Any person who was in a roadway accident understands the trauma associated with the incident. No two roadway accidents are the same—maybe you were a driver, passenger, or you may have been a pedestrian. In many cases, the more serious the accident, the more likely a victim is to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Car Accidents Occur Frequently
In only one borough—Brooklyn—117,000 injuries took place in one recent year. When you consider the size of the entire state, this number could easily double, or triple. Roadway accident injuries can range from relatively mild to fatal. Some victims could potentially suffer from PTSD, which can have an impact on their lives permanently.
What Does a Car Accident Have to Do with PTSD?
Most people think PTSD is something associated with veterans who have seen armed conflict. However, many studies conducted on victims of auto accidents in the general population show nearly 40 percent of all new cases of PTSD result from roadway accident trauma.
Some accident victims, particularly those who were in a serious accident, may feel their lives were at risk during the accident. This fear, anxiety, and shock often subsides in the days and weeks following an accident. However, for some, it leads to a pattern of behavior that may include avoiding driving in cars, being afraid to be in a car, or being more cautious than usual when operating a vehicle.
While PTSD does not result in a visible injury, this does not mean it is any less debilitating than a physical injury. In fact, for some, PTSD may be more debilitating than other injuries because it is difficult to overcome a fear that may seem irrational to some but perfectly normal to others.
PTSD Treatment Following a Car Accident
Many factors contribute to PTSD following a car accident. Treatment regimens will also vary depending on the person who requires the treatment. Some of the most common forms of treatment for PTSD include psychotherapy or medication.
Some forms of psychotherapy may include:
- Cognitive or Talk Therapy – This helps a victim overcome how they think about the accident or trauma that led to PTSD. In many cases, it is used along with exposure therapy to help the victim move forward.
- Exposure or Behavioral Therapy – This can be effective in helping a victim cope in the aftermath of an accident. The process involves putting the victim into a safe situation while they relive the event that led to the PTSD. This often helps when a victim is suffering nightmares or flashbacks following an accident.
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) – This process is done in conjunction with exposure therapy and helps the victim process the trauma. The theory is if done properly, the victim changes the reaction to the trauma’s memory.
Should a PTSD victim require medication along with psychotherapy, they may be prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
Long-Term Outcomes on PTSD and Car Accidents
Some victims of car accidents quickly regain full physical and emotional health. However, those who suffer a serious injury and face the initial symptoms of PTSD could have a long road ahead of them. While some victims indicate their symptoms of PTSD abate after a month or two, others suffer for years following an accident.
PTSD after a car accident over the long-term can result in:
- Diminished family relationships – Victims often drive away the people closest to them because of the fear and anxiety they suffer from PTSD.
- Challenges in the workplace – Those who suffer from PTSD and attempt to return to work often face challenges concentrating, difficulties in communicating effectively with coworkers, and may relive the accident over and over, which makes getting their work done impossible.
- Self-harm caused by PTSD – Unfortunately, victims who have suffered PTSD may turn to dangerous behavior including eating disorders or drug and alcohol abuse to minimize their problems. In too many situations, these victims lose their lives because of their overwhelming feelings.
Keep in mind, in many cases, PTSD symptoms never really go away. Even while therapy and medication may control this condition, triggers can lead to additional trauma. A victim who suffers PTSD following a car accident may need to pay therapy and medication expenses for the rest of their life.
Insurance Company Adjusters and PTSD After Car Accidents
Anytime you suffer an injury in a car accident, you should speak with a qualified car accident lawyer regardless of an injury’s severity—especially after a PTSD diagnosis. Keep in mind, PTSD is an invisible injury and, unfortunately, not well-understood.
Insurance adjusters are accustomed to dealing with hard facts. The fact is PTSD is as real an injury as a broken leg. Unfortunately, the other fact is, there is no hard and fast recovery time from PTSD because, like anything else, recovery depends on many factors. PTSD may cause victims to remove themselves from their core family and friends, which may impede recovery.
Insurance adjusters will often focus their attention on physical injury. This is not because they want to ignore a victim who is suffering emotional distress, it is simply because they cannot effectively deal with an issue that may require life-long care. If you are in a car accident that someone else causes, they could need to pay the bills associated with the treatment of PTSD, regardless of how long that treatment lasts.
