What Happens if You Get PTSD After a Car Accident?

What Happens if You Get PTSD After a Car Accident?

Car accidents, even minor ones, often physically and psychologically traumatize their victims. Vehicle occupants, pedestrians, and others can develop a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

If you know or believe you're suffering from PTSD after a car accident, you may recover compensation from the people responsible for the accident. This psychological trauma falls under the category of non-economic damages, which many accident victims can recover if they also suffered economic damages.

Talking to a car accident lawyer more about your PTSD and its role in your car accident claim or lawsuit can help you determine your options to build a case.

PTSD After a Car Accident Guide

What Exactly Is PTSD?

What Happens if You Get PTSD After a Car Accident?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a specific type of anxiety disorder resulting from any traumatic event, including car accidents and other threats or causes of severe injury and death.

This condition causes a person's fight or flight reaction to flare up, potentially causing extreme anxiety and memories of the inciting incident to interrupt the sufferer's life. In some cases, PTSD can be as detrimental to a person's well-being as a serious physical injury, making it important to treat this condition seriously.

Although many people tend to attribute PTSD to its origins in the military as "shell shock," it affects many people beyond combat veterans. Many circumstances can cause PTSD, from car accidents and natural disasters to historical trauma and domestic violence.

Also, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), around 3.5 percent of American adults suffer from PTSD every year, with one out of every 11 people likely to receive a PTSD diagnosis at some point in their lives.

To qualify as PTSD, the sufferer's experiences must last for over a month and negatively impact people's ability to function daily. Shorter periods of trauma that eventually subside won't count as PTSD. However, PTSD and other forms of trauma may not always become apparent until months after the initial event. 

Regardless of the severity of a vehicle accident, victims may develop PTSD due to the event.

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Common Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD can present itself in many ways in the victims who suffer from it. Like all other conditions, no two cases will be exactly the same, but the following are some specific signs of PTSD to look for, according to the APA:

Intrusive Thoughts

One of the main symptoms of PTSD that victims experience is intrusion. This symptom may take the form of nightmares that victims experience when sleeping, memories of the incident that involuntarily come back, and actual flashbacks of the incident. In some cases, flashbacks are vivid enough to force the sufferer to relive the event.

Changes in Mood and Cognition

Many changes can occur in the mood and cognition of people with PTSD. For example, they may experience swift changes in mood ranging from fear and anger to shame or guilt around the initial event. Conversely, they may experience complete emotional detachment in an attempt to cope with the negative feelings associated with the event.

Victims could distrust others, or negatively perceive themselves, or cannot access specific memories of the incident that caused the PTSD.


Some victims of PTSD may also attempt to avoid certain people, activities, locations, and other elements that could trigger memories of the event. In addition, they may actively avoid speaking of or thinking about the event.

Changes in Reactivity and Arousal

People with PTSD may also become more reactive and exhibit aggression or other emotions when seemingly unprovoked. Others may be more cautious of their surroundings in a way that suggests paranoia, while others may operate with more disregard for themselves and others through reckless behavior.

Other similar changes may become apparent as victims struggle to recognize they have PTSD or deal with it emotionally in a healthy way. 

Car Accidents and PTSD

Car accidents are among the many types of events that can cause people to develop PTSD. According to a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study, PTSD develops in 39.2 percent of all motor vehicle accident survivors. Despite the prevalence of PTSD in car accident victims, many of these victims either don't recognize the symptoms or simply don't report their experiences.

As a result, many car accident victims with PTSD don't receive the treatment they need to recover effectively, and they may not proceed with a car accident case even when they can recover financial compensation for this condition.

Although the risk of developing PTSD increases with the severity of car accidents, PTSD can develop even after apparently "minor" accidents. If you believe that someone is liable for the accident and that you suffer psychological trauma because of the accident, you may be able to seek compensation through a car accident claim or lawsuit.

Recovering Compensation for PTSD After a Car Accident

If you developed PTSD after a car accident, you may recover compensation for this non-economic damage. This differs from economic damages that account for the financial losses resulting from an accident, such as medical bills and property damage.

In addition to PTSD and other non-economic damages, you may recover economic damages if you sustained physical injuries or property damage of any kind because of the accident.

One important difference between economic and non-economic damages is the difficulty of proving them. To succeed with a car accident claim or lawsuit against liable parties, you must prove all the damages you sustained. While economic damages are relatively easy to prove because of the specific monetary value attached to them, non-economic damages are less tangible and prove more of a challenge to show.

If you want to prove that you sustained PTSD and other non-economic damages in a car accident, you can do so by visiting a mental health professional to discuss your case.

