On Behalf of | Jul 17, 2018 | Personal Injury, Vehicle Accidents

Many large auto insurance companies use the MIST (minor impact soft tissue) protocol to analyze personal injury claims. 

In the mid-90s U.S. automobile insurance providers came up with the MIST theory – that it is impossible to sustain a permanent or serious injury in a low speed, low property damage collision.  The MIST theory implements a set of guidelines instructing claims adjusters that injury claims resulting from collisions with less than $1,000 in property damage are unlikely to or cannot cause significant or permanent injury regardless of medical evidence of injury.

In crashes resulting in property damage claims less than $1,000, the MIST protocol is used by insurance companies to wage an unfair argument against crash victims to claim their injuries are not a result of the crash and are false.   

However, according to a study published by Dr. Emil Seletz, severity of property damage is not a reliable predictor of injury or outcome in low-speed collisions.  Crash characteristics and human factors are much more relevant. 

Crash factors include:

A)   Size, weight and speeds of the vehicles

B)   Type and position of the seat and head restraint

C)   The ability of the vehicles to absorb and transmit energy

Human factors include:

A)   Size, weight and sex of the occupant

B)   Awareness of impending collision

C)   Direction occupant is facing at impact

D)   Individual tissue tolerance

Journal of the American Medical Association. November 29, 1958, pp. 1750-1755. Emil Seletz, MD.

Serious injuries can in fact result from low-speed collisions where there is only minor property damage.  Vehicles are designed to absorb physical shock on impact and transmit energy.  Human bodies are not. 

Croft AC and Freeman, MD conducted a study: Correlating crash severity with injury risk, injury severity, and long-term symptoms in low velocity motor vehicle collisions. 

Some key points of the Croft/Freeman study include:

·         95% of rear impact injury crashes occur below 25 mph.


·         Well-done studies documented cases of injury with “almost no vehicle damage.”

·         There is “no statistically significant associations between crash severity and the 6-month injury status.”

·          “Persons who were unaware of the impending crash were significantly more likely to have persistent symptoms.”

·         “No statistically significant relationships existed between measures of crash severity in terms of calculated velocity change or maximum deformation and long-term symptoms.”

·         There are no significant correlations between crash severity and long-term symptoms.

·         There is a substantial injury risk in frontal and rear impact low speed crashes without sustaining appreciable vehicle damage.

·         “It seems clear that property damage in low velocity motor vehicle crashes does not provide a reliable means of assessing the validity of injury claims and, provides no reliable means of prognosticating long term outcome.”

·         “A substantial number of injuries are reported in crashes of severities that are unlikely to result in significant property damage.”

·         “Property damage is neither a valid predictor of acute injury risk nor of symptom duration.”

·         “Based upon our best evidence synthesis, the level of vehicle property damage appears to be an invalid construct for injury presence, severity, or duration.”

·          “The MIST protocol for prediction of injury does not appear to be valid.”     

The conclusion of the study is that “a substantial number of injures are reported in crashes of little or no property damage.  Property damage is an unreliable predictor of injury risk or outcome in low velocity crashes.  The MIST protocol for prediction of injury does not appear to be valid.” 

Croft, AC and MD Freeman, Correlating crash severity with injury risk, injury severity, and long-term symptoms in low velocity motor vehicle collisions. Medical Science Monitor, October 2005;11(10):RA316-321

In 2007 CNN investigated the MIST system and according to CNN’s investigation, MIST allows insurers to claim that persons were not actually injured, in an effort to delay or deny claims.  According to University of Nevada insurance law professor Jeff Stempel the result of using the MIST protocol has resulted in billions in profits for insurance companies and little, if anything for the public.  “We can see that policyholders individually are getting hurt by being dragged through the court on fender-bender claims, and yet we don’t see any collateral benefit in the form of reduced premiums even for the other policyholders,” Stempel said. “So I think now we can say to continue this kind of program is in my view institutionalized bad faith.”



Matthew J. Smith, Esq., President of Smith, Rolfes & Skavdahl, one of the nation’s largest insurance services law firms, authored “Updates and Developments on Defending Low-Impact Accident Claims.”  In his presentation he admits that “the reality is minimal impacts can, and do, cause injury.  There are accepted scientific studies showing impacts of less than five miles per hour are capable of inflicting permanent injury.”  He goes on to state “…we must carefully make certain each file is reviewed fairly and impartially.  One of the things I have learned in more than ten years of investigating medical and insurance fraud claims is sometimes there are true injuries and logical explanations, even for what appears on the surface to be highly questionable, if not fraudulent, activity. The minute we begin “assuming” every minimal-impact accident claimant is “lying” or simply seeking financial gain, is the day we will all be doing an extreme disservice to our companies and our insureds.  Although you need to train all of your staff personnel to aggressively identify, investigate and defend these types of claims, please remember to always do so with the underlying assumption the claim and injury are valid until the investigation proves otherwise.”

In other words, insurance companies know and as advised by Matthew Smith, Esq., legal counsel, that low speed, low property damage claims result in injuries and valid personal injury claims and should not be dismissed under the MIST protocol.


Remember, always seek medical attention for your injuries following a vehicle crash, no matter how minor the property damage may seem.  Serious injury can and does result from seemingly minor impacts.


If you or your loved one have suffered injuries in a motor vehicle collision at no fault of your own, contact Paoli Law Firm at 406-542-3330 to request a free initial consultation.