If you were diagnosed with PTSD following a car accident, seek assistance from an experienced car accident attorney before you speak with an insurance adjuster. The adjuster will probably just overlook this diagnosis when making a recommended settlement amount to the insurance company.
Compensation for PTSD Following a Car Accident
For victims who live in a state, like New York, where there is no-fault insurance, they need to understand how insurance claims work. Under the current statutes in New York, a victim would file a claim under their own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. The current minimum coverage required in New York is $25,000 for bodily injury. Bodily injury would cover PTSD though it’s an emotional disorder that causes pain and suffering.
In cases with a PTSD diagnosis, victims may pursue damages for:
- Mental Health Care – Any expenses from visits to a mental health professional, including psychologists or psychiatrists. You may include travel to and from these visits in your claim.
- Treatment of Other Problems – As previously discussed, victims may develop eating disorders or turn to drugs or alcohol to combat the negative feelings associated with PTSD. Should a victim require treatment for these problems, these would also be compensable damages.
- Prescription Medications – Some PTSD victims may require medication to control symptoms as they undergo mental health care. Insurance doesn’t always cover these expensive medications, but victims can recover these out-of-pocket costs in their car accident claims.
Keep in mind, you would add these damages to the income you lose, medical expenses related to your physical injuries, and other losses the car accident caused.
Car accident victims first have to prove the negligence of the party responsible for their physical injury. They also have to prove they have developed PTSD from the accident, which is not always easy—after all, PTSD can be challenging to prove since there is no way to document it except to diagnose and treat it.
In many cases, PTSD symptoms do not appear for days or even weeks following a car accident, which can lead an insurance company to dispute whether the accident led to PTSD. A qualified mental health professional can help tie the accident and the diagnosis together. Your car accident attorney can help demonstrate that negligent behavior caused the PTSD.
Any Car Accident Can Result in PTSD
There are all types of car accidents, some occur at low speeds, some at high speeds. Some accidents happen at intersections while others occur on freeways. Regardless of the type of car accident, the resulting injuries, their perception of the accident, and other factors can result in PTSD. Never ignore these symptoms because they may grow more intense if treatment does not begin immediately.
As with any injury, the sooner a victim receives treatment, the better the outcome is likely to be. Your car accident lawyer will likely work with your mental health team to determine what outcome is likely in your specific case. As with any injury, your physical health, your stress level following an accident, and your age all factor into your recovery.
PTSD victims should always follow through with the recommended treatment for their condition. Only then is there a chance of returning to full pre-accident health both physically and mentally.
Another valid reason to work with an experienced accident attorney following a car accident is to reduce your stress levels. Insurance companies do not want to accept responsibility for a claim when their customers cause accidents.
They will call and ask questions, may send you several forms to fill out and return, or they may outright deny your claim. Working with an attorney who understands the tactics insurers will use to get you to settle quickly can help protect your rights and prevent you from being taken advantage of by an insurance company that does not want to explain your rights.
Paying an Attorney for a PTSD Claim
A common concern of all car accident victims is paying for legal fees following a car accident. For a PTSD victim, this simply adds to the stress they are already facing. Fortunately, there is an easy answer to this. Should you agree to be represented by a car accident lawyer who has experience handling PTSD claims, they will nearly always take your case on a contingency basis.
Some people do not understand what this means. Contingency basis means while you may have to pay filing fees and certain document preparation fees, you will not have to pay for legal services until and unless your attorney obtains a settlement on your behalf.
The last thing you should be worried about is incurring a significant legal bill while you are out of work recovering both physically and emotionally from a car accident. Your attorney can explain how their fees work, and you will get everything in writing. Working with someone with a proven track record can help provide you the peace of mind of knowing you have someone who will serve as a tireless advocate and get you the best possible settlement available for your specific case.
No ethical lawyer will guarantee a specific outcome or dollar settlement in any car accident case. Still, you stand a better chance if you have someone who understands the no-fault insurance laws, your rights as a victim, and also understands how insurance companies work.
If you were in a car accident, you can contact an auto accident attorney who has experience dealing with car accident PTSD victims for your free consultation.