Can a Car Accident Cause PTSD?

Distress after car accident man with PTSD

It takes a while to feel good again after a car accident. A victim’s wounds need time to heal. But while cuts, scrapes, and broken bones mend, psychological pain can still linger. It’s possible for car accidents to cause PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other mental personal injuries.

When a car accident is not your fault, you have the right to compensation for your injuries. Collecting monetary damages for emotional or psychological injuries like PTSD presents special challenges. There is no cast, neck brace, or scar as a visible sign that someone has suffered mental trauma. For that reason, they can be difficult to spot, diagnose, and prove.

Invisible Car Accident Injuries

Auto accidents are known to cause problems that can’t be seen. Sciatica or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) can result from a car wreck, but won’t show up on an x-ray or through any medical test. The same goes for psychological injuries that create mental distress or change a victim’s behavior. One exception is a traumatic brain injury (TBI) which often can be seen in a brain scan or x-ray of the skull.

There are so many other things that can cause psychological problems like clinical depression, PTSD, or anxiety disorders that it’s sometimes hard to see their connection to the trauma of a car accident. Even someone suffering from PTSD may not realize why they have the symptoms they do. Complicating matters is the fact some injuries don’t always show up right away after an accident. Even though they are different from physical injuries, they are still serious, and victims deserve compensation.

What is PTSD?

Woman crying possible PTSD after car accident

Doctors have always known that living through a traumatic experience can cause psychological symptoms, but it wasn’t until 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association introduced the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD was once thought to only occur after huge events like wars, torture, or natural disasters. In recent years, it has been found to be much more widespread than first thought. It has been attributed to more personal traumas such as physical violence or vehicle accidents. It was also now categorized as a Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorder, rather than an Anxiety Disorder.

This means that PTSD isn’t just an increase in a person’s anxiety or nervousness. Instead, it is a disorder with specific symptoms that are triggered as the direct result of a traumatic event from the person’s past. Thus, a car accident can, and sometimes does, directly cause PTSD.

Extreme situations like being in a warzone or surviving a plane crash tend to be experienced as traumatic events by nearly everyone involved. Something like a car accident, on the other hand, may cause significant distress to one person, while another might not be affected at all. This makes proving PTSD particularly difficult in a car accident lawsuit.

How Do You Know if You Have PTSD?

PTSD doesn’t just show up out of nowhere. It starts with some traumatic event (like a car accident). Certain situations, sights, or sounds can act as triggers, making them relive the stress and fear they felt when the incident first occurred.

Replaying the event in their minds, even subconsciously, can bring about various psychological symptoms. No two cases are exactly alike. PTSD symptoms might be triggered occasionally or on a regular basis. The disorder can last for a short time after an accident, or for years.

The most common symptoms include:

  • The mental images and emotions can come back again and again with the full force of the original accident. The victim will feel panic, shock, or dread as if it’s happening again. Blood pressure and heart rate can rise too. These incidents can show up as flashbacks or nightmares.
  • PTSD victims may develop a phobia surrounding the trauma. After a devastating car crash, they might be too frightened to drive or even be a passenger in a car.
  • Depression and other negative emotions often come with PTSD. Mood swings or feelings of anger, guilt, or detachment can overwhelm a victim after a serious car accident.
  • Some PTSD victims suffer from insomnia. They may be hypersensitive and easily startled. It’s as if they are always on guard, anticipating another trauma.
  • To alleviate the negative emotions and responses to PTSD, some victims will try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. They might also engage in other self-destructive behavior.

PTSD’s Life-Changing Effects

Living with PTSD after a car accident can change a victim’s life forever. Reliving the trauma all the time with flashbacks or developing a fear of driving can affect both their personal and professional life. It may be difficult or impossible to keep a job with PTSD after an accident.

PTSD can often be treated with behavioral therapy and therapeutic medications. Patients may need extensive counseling to regain their pre-accident mental health. When the accident was not their fault, they deserve a settlement that compensates them for these costs, as well as lost wages if they’re unable to work.

Proving a PTSD Diagnosis

Personal Injury

Personal injuries that involve a victim’s mental health are sometimes difficult to prove. The fact that there’s not a simple test to detect something like PTSD can give a judge or jury reasonable doubt that the victim is truly suffering emotional pain.

Accident victims should seek treatment for all of their injuries as soon as possible. Ideally, this will also include an evaluation of how the person is coping with the trauma. Documentation is key to establishing the cause and effect of an accident and PTSD, so it’s important to see a mental health professional at the first signs of PTSD symptoms. They may be able to provide a diagnosis as proof in a personal injury lawsuit.

Getting Compensation for PTSD

PTSD after a car accident can have devastating, long-lasting effects. It is best to find a car accident lawyer with experience in PTSD cases to help determine the costs of your psychological injury. These might include:

  • Ongoing therapy
  • Medication
  • Assistance with day-to-day activities
  • Lost wages and lost future income
  • Emotional distress

Our car accident lawyers in St Louis understand that PTSD is just as serious and life-changing as any physical injury. They can guide you through the process of requesting compensation and getting the settlement you deserve.


Car Accidents


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