It is no secret that car accidents can be traumatic. Some people experiencing the most severe car accidents have long held that the accident itself led to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. What is PTSD? Can you get it from a car accident? More importantly, can you sue if you experience PTSD as a result of a car accident?
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological condition that can affect people who have experienced a variety of distressing circumstances. Originally, psychologists applied the definition to World War I soldiers experiencing flashbacks and emotional trauma from war experiences – at the time, the term was shell shock. Today, the condition appears as PTSD according to the American Psychiatric Association.
People experience PTSD in a variety of ways. Some may relive the traumatic event during dreams, daytime hallucinations or flashbacks. Whatever the symptoms, the body’s fight or flight response to traumatic situations remains in high gear even when trauma is not present, causing a number of issues.
Though the presentation of symptoms may vary, these four symptoms are the markers of PTSD:
- Intrusion – memories of the trauma surface and intrude on daily life
- Numbing – the victim distances themselves, decreasing the ability to feel emotions and increasing symptoms of depression
- Avoidance – the victim avoids things that may become associated with trauma, which may lead to panic and anxiety
- Arousal – the body and mind are on constant alert for increased danger, disturbing sleep and focus
Can a Car Accident Cause PTSD?
Any traumatic event can cause PTSD, so it is no surprise that car accidents can cause PTSD for many. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association states that car accidents are the leading cause of non-military PTSD in the United States. What’s more, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates as much as 9% of car accident victims eventually develop PTSD.
Once a car accident survivor has PTSD, the symptoms they express will vary. Receptiveness to treatment varies as well, and experts have not found a treatment that works well across all instances of PTSD. In short, PTSD is a long-lasting, complicated condition that survivors may suffer for years to come.
Can You Sue for PTSD From a Car Accident?
A survivor can pursue multiple forms of damages with a personal injury car accident claim. Typically, if you can prove the other driver caused the accident, you may receive damages to compensate you for the following:
- Losses due to the cost of medical treatment
- Loss of wages caused by an inability to work, or loss of potential income if you become permanently disabled
- Damages due to physical pain and suffering
- Damages due to emotional pain and suffering
PTSD falls within the emotional pain and suffering portion of the damages. However, as with pain and suffering in general, it can be difficult to prove. Proving PTSD can be made even more difficult when you consider the fact that you will need to show proof that a qualified doctor has diagnosed you with PTSD as a result of the accident.
In many cases, an expert’s testimony must certify that you have PTSD. If you previously had PTSD symptoms, it may be difficult to claim that your current symptoms came as a result of your accident. Still, new trauma can act as the source for increased symptoms.
If you believe you have PTSD as a result of a car accident, it is important to begin your documentation and medical treatment of your PTSD early. The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in California is two years; however, it can take nearly that long for symptoms to present themselves, or for a doctor to provide you with a diagnosis. Seek the help of a personal injury attorney for guidance regarding expert testimony and the claims process.