Like a medical doctor, a qualified mental health professional can officially diagnose your condition and help show how the accident contributed to it. In addition to documentation from mental health professionals and a formal diagnosis, you can maintain a journal that details your daily experience with PTSD symptoms.

For instance, you may write down how you feel both physically and psychologically at the start of every day and your experience each day, which can show how PTSD or other types of trauma are affecting your ability to function.

Other Types of Damages in Car Accident Cases

PTSD is one type of non-economic damage that you may be able to recover in a car accident case. Still, there are others to consider along with the various economic damages you may recover. PTSD will also contribute directly to economic damages in many cases as it impedes people's ability to function in the workplace the way they could before developing the condition.

The non-economic damages you may sustain in a car accident may include:

  • Physical pain resulting from physical injuries
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Other types of trauma
  • Disfigurement
  • Loss of companionship or consortium resulting from difficulties maintaining relationships
  • Loss of enjoyment of life

Seeing a mental health professional and documenting your experience may help prove these damages in a car accident claim or lawsuit.

In addition to these damages, you may also recover economic damages, many of which might directly result from your PTSD. These include:

  • Medical bills - These expenses often result from treating physical injuries and mental health conditions such as PTSD. For instance, you may need to pay for regular visits to a therapist or for medication that helps treat your condition.
  • Lost income - Some PTSD sufferers may also be unable to work because of their condition. One specific way PTSD may prevent people from working is by making accident victims afraid to drive or even enter a vehicle after the accident, rendering them unable to get to work. They may also experience certain triggers in the workplace that prevent them from performing work tasks. Lost income could also result from the limitations that physical injuries impose, including temporary or permanent partial or total disability.
  • Property damage - If you sustained any damage to your vehicle or other belongings in an accident, you may recover compensation for this damage.
  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation - You may also want to seek compensation for any physical therapy or rehabilitation you need to recover from physical injuries, which may supplement mental health services and occupation therapy to help treat PTSD.
  • Modifications to the home or vehicle - People with disabilities may need to modify their homes or vehicles to make them more accessible.

With the help of an experienced car accident attorney, you can accurately identify and calculate all relevant damages affecting your case. In the process, an attorney can help connect PTSD and other psychological trauma with other non-economic and economic damages.

What to Do if You Experience Symptoms of PTSD After an Accident

If you get into a car accident and believe you suffer from PTSD, there are some steps you can take to build a potential case against liable drivers or others who caused the accident. These steps include:

Seek a Mental Health Assessment and Treatment

To confirm whether you suffered from PTSD, speak with a qualified mental health care provider to discuss your symptoms and receive a formal diagnosis. A professional can determine if you're suffering from PTSD or another type of trauma and generate documentation that could help prove your condition. You'll also be able to begin treatment that allows you to make a full recovery. 

These treatments may alleviate the symptoms of PTSD:

  • Cognitive processing therapy
  • Prolonged exposure therapy
  • Medication
  • Animal therapy

A good professional will recommend the best treatment in your case and give you a clear plan to move forward.

Collect Relevant Evidence to Prove PTSD and More

You must have sufficient evidence proving that you suffer from PTSD or sustained other damages. You may use many types of evidence to prove all damages involved.

Examples of evidence in car accident cases include:

  • Medical bills, records, and receipts for mental health treatment, medical care, or both
  • Journal entries detailing your experience living with PTSD daily
  • Proof of lost income resulting from physical injuries or psychological trauma
  • Photographic or video evidence of the accident scene and any physical damages sustained
  • Witness statements, including testimony from mental health professionals who diagnose or treat your PTSD

An experienced car accident lawyer can help you collect and organize any evidence you're unable to gather on your own.

Consult With an Attorney

If you want to proceed with a car accident case after suffering PTSD from a car accident, you should consult with an attorney. A reputable attorney will meet with you in a free consultation to discuss your case and determine whether to proceed with a claim or lawsuit.

An attorney may also help identify all economic and non-economic damages supplementing or stemming from your experience with PTSD after a car accident. If the attorney decides to represent you, they can handle insurance negotiations to reach a fair settlement.

Take the Right Steps After a Car Accident if You Experience PTSD

Getting a formal diagnosis of PTSD, seeking treatment, and collecting evidence for a car accident case may help you build a successful claim or suit against the people responsible for your trauma. An experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorney can show how your PTSD resulted from the accident, prove liability, and seek total compensation for all relevant damages.

Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers
12777 Jones Rd
Houston, TX 77070
(281) 664-6500