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Can You Get PTSD from a Car Accident?

February 27, 2019 |

A car accident can cause damages of multiple types, including physical injuries, property damages and financial losses. However, we often overlook the emotional and mental conditions that can result from the traumatic event of a car accident. What is PTSD? Can you get PTSD from a car accident? Can you sue for an auto accident-related PTSD? Our Milwaukee car accident attorneys will break down how PTSD relates to car accidents.

What Is PTSD?

People came to understand PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, better in the period after World War I. Then known as “shell shock,” PTSD was frequent in soldiers returning from war. Since then, however, researchers have come to recognize that anyone going through a traumatic event can develop PTSD.

The following three major features characterize PTSD:

  • Intrusive recollections of the initial incident, which may disturb sleep and even wakeful hours. Recollections may involve flashbacks, nightmares, and even hallucinations.
  • Avoidance of the activities of normal daily life as well as potential reminders of the original trauma. Avoidance can result in emotional distance from friends and loved ones.
  • Arousal of the fight-or-flight response to immediate danger. PTSD patients maintain this arousal during activities of normal daily life, which can result in constant anxiety, panic attacks, and further trauma.

As a result of these side effects, those suffering from PTSD may experience a fourth set of symptoms – fear, guilt, shame, negative beliefs, withdrawal from others, aggressive behavior, hyper vigilance, and insomnia. PTSD can negatively affect nearly every aspect of life, and those who suffer from it continue to experience issues stemming from the trauma for an extended period.

Can You Get PTSD From a Car Accident?

As mentioned, anyone who has a traumatic experience has the potential to suffer the effects of PTSD. A car accident can most definitely qualify as a single-incident traumatic experience – in fact, experts believe as many as 9% of car accident victims eventually show signs of PTSD. The severity of the car accident does not appear to be a predictor of PTSD; rather, a victim’s perception of the accident and current state of being are more likely to predict negative effects.

Here are some potential signs that you or a loved one may be experiencing car accident-related PTSD.

  • Anxiety or increased heart rate when experiencing conditions similar to the accident, such as similar sounds like crashing and honking, or sensations such as abrupt stopping;
  • Feeling unsafe or out of control while driving;
  • Hypervigilance while driving, including increased watchfulness of hazards and other drivers;
  • Avoidance of driving or riding as a passenger because it provides uneasy or unsafe feelings

Can You Sue for Car Accident Related PTSD?

Survivors of car accidents that another driver caused often choose to pursue personal injury cases. If you are able to prove the other driver acted negligently and caused the accident, that driver is liable for payment of your medical bills, as well as compensation for any financial losses due to missed work. In addition, a jury can award damages for physical pain and suffering and emotional pain and suffering resulting from the circumstances of the accident. PTSD could exist within the category of emotional pain and suffering.

However, you will first need to seek treatment for your emotional trauma and receive a diagnosis of PTSD from a medical professional. In order for a jury to consider your diagnosis, you will likely need expert testimony to assert that you do in fact have PTSD, and that it is a result of the car accident. In general, emotional pain and suffering is often difficult to quantify, and it is difficult to predict what fair compensation would be for a person suffering PTSD as a result of a motor vehicle collision.

Seek Attorney Help

If you experience PTSD symptoms as the result of a car accident that was not your fault, be sure to seek psychological counseling as soon as symptoms appear. Often, insurance companies want to settle injury claims quickly, so early recognition and diagnosis is paramount. In addition, insurance companies typically discount emotional injuries sustained by individuals following motor vehicle accidents and do not properly evaluate or consider the significance that those injuries can have.  Navigating insurance issues and expert testimony is not easy, and for that reason it is important to seek the help of a Wisconsin personal injury attorney with the specialized knowledge of PTSD and experience representing individuals with PTSD.  At Cannon & Dunphy, S.C., we have successfully handled many cases on behalf of individuals who have developed PTSD following motor vehicle collisions.


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