What Happens if You Get PTSD After a Car Accident?

Medical Concept: On the blue surface of the tablet lies a stethoscope and a cardboard sign with the inscription "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Each year, millions of Americans are in car accidents, with many crashes causing severe or fatal injuries. Car accidents can be hugely traumatic. Thus, it isn’t a surprise that auto crashes are the most common reason for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If another driver hit and injured you recently, it’s critical to understand PTSD, its signs, and how to deal with it. You also should be familiar with your legal rights if your PTSD is a major obstacle to your life. Filing a personal injury lawsuit for your physical and emotional injuries is possible with a car accident attorney helping you.

What Is Car Accident PTSD?

Diagnosis: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A medical note surrounded by a neurological hammer and a mental status exam, with the word "psychiatric" inscribed in large letters.

PTSD is a severe mental health disorder caused by experiencing or observing a traumatic event. The condition affects approximately 3.5 million people per year.

Years ago, PTSD was called “shell shock.” This term mainly referred to military members who were in combat. The term shell shock comes from World War I, when powerful, modern artillery was used in combat for the first time. The shock, violence, and trauma of constant artillery bombardments in the war led to many soldiers being completely incapacitated mentally and physically. People were described as being shell-shocked, but it was PTSD.

PTSD differs sharply from more typical troubles people have adjusting to something traumatic. Many people have temporary emotional trauma from upsetting events, such as a car crash. They may return to normal mentally after a few weeks or a month. They still may have compensable physical injuries, but mentally, they can live normally.

On the other hand, PTSD can hamper a severe car accident victim for months or years. The condition can make it impossible to live life. Car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in the US today. Many victims develop PTSD within 30 to 90 days of a car accident. It may not improve without medical treatment.

How Do You Know You Have PTSD After A Car Crash?

You may be suffering from PTSD if you have any of the following symptoms after a car accident:


Imagine driving to work after a car accident. Suddenly, you have a vivid flashback of the moment the other vehicle slammed into yours. You may have a flashback when thinking about how the accident could have been avoided. The flashback can be because of something you see driving or living your life in other ways. Continuing to have flashbacks of the accident moment weeks, months, or years later is a sign of mental trauma that can be PTSD.

Unable to Talk About The Accident

Have you ever been so upset about a topic that you won’t discuss it? It happens a lot with serious car accidents. The victim may be unable to think about the car wreck without suffering anxiety or sleeplessness. You may not talk about the accident, even with your family or close friends. Being unable to think or talk about the accident is a sign that you can be suffering mental and emotional harm from the memory.


Trouble sleeping is another common sign of PTSD from a car accident. However, insomnia also may be related to injury pain, so you will need to be sure. For example, did you have nightmares about the accident or injuries that prevented you from sleeping? Or you may be unable to sleep regularly because of thoughts of the accident.

Difficulty Concentrating

If you can’t concentrate on work, TV, reading, or other things, it may be PTSD from the car crash. It can happen because car trauma PTSD may affect the front of the brain and amygdala more sensitive and make the frontal lobe less active. The amygdala is key in detecting physical threats. When the prefrontal cortex that handles emotions and decisions isn’t working correctly, trouble concentrating on tasks is often the result.

Avoiding Cars

Most Americans need cars to get where they need to go, work, and live. Avoiding driving or being in or around cars can be a sign of PTSD. It is also a possible sign if you won’t drive near the crash scene, even if it would save you a lot of time on your drive.

Startle Easily

Do your friends and family notice that you startle more easily after the accident? It’s normal for the body to react when you are scared unexpectedly, but PTSD can turbocharge this instinct.

Anger And Irritability

Perhaps the most common sign of PTSD is being angry and irritable easily. Your body can be in an endless ‘fight or flight’ cycle, making you edgy and physically tense. You can become angry easily for little reason. Are you snapping at your loved ones too often after the crash? It can be PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder after a car crash is real. It can negatively affect your job, health, relationships, and more. You should speak to your doctor about your PSTD symptoms to learn if it’s related to your accident. Then, based on that conversation, consider retaining an experienced auto accident attorney to seek compensation.

There also may be severe physical signs of PTSD that affect your ability to live life:

  • Constant feelings of anxiety or stress from the crash
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Lack of appetite
  • Insomnia

Any of the aforementioned mental and physical symptoms are possible PTSD signs. You should immediately talk to your doctor or mental health professional for assistance. PTSD can get better, but most people need medical help to treat it.

How Long Can You Have PTSD From A Car Accident?

PTSD may only last a few months and get better with therapy and self-care. It also can last for years if not properly treated. You may be eligible for compensation for PTSD if your car accident attorney can prove it’s accident-related.

How Is PTSD Treated?

A woman with mental health problems is consulting with a psychiatrist, who is recording her condition for treatment.

