PTSD After Car Accident: Symptoms and Legal Claims (2024)

Sarah Edwards


Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 4 mins

Car accidents are harrowing events that can stress you both physically and mentally. It would not be uncommon for you to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after car accident trauma. This anxiety disorder results from your brain’s understandable attempt to defend itself from further injuries.

PTSD symptoms vary widely from person to person. The effects of PTSD can impact your finances and quality of life. In some cases, they may prevent you from earning a living. Take a closer look at the association between car accidents and PTSD and what legal claims may be available in such cases.

How Car Accidents Can Cause PTSD

PTSD has always existed, but it was not fully understood until recently. Soldiers with PTSD were once thought to be cowards faking their symptoms to avoid battle. However, doctors eventually came to recognize that those with “shell shock” had real symptoms that arose from changes in the brain caused by trauma.

But can you get PTSD from a car accident? The stress and danger you face in a car accident can indeed cause PTSD, even though a car crash might not seem as traumatic as a war.

When you experience trauma, your brain does what it does best; it learns from the event and alters its functioning to protect you. The causes of PTSD come from changes in the way the brain perceives and reacts to the world while performing this protective function.

One of your brain’s core functions is to identify danger and trigger your fight-or-flight response. PTSD happens when the brain turns up the sensitivity of its fight-or-flight response too high. As a result, victims can develop three types of symptoms.

First, their brains work overtime analyzing the traumatic event. Second, they become hypersensitive to danger. Third, their brain reacts strongly to perceived risks.

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Signs of PTSD After Car Accidents

PTSD causes different symptoms in every case. However, most patients experience ruminating thoughts, sensitivity to triggers, and overreaction to perceived dangers. Some symptoms that fall into these categories include the following:

  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks in response to triggers
  • Paranoia
  • Angry outbursts

Triggers are sensory perceptions that remind the brain of the original trauma and cause it to react with a fight-or-flight response. The brain sends the body into this hyper-reactive state even though the trigger might, in fact, not signify danger. These triggers might continue to produce the symptoms associated with PTSD from car accidents years later.

For example, suppose that you were hit by a tanker truck carrying fuel and suffered burn injuries. The smell of diesel fuel, gasoline, or even smoke might become a trigger that reminds you of the truck accident.

As a result, you might experience panic attacks when you refuel your vehicle, which, in turn, causes you to avoid going to gas stations. You might even stop driving altogether so that you do not need to pump your gas.

Complications of PTSD From Car Accidents

Your PTSD symptoms might produce complications. The steps you take to avoid triggers might seem logical to you at first. However, from the outside, they might appear extreme. This means that you might be diagnosed with bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder due to the mania or obsession you develop.

Additionally, long-term exposure to stress can produce physical changes in the body. Stress causes your body to release hormones that prime it for the fight-or-flight response. For example, your heart rate increases, digestion slows or stops, and your blood sugar increases.

All these changes prepare you to fight or flee a perceived danger. But over time, you can develop some or all of the following health conditions:

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disorders
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease

To cope with these health conditions, you might take medication, which can involve its own complications if you are prescribed any dangerous drugs.

For example, Ozempic lawsuits have revealed that Ozempic, a drug used to treat Type 2 diabetes, has been linked to serious side effects.

The law does not distinguish between physical and mental injuries from car accidents. Just as you can seek compensation for mental and emotional symptoms from a physical brain injury, you can also pursue legal claims for mental and emotional symptoms from PTSD.

In most cases, your compensation can include the financial costs of your injuries, such as therapy bills and income losses. This compensation is meant to return you to your pre-accident financial state.

You can also seek compensation for the erosion in your quality of life due to your PTSD. An example of this loss would be your inability to drive due to panic attacks.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Yes, the trauma of a car accident can cause PTSD. You do not even need to suffer a physical injury to suffer from this condition. Instead, the symptoms are your brain’s efforts to protect you from another car accident.

  • PTSD patients often have three broad types of symptoms. First, you may dwell on your accident, experiencing nightmares and flashbacks. Second, triggers that remind you of your accident might cause anxiety or panic attacks. Third, your reactions might become disproportional, and you may have angry outbursts.

  • How to treat PTSD after car accidents typically depends on the individual. Everyone has different needs and responds differently to treatments. Thus, you should consult a doctor to find the right treatment for your PTSD. However, most treatments will include a blend of therapy and medication.

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