Association for Justice
Best Lawyers logo
Martindale-Hubbell Preeminent badge
Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) badge
Badge for Minnesota Lawyer Attorneys of the Year
FindLaw badge for Milavetz Injury Law, P.A.