Could You Be Experiencing PTSD After a Car Crash?

Car accidents are frightening experiences, and those who witness the aftermath of serious car accidents may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Nearly 10% of all people who experience car accidents develop PTSD, and such a diagnosis from single-incident trauma can require complex long-term treatment.

What Is PTSD?

PTSD is a psychological condition that devlops in response to experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. Some of the most common sufferers of PTSD include combat veterans and victims of sexual assault. PTSD is possible after all types of traumatic incidents, including car accidents. This condition manifests in many ways. Some experience a very sudden onset of severe symptoms while others develop symptoms more gradually that worsen over time. Ultimately, anyone displaying signs of PTSD needs comprehensive treatment to overcome this condition.

There is no way to predict whether an individual will develop PTSD after a car accident. Some factors, like a family history of psychiatric issues or a history of traumatic events, may predispose some individuals to develop PTSD from car accidents, but it is generally impossible to predict.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

  • Nightmares about car accidents or the specific accident the person experienced.
  • Flashbacks or vivid recollections of the traumatic accident.
  • Changes in behavior, such as mood swings, irritability, and signs of depression.
  • Intense feelings of anxiety or paranoia.
  • Avoidance, or generally avoiding riding in cars or driving after an accident.
  • Hypervigilance or an excited “fight or flight” response from specific events.

A person who develops PTSD may experience some or all of these symptoms. Some symptoms may persist for most of a typical day while other people experience acute episodes of specific symptoms. One person may feel on edge about driving following an accident, and his or her anxiety worsens to the point that he or she avoids driving altogether. Another person may drive without a problem following the accident but then experience an anxiety attack on the road when he or she notices an element similar to one in his or her previous accident, such as seeing a car that resembles the one that caused his or her accident.

PTSD Treatments

PTSD is a complex condition that requires individualized treatment. There is no one-size-fits-all cure for PTSD or treatment that works universally for everyone with the condition. Some individuals benefit from psychiatric medications, others find relief from holistic therapies like massage and acupuncture, and others find a combination of these treatments most effective. Unfortunately, people who do not receive appropriate treatment for PTSD may turn to substance abuse to cope with their symptoms, and this creates a dangerous cycle of abuse and worsening symptoms.

Most people who develop PTSD benefit from cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy, and psychiatric medications to manage the symptoms of anxiety or depression. They may also require medications to aid sleep if they experience night terrors or insomnia from PTSD.

Legal Compensation for PTSD

If a driver or vehicle passenger develops PTSD after a car accident, this is a type of emotional injury that would qualify for compensation. The individual could claim compensation for the cost of psychological counseling and associated treatments. Some psychological conditions, including PTSD, are capable of manifesting physical symptoms. An individual with PTSD may have trouble eating, fail to get adequate sleep, and experience a decline in performance at work.

Emotional injuries and psychological damage are difficult to assign monetary values, so a jury will generally consider expert witness testimony to determine an appropriate amount of compensation for a plaintiff’s PTSD. A psychologist may testify to the severity of the plaintiff’s symptoms, the need for ongoing treatment, and associated psychological issues the plaintiff may face in the future to help the jury reach a reasonable conclusion.