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PTSD and Car Accidents

Car accidents often lead to both physical injury and car damage. They can also lead to severe emotional or psychiatric conditions including depression and anxiety. In some cases, car accidents can lead to extreme symptoms diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a “psychiatric disorder that may occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, or rape or who have been threatened with death, sexual violence or serious injury.” 

People who suffer from PTSD may experience effects immediately, but often the effects do not occur until well after the traumatic event has occurred, sometimes taking months to emerge. Those suffering from PTSD do not experience the same symptoms, they may experience anxiety, fear, depression, sadness, mood swings, or anger. They may have nightmares and flashbacks. They may be unable to focus and suffer from memory problems and insomnia. Victims of PTSD caused by a car accident may find it difficult or impossible to get back into a car, particularly in the case of an accident which led to serious injury or the death of another passenger or bystander. 

While some anxiety is normal after a traumatic event occurs, it typically subsides in a relatively short time frame. For individuals suffering from PTSD, symptoms often linger for more than a month and can last years. Individuals who have already existing psychological conditions, like depression or anxiety, or who experienced previous trauma, are more likely to suffer from PTSD. For those suffering from PTSD, their daily lives are impacted. PTSD rarely subsides without treatment, be it behavioral or cognitive therapy and/or medication.  

Many people associate PTSD with veterans who have returned home from war. Veterans may suffer flashbacks and trauma triggered by things such as fireworks or a car backfiring. However, as can be seen by the definition of PTSD, it is not just veterans who suffer from trauma. PTSD can affect anyone who has been involved in a traumatic event, including those involved in a Charlotte car accident.  

Recovering Damages for PTSD After a Car Accident

It is possible to recover damages for PTSD caused by a car accident however it is more complicated than recovering damages for physical injuries. That is because in order to prove that damages exist and are compensable, the injured party (plaintiff) must show that the car accident is in fact what caused the PTSD. In the case of a Charlotte car accident where a plaintiff suffers a broken leg or a broken arm from the car accident, the damages are visible. It is easy to show that the plaintiff did not have any broken bones before the car accident. 

PTSD is not an obvious, observable injury. While PTSD symptoms could manifest immediately, it is more likely that it could take weeks or months for the symptoms of PTSD to manifest. It could then take additional time and multiple doctors visits to get a PTSD diagnosis. That means that tying the PTSD back to a car accident could be difficult; more difficult than physical injuries. Insurance companies will be reluctant to pay for an injury that is not clearly visible, and one that may not manifest for some time after an accident. 

In addition, PTSD is different for different people. PTSD is about one person’s reaction to a specific trauma. Prior history can impact PTSD.  People often experience different side effects from PTSD. All of these can make it challenging to prove that a car accident caused PTSD. 

To successfully prove that a car accident led to PTSD, the plaintiff will need to have: 

  • a medical diagnosis of PTSD
  • lay witnesses to attest to the fact that PTSD symptoms started after the car accident. Witnesses who know the plaintiff will be extremely important in a PTSD case. They will be necessary to show that the plaintiff’s behavior changed significantly after the car accident.
  • medical or expert witnesses. This type of witness is an independent person who can testify as to how car accidents can cause PTSD, explain the symptoms of PTSD and specifically focus on the ones the plaintiff is experiencing and talk about a long term diagnosis. 

If a plaintiff is successful in proving that the defendant is solely liable in a car accident claim, damages may include:

  • medical expenses - hospital and doctor visits including therapist and other mental health providers, prescription medication, assistive devices. If treatment at an inpatient mental health facility is necessary, it could be covered. If PTSD from the car accident led to other issues like substance abuse, rehabilitation costs could be recovered. 
  • lost wages for time missed from work
  • pain and suffering 

Should I Hire a Charlotte, North Carolina Attorney?

Proving liability for damages in any car accident case can be challenging. Proving that a car accident led to PTSD can be particularly challenging. Another challenge for plaintiffs in North Carolina, and a handful of other states, is the fact that North Carolina follows the contributory negligence doctrine. Under contributory negligence, recovery for damages is barred if the accident was caused in part by the plaintiff. Therefore even if the plaintiff is found to only be 1% at fault for the accident, he/she will be precluded from recovering any damages. 

Due to the challenges of bringing any car accident lawsuit in North Carolina, combined with the challenges of proving that a car accident caused PTSD, hiring a Charlotte attorney could be the difference between recovering damages or recovering nothing. 

If You Are Suffering from PTSD Because of a Car Accident Our Charlotte Attorneys Can Help

If you are suffering from PTSD after being injured in a car accident you should speak with an attorney to determine the likelihood of successfully recovering damages. The Charlotte NC based lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced accident attorneys who can help. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation

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