Vehicle Accident

Are You Suffering from PTSD After a Car Accident?

car crash accident on street, damaged automobiles after collision in city

Your car accident happened in the blink of an eye. But the trauma of the event and your injuries haven’t gone away—and some of the worst injuries are the ones to your mind.

There are an estimated six million car accidents in the U.S. each year, resulting in 2.5 million injuries. Of those accident victims, 39.2% develop PTSD.

No family should have to suffer because of someone else’s negligence. And when the trauma of someone else’s negligence carries over well after the accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Here’s what you need to know about PTSD after a car accident and what your options are.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition triggered by a terrifying, shocking, or dangerous event like a car accident. While most people who go through traumatic events have some temporary symptoms, these usually resolve with time and self-care. But if your symptoms get worse over time, or if they persist for months or even years, you may be diagnosed with PTSD.

Typically, PTSD symptoms set in within three months of the incident. The severity of the disorder varies between people, but in order to receive a PTSD diagnosis, your symptoms must persist for a month or more, and they must be severe enough to interfere with your daily activities and relationships.

Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD symptoms fall into four categories: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance symptoms, arousal/reactivity symptoms, and cognition/mood symptoms.

In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, you must have:

  • At least one re-experiencing symptom
  • At least one avoidance symptom
  • At least two arousal/reactivity symptoms
  • At least two cognition/mood symptoms

Re-experiencing symptoms include intrusive memories, such as recurrent memories of the accident or reliving the accident as though it were happening again. These can also take the form of bad dreams, frightening thoughts, or severe emotional distress from anything that reminds you of the accident.

Avoidance symptoms often occur in response to re-experiencing symptoms. Because these symptoms are frightening and distressing, you may stay away from people, places, or objects which remind you of the accident, as well as avoiding any thoughts that may trigger reminders of the accident. This can cause you to significantly alter your personal routine, such as avoiding driving or riding in cars.

Arousal/reactivity symptoms, also called hyperarousal, are best characterized as a constant state of anxiety and may not require triggers. You may be jittery and easily startled. Because of this constant state of high alert, you may have trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, and irritability issues.

Cognition/mood symptoms may include anxiety, such as thinking that the world is completely dangerous, but they can also include numbness, hopelessness about the future, and difficulty experiencing positive emotions. Where some people suffer intrusive memories, you may have difficulty recalling memories of your accident. You may also feel detached from friends and family and disinterested in activities you once enjoyed. You may even feel misplaced guilt after the accident.

How Common is PTSD After a Car Accident?

Unfortunately, going through trauma is not rare—6 in 10 men and 5 in 10 women experience trauma in their lives. However, only 7% or 8% of the population will develop PTSD symptoms at some point in their lives, and the disorder is more common in women (10% of women compared to 4% of men).

Unfortunately, PTSD after a car accident is more common than most people realize. As previously noted, 39.2% of car accident injury victims develop PTSD. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, car accidents are the leading cause of PTSD in the non-military population.

Living with PTSD

Of course, you’re not thinking about statistics after your car accident. You’re thinking about how to take care of yourself—and take back control of your life.

You may not be able to predict when PTSD symptoms will appear, but you can take steps to manage them and live your life the way you want, rather than allowing PTSD to reshape your life.


Because living in the present moment is often a struggle for PTSD sufferers, a solid routine is one of the best ways to help yourself.

If you know what to expect, it’s easy to keep your mind rooted in the present since you don’t have to worry about what’s coming next. This makes it easier to keep your mind calm and in the present moment, which makes it easier to avoid distressing thoughts and flashbacks.

Your daily routine can be as simple or as complex as you’d like, but make sure that it’s consistent every single day. If you wake up at 6 a.m. for work, for example, you should get up at 6 a.m. on weekends too. Structure your day rigorously.


For many people, a return to normal activities is a great solace after a car accident. For those with PTSD, it helps restore a sense of calm like what you had before the accident. That said, you may need a bit more support than you did before the accident to make some activities easier.

To manage this, always have a designated safe space where you can go if you need to manage anxiety. This could be as simple as sitting down at your desk at work. If you’re in an unfamiliar location, you can duck to the restroom or your car for a few minutes. It’s also a good idea to bring a loved one with you and share what they can do to help you if needed.

You should also have a safe word to let your loved one know you need to duck away, or a cue to tell them to leave you alone rather than pushing you. Make it a word that’s relatively easy to slip into a conversation but not something that would come up constantly.


As with many other mental health disorders, your well-being with PTSD is often tied to your physical health. This may mean making some lifestyle changes to make your PTSD more manageable.

