2 MIN READ | Mental Health

Robert Haynes

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Car Accident Victims

Cite This
Robert Haynes, (2021, November 30). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Car Accident Victims. Psychreg on Mental Health. https://www.psychreg.org/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-car-accident-victims/
Reading Time: 2 minutes

It may be surprising to learn that car accidents are the number one cause of posttraumatic stress disorder. Of the six million car wrecks each year in the United States, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that nearly 40% of those survivors develop PTSD. 

Are you at risk for PTSD? 

Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder typically begin about a month after the triggering event. There are cases, however, when symptoms don’t manifest until many years after the initial trauma. A formal diagnosis is usually made when symptoms create problems with day-to-day functioning, like issues at work or extreme unease in social situations. 

PTSD interferes with a person’s ability to accomplish daily tasks. As with any other illness, certain people are more likely than others to get PTSD. Some of the risk factors are: 

  • Family history of mental illness
  • Going into a dissociative state following a wreck 
  • Emotionality lack of or little emotional support 
  • A history of adjustment issues or previous trauma 

Studies have shown a person’s predisposition to PTSD outweighs accident severity when determining if someone will develop the full-blown disorder. In other words, no matter how serious the accident is, the main reason car accident victims get PTSD in the first place is their personal risk profile. 

Suing for pain and suffering

The first question most people ask after being diagnosed with PTSD or other stress disorders following a car wreck is, can I sue? Fortunately, the answer is yes. You must meet certain thresholds for bringing a third party claim depending on what state you are in, but the negligent driver can be successfully sued in many cases. The laws are complex. For example, in North Carolina, you should seek the advice of a Charlotte car accident lawyer for guidance.

Psychological trauma can be hard to prove in court, so it’s important to first be diagnosed, then follow any and all instructions from your doctor. If you fail to precisely follow the physician’s instructions, you risk your case being dismissed. You should also be careful about revealing personal details online. If the defense can draw a correlation between your case of PTSD and a past traumatic event that you experienced. He or she may convince the judge that your mental state was actually a preexisting condition.

Proving PTSD and why you should reject the first settlement offer

It is an unwritten rule you should never accept the first settlement offer from the insurance company without consulting an attorney. Keep in mind it is the insurer’s goal to pay out as little as possible, so it’s important you understand the value of your claim and hold out until you receive it. The challenge is in proving without a doubt that you suffer from a clinical case of PTSD.

It’s easy for a judge to glance at a picture and determine you have physical injuries. It’s a whole other ballgame when you have to demonstrate you have severe mental illness caused specifically by a car accident. 

Your own testimony outlining symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, elevated heart rate, and personality changes is a good place to start. From there, it’s important to have a reputable doctor corroborate your diagnosis. Gaining access to experts on psychological disorders that will evaluate you and back up your claim can be hard. But it is not impossible under the guidance of a skilled lawyer.


Robert Haynes did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health and well-being.


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