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Can you get PTSD from a Car Accident?

Car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD.

In addition to physical injuries resulting from a severe car accident, victims are at an increased risk of developing psychological problems, most commonly, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that many car accident victims present symptoms. According to a study by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 39.2% of motor vehicle accident survivors develop PTSD. However, these symptoms can often be overlooked or go unreported by the victims and are untreated.

st. louis woman with ptsd after car accident

What is PTSD?

PTSD is an anxiety disorder that commonly follows a traumatic event like the threat of severe injury or death to oneself or another person. When the brain cannot turn off fight or flight reactions and anxieties, the condition becomes disruptive to a person’s life, sometimes to an extraordinary degree that can be just as impactful as a physical injury.

Symptoms of PTSD

After an auto accident, symptoms of PTSD can be present as:

  • Persistent thoughts about the accident
  •  Psychologically re-experiencing the accident
  •  Feeling compelled to avoid activities that the brain associates with the accident.
  •  A feeling of detachment or numbness or increased physical arousal that is disruptive.

Can You Get PTSD From a Minor Car Accident?

Anyone who has been involved in a traumatic event, such as a car accident, is at risk of suffering from PTSD. While severe accidents can be particularly traumatic, even seemingly “minor” car accidents can result in PTSD.

How can PTSD affect your life?

PTSD does not look the same for every person suffering from it. Some individuals may have bad dreams; some may have hallucinations; some may get crippling anxiety around crowds of people, while others have vivid, uncontrollable flashbacks which force them to relive the traumatic accident. In rare cases, the paranoid ideations people experience can cause people to want to hurt themselves.

Studies suggest that around 40 percent of people who suffer from a traumatic event develop PTSD symptoms, and about 6 percent of the population of the United States will have PTSD at some point in their life. Women have PTSD more often than men, and people who already suffer from depression are more likely to develop PTSD.

Treatment for PTSD After a Car Accident

Because PTSD can differ from patient to patient, doctors must tailor treatment to the individual. Treatments can include therapy and medication or a combination of the two. While some cases of PTSD can be resolved more quickly than others, it is not unusual for treatment to be ongoing and weeks, if not months.

What to do if you think you have PTSD

If you have been in a traumatic auto accident and believe you might have PTSD, you should speak with a medical professional as soon as possible. Updating your doctor about your psychological and emotional state is as important as informing them of your physical well-being. Additionally, if you eventually plan to seek compensation or file a lawsuit relating to the accident, all of your injuries must be well documented, including PTSD.

Can I Get Compensation for PTSD and Mental Health Issues Caused by a Car Accident?

Yes. Typically, compensation for PTSD and other mental health issues and trauma is awarded to you as part of your “general compensation” package after a car accident. 

However, it can be more challenging to prove PTSD than a severe physical injury, such as a broken bone or whiplash. You must definitively prove your diagnosis, usually with the help of a mental health professional, and confirm that the PTSD was caused directly by the car accident.

Mental and psychological damage is more difficult to prove in a court of law, so you will benefit significantly from the help of an experienced St. Louis auto accident attorney to get the compensation you deserve.

Combining With a Physical Injury

PTSD often occurs in combination with a physical injury in a car accident. When this happens, the personal injury process may be more straightforward and increases your chances of successfully receiving damages for PTSD. You can still pursue benefits on the grounds of PTSD alone.

Medical Bills Related to PTSD

You cannot diagnose yourself with PTSD, at least not in the eyes of the law. The first expense you will accrue from PTSD is medical bills. The reason is that you must see a mental health professional to diagnose your issue, then you will incur costs for treatment. This might mean medication and regular trips to a therapist, both of which are costly.

Lost Wages and PTSD

Your PTSD might get so severe that you cannot work. This effect is especially prevalent for people that work in the driving industry. A traumatic car accident might make you terrified of getting in a car again, decreasing your earning power. You can also lose wages in other sectors, as driving and any other activity might trigger your symptoms.

Expert Witness Testimony

A factor you should consider when choosing a doctor is whether or not they are comfortable testifying on your behalf. You’ll need to prove your condition to the opposing party and, if required, to a judge in court. A written note might not be enough in these situations, so it is best to work with a mental health professional representing you in court as an expert witness.

doctor looking at brain MRI

PTSD & TBI

Car accidents are a common cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The symptoms of TBI include irregular breathing, dizziness, lack of coordination, poor balance, and reduced endurance. A new study has shown that some signs may make it challenging to diagnose TBI, especially if the person has been through a traumatic event in the past. The study shows that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and TBI could be similar. A traumatic brain injury can affect every aspect of a person’s life, including work, school, and relationships.

Overlapping Symptoms of PTSD and TBI

PTSD and TBI both affect the brain; however, one is a result of a traumatic injury and the other is a result of a traumatic event. A recent study published in the Journal Psych Central has revealed some startling similarities between the symptoms of both PTSD and TBI. These symptoms include reckless or aggressive behavior and aggression.

The potential for confusion between the diagnoses is relatively high, especially if the person has suffered both a traumatic event and a traumatic injury. In such cases, doctors may misread the signs of a traumatic brain injury. When a person reports overlapping symptoms, it can lead to a misdiagnosis, and a doctor may provide the wrong type of treatment for the condition, leading to further complications.

TBI Patients at High Risk of PTSD

According to research, those who suffer from TBI are more likely to suffer from PTSD as well. TBI sufferers may not get a PTSD diagnosis when needed. This can lead to no treatment or the wrong treatment.

Why You Need to Be Careful

The unfortunate truth about PTSD is that it often takes months or years to develop. Furthermore, it might present itself early, but you could discount it as chronic anxiety and not realize it is a more severe condition until later. This is one of the primary dangers of PTSD because people often settle their cases before it ever starts affecting them. The best defense against this issue is watching out for signs of the disorder and taking them seriously if they are present.

Seek Legal Help from a St. Louis Accident Lawyer

Physical pain and injuries are relatively easy to recognize and accept due to a car accident. Proving mental anxiety is complex and may require testimony from family and friends who knew the plaintiff before the event. Consult with a car accident attorney if someone you love has developed a significant change in behavior since their car accident. Post-traumatic stress disorder can be just as debilitating as a broken bone. The patient deserves to be treated for it, and the liable driver should be responsible for compensating for that.

There is a thin line that separates PTSD and TBI. Severe car accident victims can suffer traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Getting the correct diagnosis is extremely important, not just to receive the proper treatment but also to make a compensation claim. Legal issues surrounding TBI and PTSD can be complex.

If you or your loved ones are experiencing significant psychological trauma after a severe car accident in St. Louis, get help from an experienced lawyer immediately. An experienced St. Louis car accident attorney can help you get the compensation you are legally entitled to and protect you from the insurance company’s tactics to minimize your claim.


Free Consultation with a St. Louis Car Accident Lawyer

Don’t talk to an insurance claims adjuster before speaking with The Hoffmann Law Firm, L.L.C. We can help you avoid making statements that may affect the outcome of your case. The consultation is free; you don’t pay unless we get you money!

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Updated: July 5, 2023