For example, if you were a coffee addict prior to your accident, you may find that drinking less coffee (especially in the afternoon) can help reduce sleep problems.

Regular exercise is one of the best stress management techniques out there, pumping up your endorphins while lowering cortisol levels and strengthening your heart and immune system. It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do—if you enjoy it enough to do it regularly, it’s worth doing. Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to join a gym—walking the dog also counts.

PTSD and Your Car Accident Claim

For some people, everyday management activities are not enough. For some, PTSD becomes a constant intrusion on your everyday life, as though the accident trails you everywhere. Their PTSD may develop or worsen over time, creating a significant barrier that requires them to completely alter their lives.

For some car accident victims, recovering from PTSD may require significant medical care. And while the injury may not be visible like a broken leg, one still should not have to suffer because of another person’s negligence.

Emotional Injuries Are Still Injuries

Mental and emotional injuries are still injuries just like a broken bone or a concussion. That includes PTSD.

Personal injury cases are predicated on damages, which fall in two categories: economic and non-economic damages. PTSD would be classified as a type of emotional distress, which falls under the category of non-economic damages, i.e. subjective damages which cannot be quantified in terms of bills or lost wages but nonetheless have a dramatic impact on the victim’s quality of life.

Just like a physical injury, PTSD may significantly alter your ability to live your life—and enjoy your life. You may struggle to participate in activities with loved ones, or even get in a car. You may even have trouble returning to work after your accident. These manifestations of PTSD are all properly included in your car accident claim.

Can You Recover Compensation for PTSD After a Car Accident?

Because PTSD is considered a debilitating injury just as much as any physical injury, it is quite possible to recover compensation for PTSD after a car accident.

However, building a case on PTSD can be harder than physical injuries. For one thing, insurance companies often refuse to pay out claims for psychological injuries without significant and compelling evidence. Since you can’t show evidence like broken bones, your attorney has to go the extra mile to prove not only that you have PTSD, but that there is a reasonable connection between your PTSD and your car accident.

To do this, your attorney will need to work with your therapist, psychiatrist, and other recognized medical experts to provide documentation and testimony regarding the severity of your PTSD, its impact on your life, and the level of care necessary to make a full recovery. They will also call upon people who knew you well before and after the accident to testify as to how deeply the accident has altered your life.

Because of this, you need a car accident attorney who is well-versed in cases with a psychological distress component.

Can You File a Claim Even if You Weren’t Physically Injured?

You can file an accident injury claim even if you were not physically injured. Most personal injury claims involve some element of physical injury, but a claim can be based solely on psychological injury.

That said, it is more difficult to build a car accident case purely on the basis of psychological suffering. For many accident victims, a successful psychological distress claim is built on significant trauma, such as watching a loved one die or sustain serious injury due to someone else’s negligence.

Again, the key is to find a car accident attorney well-versed in building cases with a strong psychological distress component. You also need to get in touch with an attorney as soon as possible.

Do You Need Characteristic PTSD Symptoms to Recover Compensation?

In most cases, you need characteristic PTSD symptoms to recover compensation for PTSD after a car accident. Otherwise, the opposing party and insurance companies will likely dispute your claim by arguing that your lack of characteristic symptoms means you don’t really have PTSD, or your PTSD is not as severe as you claim.

One exception is if you have a co-morbid psychological disorder along with PTSD, such as depression, anxiety, adjustment disorders, and so on, or if you had a pre-existing mental health condition which was demonstrably worsened by your car accident.

In such cases, your car accident attorney will examine the details of your case and work with you to determine the best approach based on the strengths and weaknesses of your case. For example, if you do not have characteristic PTSD symptoms, but you had depression prior to your accident which was significantly worsened, or if you have non-characteristic PTSD but you have characteristic symptoms of generalized anxiety or adjustment disorders, your attorney may choose to focus on PTSD as a secondary, supporting element of your injury claim.

The Experienced Auto Accident Lawyers You Need to Fight for You

A car accident is one of the most traumatic events a person can experience, and if you’re recovering from PTSD after a car accident, it can be even harder to get your life back.

At Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys, our experienced team has fought for car accident victims for decades in Michigan and across the country. We know the law and we know how to fight for your best possible outcome. But most of all, we treat every client with the same care, compassion, and diligence we would give to our own loved ones, because if it were our own loved ones in the same situation, we wouldn’t want anything less. Our results speak for themselves.

If you need to speak with an attorney about your options, schedule your free consultation today.

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Evan Pappas

Evan Pappas's Bio

Evan Pappas is passionate about helping people that may have been injured in an accident; auto, trucking, motorcycle, medical negligence, police brutality, sex abuse and assault and others.