Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in a Car Accident Personal Injury Claim

Car accident injuries are not merely limited to physical conditions. Research shows that nearly half of all people in car accidents requiring medical attention develop some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  These emotional conditions can be as minor as occasional nightmares concerning the collision to complete fear of being on a freeway or in a car.

About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Most often associated with military veterans, PTSD is a mental health disorder triggered by trauma. This can include active combat as well as natural disasters, being the victim of a violent crime, or being involved in a serious car accident.

Common symptoms that could indicate the presence of PTSD after a car accident include:

  • Added anxiety when driving or being afraid to drive altogether
  • Avoiding certain circumstances that remind you of the accident, such as driving on a specific road or after dark
  • Having flashbacks of the accident
  • Suffering from nightmares, insomnia, or other sleep disturbances
  • Feeling detached or estranged from others
  • Angry outbursts, crying spells, or mood swings
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Feelings of hopelessness, shame, or despair
  • Self-medicating with alcohol or illegal drugs

To some extent, it is normal to experience these symptoms after a car accident. A general rule of thumb is that to be diagnosed with PTSD, you need to be experiencing symptoms for more than one month with a resulting change in your ability to perform daily activities.

Special Risk Factors

Although anyone can develop PTSD after a car accident, several factors can be used to predict who is most at risk. For example:

  • Being involved in a car accident that left you permanently disabled
  • Being involved in a car accident where another person died
  • Being found partially at fault for the accident
  • Having a history of mental illness, such as depression and anxiety
  • Having a family history of mental illness
  • Lacking support from friends and family after the event

It is a common misconception that children cannot get PTSD. People of any age can be diagnosed with PTSD. Children are vulnerable because their brains are still developing and they lack the ability to objectively evaluate the circumstances surrounding an accident. Teens who are suffering from PTSD will experience many of the same symptoms as adults, but younger children may suffer from a regression in behavior, sudden separation anxiety, and acting out the triggering event through play.

PTSD Diagnosis and Treatment Options

PTSD is diagnosed based on the length and severity of the symptoms you are experiencing. If you believe you are suffering from PTSD, your primary care provider can refer you to a specialist for further evaluation. Unfortunately, no one treatment can guarantee a PTSD cure. However, there are multiple treatments that have been proven effective in managing symptoms.

Therapy is the cornerstone of PTSD treatment. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) helps patients develop a deeper understanding of how the car accident has affected their thoughts and feelings while brainstorming productive ways to cope with symptoms. Prolonged exposure (PE) slowly exposes patients to situations or events that trigger symptoms, such as driving in heavy traffic or after dark. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) involves having patients focus their attention on specific sounds or hand movements while they talk about the event that triggered their PTSD symptoms.

Medication may be used in addition to therapy. Since PTSD symptoms often overlap with those associated with depression, antidepressant selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the most commonly prescribed PTSD medications.

Compensation for Car Accident PTSD

If your car accident was caused by another driver, you can seek compensation for medical expenses related to your PTSD in addition to lost wages and the emotional suffering and loss of enjoyment of life caused by the PTSD. If you were found to be partially at fault for the accident, you are still eligible for personal injury compensation. However, your settlement will be reduced by your assigned percentage of fault.

Insurance companies are most interested in protecting their bottom line, which means mental health claims related to car accident PTSD are not always taken seriously. Having an experienced attorney available to advocate for your needs ensures that you receive the compensation you deserve.

Inland Empire Law Group's team of experienced personal injury attorneys are dedicated to helping California residents resolve their car accident claims promptly and fairly. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Appointments are available at both our Rancho Cucamonga and Victorville offices.  Submit your case information online or call our office at 909-481-0100, or toll-free at 1-888-MY-IE-LAW to discuss your needs and to see how we can help in your recovery.


David Ricks
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Rancho Cucamonga Personal Injury Lawyer Serving the Inland Empire Community