When someone mentions post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), many people think of veterans returning from a war zone. However, PTSD can result from any number of traumatic events, including car accidents.
An accident doesn’t even have to cause significant injuries to be traumatic. A person just has to believe the accident might be deadly even just for a few seconds while the accident is happening.
For example, if a child is in the rear seat of a car that gets into a minor accident, the driver’s mind will likely instantly worry whether the child is safe. For a few seconds or even minutes, the accident might appear worse than it really is. That is sometimes all it takes to trigger PTSD.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD is a mental health condition that presents as a set of symptoms. After an accident, you may have trouble sleeping and exhibit other PTSD symptoms. While some people recover without treatment, if symptoms persist for three or four months after the accident or if you feel suicidal at any point, you should immediately contact a mental health provider.
Doctors group PTSD symptoms into four types, as outlined below.
Symptoms that fall under intrusive memories include recurrent memories of the accident. These memories are distressing. Some people also suffer from flashbacks in which they relive the accident, and it seems to be as real as when it happened. Others have nightmares about the event or suffer emotional distress when something reminds them of the traumatic event. Some people also have physical reactions to a trigger when something reminds them of the event, like the sound of metal banging against metal.
A traumatic event is hard to think about, and many people end up avoiding the places, people, or situations that remind them of the traumatic event for some time after the accident. This can, however, cause disruptions if avoidance becomes extreme or makes it difficult for the accident victim to engage in normal activities due to PTSD.
Changes in Mood or Thinking
PTSD can lead to changes in mood and negative thought patterns, which make it difficult to recover from the accident.
Some common experiences include:
- Feeling hopeless about the future;
- Having trouble remembering things, including important facts about the accident;
- Feeling detached from family and friends;
- Feeling emotionally numb;
- Finding it difficult to have positive emotions, no matter how hard the victim tries; and
- No longer having any interest in favorite activities and hobbies.
Reactions to Physical and Emotional Stimuli
PTSD often changes how a person reacts to physical and emotional stimuli.
A person might find that they suddenly:
- Have trouble sleeping and/or concentrating;
- Are easily frightened or startled;
- Have the desire to engage in self-destructive behavior, such as driving too fast or drinking too much;
- Find themselves on the lookout for danger at every turn; and/or
- Feel more irritable, aggressive, or angry than normal.
When You Should Contact a Mental Health Professional
Many people who suffer from PTSD do not experience PTSD symptoms all of the time or find they only experience them in certain situations. However, even minor symptoms can interfere with a person’s family life and job.
If you or a loved one notices any PTSD symptoms that are worrying or persist for more than three months after the accident, contact a mental health professional to schedule an assessment. If you or a loved one feels suicidal, contact a mental health professional or go to the emergency room immediately.
Minimizing the Chances of Suffering PTSD Symptoms
In some cases, an accident victim can minimize the chances of suffering from PTSD symptoms after an accident. If you were in an accident, talk to your friends and relatives about your experience and how you feel. You might even start seeing a counselor right away, even if you do not have symptoms yet.
If you do not have a mental health professional you currently see, your family doctor can recommend someone to you. Staying active and exercising as long as your injuries allow it can help you keep your mind in the right place, helping you to minimize the chances of developing PTSD.
While it might be difficult to get back to your routines because of physical injuries, do what you can to get back to what you would normally do during the day. Even if your injuries prevent you from going to the grocery store or vacuuming the house, just getting that morning cup of coffee at your normal time can help.
Finally, once you are back on your feet, consider taking a defensive driving class. You might find that it is difficult to get back into a vehicle after a traumatic accident. However, taking a defensive driving class can teach you how to increase your odds of avoiding an accident and make you feel more confident behind the wheel.
Treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Everyone is different, so your mental health professional will evaluate your symptoms to determine the best course of treatment for your PTSD symptoms. Some professionals might try an intervention while others might prescribe medications. Others might combine intervention, cognitive therapy, and medication.
Medications can treat different PTSD symptoms. A doctor might prescribe beta-blockers for intrusive memories, benzodiazepines for nightmares, atypical neuroleptics for reliving the accident, or antidepressants for avoidance symptoms or feeling numb.
