Car Crash PTSD: How a Lawyer Can Help

    When a driver or passenger suffers personal injury behind the wheel due to another person’s negligence, the fallout can extend far beyond impacting the victim’s physical health, it often impacts their mental health as well.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious condition that can impact an accident victim’s quality of life. Read on for information on how personal injury attorneys can help victims suffering from PTSD recover compensation after an accident.

    Understanding PTSD

    Once known as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue syndrome,” post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a physiological condition that may develop after an individual has witnessed or experienced a traumatic or life-threatening event or emotional trauma where there was serious injury or the presence of a threat or harm. Long after the traumatic event has occurred, PTSD stays as a last consequence of the ordeal and can cause intense fear, helplessness, intrusive thoughts, re-experiencing the traumatic event, or feelings of horror.

    Examples of events that can cause PTSD include a physical or sexual assault, the unexpected death of a family member or loved one, a serious car accident, or natural disasters. For most people who experience any of these events, it is expected that there will be initial feelings related to the event such as shock, anger, anxiety, fear, or even guilt. While these reactions are common, for most people they will fade and go away over time. However, for a person suffering from PTSD, these feelings continue and even increase to a point so strong that they prevent the victim from going about their life as intended.

    Symptoms of PTSD

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    In many victims of a traumatic event, symptoms of PTSD often begin within three months of the incident. However, in some cases, the symptoms may not become present until years later. The severity and duration of PTSD can vary, with some people recovering within six months while others take much longer.  

    Common symptoms of PTSD are often grouped into four primary categories:

    • Reliving the ordeal: Through thoughts and memories of the traumatic incident, people with PTSD repeatedly relive the event. This can include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. Certain things that remind the victim of the event (e.g. anniversary of the event) can elicit feelings of severe distress.
    • Avoidance: A person with PTSD may avoid certain people, places, thoughts, or situations that remind them of the traumatic incident. Over time, this avoidance can manifest into feelings of isolation from friends and family as well as a loss of interest in things the person once enjoyed.
    • Heightened state of arousal: Physically, this can include increased blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal issues. Emotionally, this can include problems with showing affection, sleep issues, irritability, anger outbursts, difficulty sustaining attention, and being easily startled.
    • Negative mood and thought patterns: Thoughts and feelings related to blame, estrangement, and memories related to the traumatic event.

    Young children with PTSD may suffer from additional complications and developmental delays such as delayed toilet training, motor skills, and language development.  It is important to remember that PTSD symptoms and their intensity will vary from person to person.

    Treatment of PTSD

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    Fortunately, modern mental health care makes it possible to treat PTSD. The goal of PTSD treatment involves reducing the emotional and physical symptoms associated with the condition, as well as improving daily functioning and helping the person better cope with the event that triggered the condition.  Often, this is best accomplished through a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

    Certain antidepressant medications are often prescribed as an effective treatment for symptoms of PTSD. These medications can help to control feelings of anxiety and its associated symptoms. Sometimes, blood pressure medications are also used to help control certain physical symptoms of PTSD. These medications are often used in conjunction with various types of psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves learning to recognize and change thought patterns that lead to troublesome emotions, feelings, and behavior.

    Car Crashes and PTSD

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    When a person suffers personal injury in an auto accident that was caused by another driver’s negligence, the unexpected and/or severe nature of the event can be very traumatic and trigger symptoms of PTSD. The person may not be able to get behind the wheel of a car or they may not feel capable of even riding in a car as a passenger. This can have serious implications on the person’s quality of life and inhibit them from being able to get to work or otherwise maintain the same standard of living they were used to before the accident occurred.

    Pain and Suffering in Personal Injury Cases

    When determining whether or not an accident victim has a plausible case to present to a court in order to recover monetary compensation for damages, a major consideration is the monetary value assigned to the reparation of harm that resulted from the incident. When the accident victim suffers physical injury after the accident, the cause for damages is often easier for the courts to assess.  

    For example, if an accident victim needs medical attention to address a broken bone or significant blood loss following the incident, the monetary costs are fairly straightforward and easy for the courts to review. In addition, the costs associated with taking time off work and lost wages are also fairly easy for the court system to quantify.

    Physical pain and suffering include not only the pain and discomfort the plaintiff is feeling at this moment but also the negative effects that he or she is likely to suffer in the future as a result of the accident and the defendant’s negligent behavior. This forecast can be harder for courts to accurately assess and presents the first example of challenges in accurately determining and awarding monetary compensation for damages.

    Aside from physical pain and suffering, mental pain and suffering is also a realm in which accident victims can be eligible for recovering financial compensation for damages. Mental pain and suffering such as PTSD results from the accident and the plaintiff’s subsequent physical personal injury. Mental pain and suffering can include things such as mental anguish, emotional distress, reduced enjoyment or quality of life, fear, anxiety, anger, humiliation, and shock. In other words, any type of negative emotion that an accident victim incurs as a result of having to endure the physical trauma of an accident may be considered eligible for compensation.

    It can sometimes be difficult for juries to determine an accurate amount to award accident victims for pain and suffering in personal injury cases. There are no official reference points for juries to use, and often they must rely on experience, background information, and common sense to determine how much compensation to award a plaintiff for their injuries. While a juror may be able to reference medical bills and cost projections for physical injuries, mental pain and suffering are often much more difficult to accurately quantify.  

    If a victim of a motor vehicle accident has been formally diagnosed with PTSD and is currently taking some combination of prescribed medication and/or psychotherapy to address PTSD’s negative effects, the financial costs associated with these interventions can often be included as damages when pursuing litigation against the negligent party. In addition, lost wages due to necessary time away from work to address these issues can often be included.

    Recovering Compensation for Non-Physical Personal Injuries

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    Car accident victims may be able to recover compensation for mental pain and suffering when the root cause of that pain and suffering is related to a physical injury the plaintiff suffered due to the defendant’s negligence. In these cases, the related emotional distress caused by the physical injury can be compensated for.

    It can be much more difficult for accident victims to recover compensation for purely emotional distress in the absence of any physical pain or injury after an accident. However, if a plaintiff and their legal team can prove that the infliction of emotional distress was intentional and extreme in nature, then there may be a case for pursuing compensation for damages resulting from the emotional distress.

    In order to build a sound case against a defendant, the plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant’s conduct is considered unacceptable by the norms of civilized society. A common example of this type of behavior is repeated death threats. If these threats of harm cause emotional distress to manifest into physical symptoms associated with conditions such as anxiety or PTSD then the plaintiff may be able to prove to the court that they are owed compensation from the plaintiff to help pay for the treatment needed to address these symptoms.

    For more information on recovering compensation for non-physical injuries, check out our blog, “Can You Still Sue for an Injury Without Pain?” where we dive deeper into the topic.

    Statute of Limitations in Personal Injury Cases Involving PTSD

    In Illinois, there is a statute of limitations that accident victims must adhere to when planning to file a personal injury lawsuit. Victims in Illinois have two years after the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. Attempts made after the two-year timeframe are likely to not be honored by the court system. This means that accident victims should speak with an experienced local personal injury lawyer as soon as possible after an accident.

    Getting Professional Legal Counsel

    The process of pursuing litigation in order to recover compensation for damages involving cases of PTSD is often much more complicated than traditional personal injury cases. For years, the accident lawyers at Palermo Law Group have been helping victims in Oak Brook and throughout Illinois as they navigate this process. We know that dealing with a personal injury case can be extremely difficult, especially if the victim is also suffering from the mental scars left by the traumatic event. We’re here to make the process easier and help you get the compensation you deserve.  Contact Palermo Law Group today for a free consultation.




    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 26 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

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