Car accident PTSD is diagnosed after a psychological test. A doctor will rely on criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5. After you are diagnosed with PTSD, you can be treated with psychological therapy, prescription drugs, or both. Some PTSD treatments include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): is mental health therapy focused on talking to understand how the PTSD symptoms are distorting your reality. Then, it reevaluates the situation and how it is related to reality. You will also learn to understand others better and obtain problem-solving skills and self-confidence. You also will learn how to face your worst fears, which can alleviate PTSD in many people.
  • Medications: Prescription drugs can be used in combination with therapy. Many drug treatments use SSRIs and related antidepressants and anxiety drugs.

All serious PTSD patients require medical intervention to improve their condition. However, there are actions you can take that can help, as well:

  • Exercise: Exercise in the gym or outside can reduce stress without medication. It won’t cure PTSD, but many people have reduced symptoms through regular physical exertion. Good options are running, walking, swimming, and biking. It also helps to exercise outdoors and get fresh air to lower stress and get your mind from the crash. However, the problem is that PTSD can prevent many people from having the motivation to exercise.
  • Join a support group: Car accident PTSD is common. Having a place to talk about your PTSD with others who understand is often helpful. You may learn to share your feelings, coping methods, and other treatments that help others.

Can You Get Compensation For PTSD?

PTSD compensation may be an option after a crash. If you think you have PTSD from the car crash, a car accident attorney must prove the following in court or to the insurance company:

  • Another driver hit you and caused the crash: This means you must prove that the other driver violated their duty of care and injured you. For example, suppose another driver was speeding, ran a red light, and T-boned your car at 40 MPH. It is a devastating, scary accident that could cause PTSD. Your attorney must show that the other driver ran the red light quickly and hit you.
  • You developed PTSD: You have been diagnosed with PTSD, and your doctor says that it is related to the car accident.
  • PTSD is affecting your life: You have negative effects from PTSD that you can receive compensation for.

If the PTSD is related to the car accident, you should also speak to a personal injury attorney about it. Many car accident settlements result from physical injury, but some also relate to mental and emotional trauma.

Your attorney will communicate with your medical advisors to determine if you were diagnosed with accident-related PTSD. If so, your car accident lawyer will assemble the most compelling PTSD evidence and issue a demand letter to the insurance company. PTSD is more complex to prove and receive compensation for than physical injuries. But if your doctor or psychologist diagnosed you, compensation can happen.

Types Of Compensation For PTSD

You may receive compensation for a car accident that caused PTSD, including:

  • Past, current, and future medical bills for physical and mental injuries. It may include ambulatory care, hospital stays, doctor visits, surgery, psychological counseling, and more.
  • Lost earnings for the time lost from work stemming from the accident, your injuries, treatments, and PTSD.
  • Pain and suffering, which includes physical discomfort from treatments and injuries, and also mental and emotional trauma for PTSD.

How much money you can get from a car accident for PTSD depends on many things.

  • How seriously you suffered an injury: If you have serious accident injuries and PTSD, you can receive more compensation.
  • How long the PTSD lasted: Did you have PTSD for a month or two, and then it got better? Or did you suffer from PTSD for months or years? Do you still have it today? Having this debilitating condition for a long time can boost compensation.
  • How the PTSD affects your life: Do you have trouble working, helping with the kids, or doing things around the home? Are you unable to work?
  • Fault: If the other driver was 100 percent at fault for the crash, case compensation will be higher than if there is a shared fault.

The ideal way to understand your case’s potential value is to speak to a licensed car accident attorney. It’s especially useful to find an attorney accustomed to PTSD injury cases.

More To Know About PTSD

PTSD Mental Health Concept: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A depressed woman sits alone on the floor in a dark room.

Now, you should understand car accident-related PTSD. But there are other things to know about this serious condition:

  • PTSD isn’t mental weakness: You aren’t weak or deficient if you get PTSD after a crash. Remember, many military members have developed PTSD and are some of the toughest people in existence. Even someone who is mentally and physically strong can be debilitated from PTSD after a crash.
  • It’s severe trauma: Any negative event can be stressful. You may be devastated to get demoted or fired, which may upset you for months. But it isn’t PTSD. For you to have PTSD, you have to have been confronted with physical harm, death, or sex-related abuse. You can get PTSD just from seeing a severe car accident, too.
  • You don’t always get PTSD immediately: Not all car accident victims notice PTSD the first day, week, or month after the crash. For example, many military veterans don’t experience PTSD until they are home, possibly months later.
  • You usually can’t just get over it: PTSD is a physical and mental illness that cannot simply go away by itself. The condition can negatively affect the rest of your life without serious treatment. But you can recover with mental and medical assistance. You also may receive fair compensation for your mental and physical injuries in a car accident lawsuit.

Contact A Car Accident Lawyer Today

Physical injuries aren’t the sole outcome of a car accident. Injury victims also may suffer from mental and emotional trauma that can even become PTSD. If your PTSD is related to the accident and your injuries, you can receive compensation in a lawsuit. A car accident attorney can review your case and medical records to determine possible compensation. Speak to a qualified personal injury lawyer in your community for additional information.

Car Accident
by Mickey Fine Law
Last updated on - Originally published on