How PTSD Can Affect Your Life
Symptoms of PTSD, regardless of how minor or severe, can affect many aspects of a person’s daily life. In some cases, one or more symptoms might prevent the sufferer from working. Especially without treatment, a victim has no control over when or where symptoms will appear. Any environment might be full of triggers, making it hard for the victim to do their job, commute to work, or simply run errands. Sometimes just thinking of going to work, going out in public, or interacting with people can cause additional symptoms, including depression and anxiety.
Compensation for Injuries
After an accident that was someone else’s fault, the accident victim can seek compensation also called “damages” from the at-fault party for their physical and emotional injuries. The amount of damages the victim can seek to recover after an accident depends on the severity of their injuries.
If the accident victim’s claim is successful, they can recover both economic and non-economic damages from the at-fault party. In some rare cases, a victim can also recover punitive damages.
Sometimes referred to as “special damages”, economic damages are compensation for the victim’s losses that have a clear monetary value. They might include:
Medical expenses include costs for a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professionals. A victim can seek reimbursement for medical expenses that they have already incurred because of the accident. They can also seek compensation for estimated future medical expenses their doctor or mental health professional believes that they will continue to need after the settlement or a trial award.
Medical expenses also include surgeries, doctors’ appointments, and other medical appointments for physical injuries. A victim can include the costs of travel to and from medical appointments, prescriptions, ambulatory aids, and changes to their home or vehicle to accommodate physical injuries.
Additionally, if the victim’s physical or emotional injuries cause additional issues, such as substance abuse, they may be eligible to recover additional compensation for treatment.
If the accident victim can’t work due to their physical or emotional injuries, they can seek compensation for lost wages due to the accident. They can also seek compensation for loss of earning capacity if their injuries will prevent them from returning to work or force them to seek a lower-paying job in the future.
Damage to Personal Property
An accident victim can also seek compensation for damaged or destroyed personal property, including a vehicle and anything of value in the vehicle. For example, if the accident destroyed a cell phone, a computer, clothing, or other valuables, the at-fault driver may also be responsible for replacing or repairing those items.
If you lost a loved one in an accident, you may be able to recover funeral, burial, and/or cremation expenses from the at-fault driver. This can include other related expenses, such as probate court filing fees. If your loved one’s death caused PTSD or other forms of emotional distress, you may also be able to recover compensation for your medical needs.
Sometimes referred to as general damages, non-economic damages do not have an easily assigned monetary value. It’s not easy to put a price on items such as pain and suffering or loss of companionship.
Non-economic damages can include:
- Pain and suffering, including emotional distress such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD;
- Loss of quality of life;
- Loss of companionship;
- Loss of consortium;
- Loss of use of a body part or bodily function;
- Amputation of a digit or limb;
- Excessive scarring and/or disfigurement;
- Inconvenience if you have to hire someone to do the chores you usually do.
Recovering Compensation From an Insurance Company
It is hard enough to recover compensation for physical injuries and items related to them from insurance companies. They are in business to make money, and every claim they have to pay out digs into their profits. When you add a difficult-to-prove diagnosis, such as PTSD, you can have a more difficult time recovering compensation. That is why you need an aggressive attorney with experience handling cases that involve PTSD and other psychological injuries.
Psychological injuries are difficult to prove because they often show up weeks or months after an accident. You cannot take a picture of a psychological injury. The insurance company’s attorney will try to prove that you do not have psychological injuries because of the amount of time it takes for this type of injury to manifest.
If your doctor refers you to a mental health professional, you should make the appointment as soon as possible. Make sure you do not miss any appointments unless it’s an emergency. The defense will argue that just one missed appointment must mean that you are fine.
You can also help your case by documenting how you feel every day. If something causes you to have a flashback or a nightmare about the accident, document that event in a journal. Your daily journal not only can help with therapy, but it can also show the jury that you really do have PTSD symptoms.
If the insurance company refuses to come to a fair and reasonable settlement, you can opt to go to trial to try to get the compensation you deserve. Your attorney might ask you to visit another mental health professional someone who can testify as an expert witness in a trial. This doctor is not your therapist, but someone who will evaluate your state of mind to help you prove to the jury that the accident caused your PTSD.
The expert witness might also ask you to allow them to discuss your mental health with your therapist so that they fully understand the extent of your emotional injuries.
If you suffered physical and/or emotional issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, after an accident, contact a car accident attorney as soon as possible.