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Can I Sue if My Car Accident Gave Me PTSD?

Richardson Richardson Boudreaux, PLLC

With any psychological condition, the more that we learn about it, the more easily we can diagnose it. This has been true for PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. Once considered a condition specific to war veterans, it was called “shell shock.” The constant bombardment of enemy fire, or shells, pushed a soldier’s nervous system beyond its limits. As psychology has advanced, we have been able to see symptoms of PTSD in anyone who has suffered a life-threatening situation. Victims of abuse, battery, sexual assault, and even car accidents can be diagnosed with PTSD.

PTSD is specific to each sufferer. It is the result of someone’s reaction to a traumatic event, not necessarily the event itself. Not all war vets come home with PTSD, for example. Two people can be in the same car accident, and one suffers PTSD, while the other doesn’t. There are many potential indicators for whether someone will suffer PTSD from a traumatic event.

PTSD can result from severe car accident injuries. You can have PTSD from your own injuries or from witnessing the injury of others. The same is true if the accident led to the death of anyone involved. PTSD can develop over time as well. If someone takes a particularly long time to recover from their physical injuries, they could develop PTSD.

PTSD is a serious condition that greatly affects the daily life of its sufferers. They can become hypervigilant to noises and surprises. They may have extreme mood swings, lashing out or suddenly falling into a deep depression. Some may develop phobias like agoraphobia, a fear of leaving the house, or amaxophobia, the fear of driving a car. In personal injury law, PTSD is classified as a general damage. Therefore, it is grounds for a lawsuit.

Types of Damages

In a personal injury law, there are two types of damages, general and specific. Specific damages represent a direct, monetary impact. For example, you have medical expenses from your injuries. In a lawsuit, you could ask to have your medical bills compensated. You could also request compensation for your damaged car. Lost wages or loss of potential wages are also examples of specific damages.

PTSD normally falls under the category of general damages. General damages are things like pain and suffering, mental anguish, etc. Since the impact takes place mentally/emotionally/psychologically, it is hard to put a direct dollar amount on how it has affected you economically.

However, a skilled lawyer may be able to wrap specific damages into a PTSD claim. If your PTSD caused you to lose a job or promotion, it may be possible to request compensation for lost wages. Also, money spent on therapy and psychiatric medication could possibly be part of a specific damages claim.

Proving PTSD

For a PTSD claim to work, it must be officially diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional. Simply claiming that you have PTSD will be difficult to uphold in court. Through expert testimony, you can directly show the court how you have suffered and been damaged.

You must also show that your PTSD is in direct relationship to the car accident. If you are a war veteran or have suffered other traumas, a clever defense attorney can spin that around. They can claim that you were already suffering from PTSD before the accident, and your current mental state is therefore unconnected to the event. Again, through the testimony of your mental health provider, you can counter these arguments.

Difficulties with Suing for PTSD

There are many potential roadblocks when claiming PTSD in your lawsuit. As we’ve stated, it is a condition that takes place solely in your mind. While it may affect your outside life – including your occupation and relationships – it is still not something that another person can tangibly see or feel. Even with your psychiatrist’s testimony, the case can devolve into “your word vs. theirs.” You will need a skilled lawyer who can accurately demonstrate the reality and affects of your condition, showing the court how this genuine problem has affected your life.

The timing of a PTSD claim could make the lawsuit difficult. States have a statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits. If your PTSD symptoms present themselves far after the initial accident, that could affect your ability to sue. People don’t normally get PTSD all at once. It is a condition that develops and grows over time. Sometimes a person can be completely unaware that they are suffering until something unexpected triggers them. The statute of limitations usually begins at the “time of discovery.” This is the date you were diagnosed with a specific physical condition. Since PTSD is a mental disorder, the defense will probably question the validity of your time of discovery.

On a personal level, suing for PTSD can be very difficult on you. PTSD sufferers are often triggered easily, especially when they relive their traumatic experience. Going through the lawsuit process can dig up painful memories, reigniting the very symptoms for which you are suing. If you choose to pursue this action, use caution. Reliving the experience could make your symptoms worse, even if you win your case.

Speaking with an Attorney

A good lawyer will be aware of not only the law, but also your symptoms. Tell them what you are experiencing. Even if you cannot be officially diagnosed with PTSD, there are many other trauma symptoms you could be suffering. Whatever your specific diagnosis is, trauma that comes from a life-threatening car accident affects your life, and you can seek compensation for your mental injuries.

If a car accident has left you traumatized, please call us today at (918) 347-6456, or contact us online. Our caring staff will listen to your story, and we can work toward seeking the compensation you deserve.

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