After a car accident, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms may linger long after you’ve healed from your physical injuries. Although invisible to others, the condition can impact all aspects of your life. PTSD causes profound suffering on a daily basis, even though symptoms may not be apparent during causal interactions. Close acquaintances may pick up on your agitation, especially if you have an angry outburst. Coworkers may simply avoid you because they think you’re just having a bad day.
Individuals suffering from PTSD sometimes feel they have a dark secret. Often people suffering from PTSD keep their disorder to themselves or only share with their immediate friends and family. The condition is difficult to manage, in part, because of other’s lack of understanding or acknowledgment of your inner turmoil.
If a negligent driver caused the accident that triggered your PTSD, they should be held responsible for the damages they caused. Because people don’t fully understand the seriousness of the condition, that doesn’t always happen. Oftentimes, responsible parties and their insurers will focus only on your physical injuries, ignoring your emotional pain.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
PTSD occurs after a person experiences a traumatic event where they felt as though they were in danger. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes PTSD as “a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event….” This description contains several important references.
- PTSD is a disorder. PTSD is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. People who suffer from PTSD usually seek treatment with a psychologist or psychiatrist.
- PTSD is caused by a “shocking, scary, or dangerous event.” Auto accidents, sexual assault, abuse, combat, and disasters are cited as common causes of PTSD.
- PTSD affects “some” people. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD. The National Center for PTSD explains that 7 to 8 percent of the population will develop the disorder (10 out of 100 women, 4 out of 100 men).
PTSD is personal to the affected person. A traumatic event that causes long-term psychological problems will manifest differently for each individual affected. According to the NIMH, when a person experiences a fearful event, the body reacts. Some people can recover from the traumatic event without a lot of therapy. However, a person with PTSD continues to experience stress or fright long after the danger has passed.
To diagnose PTSD, doctors determine if a patient has displayed ongoing symptoms in key categories for at least one month.
- Re-experiencing: Flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts, and reliving the trauma
- Avoidance: Staying away from places, experiences, and thoughts related to the trauma
- Arousal and Reactivity: Angry outbursts, startling easily, sleeping difficulties, and a sense of being on edge
- Cognition and Mood Symptoms: Loss of memory of certain aspects of the traumatic event, self-focused negative thoughts, guilt, blame, and no interest in pleasurable activities
How PTSD Affects Children
PTSD can affect adults as well as children. Children who are in traumatic situations or have survived a traumatic event may develop PTSD. The disorder manifests itself in children differently than it does in adults. Children sometimes wet the bed and lose their ability to talk. Additionally, it is common for children to reenact the event or become clingy around their parents.
PTSD Was Originally Considered a Soldier’s Disorder
In the 1970s, Vietnam Veterans became the first patients diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD was recognized as having similar symptoms to the condition first identified as shell shock during World War I. Psychologist, Charles S. Myers, developed the diagnosis after treating combat-injured victims. The term, shell shock, came from soldiers who had used it to describe fellow fighters. World War I era soldiers suffered PTSD-like symptoms, including fatigue, confusion, and nightmares. In addition, they suffered from physical symptoms including tremors, lost vision, and diminished hearing. Myers was the first to recognize the symptoms were related to a psychological condition.
In the Psychology Today article, “Is Shell Shock the Same as PTSD?,“ Stephen Joseph calls shell shock an “intellectual forerunner” to PTSD. However, there are a few major differences. Shell shock was considered solely a soldier’s combat disorder. Vietnam era doctors acknowledged PTSD as a combat disorder, as well. When it first appeared in DSM III, the American Psychiatric Association no longer tagged the condition as exclusively combat-related.
PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury?
During his work with PTSD and TBI patients, forensic psychologist, James F. Zender Ph.D. discovered similarities in his patients’ symptoms. His article, “Is It Post-Traumatic Stress or Traumatic Brain Injury?” opines that doctors may have been “misinformed” when they developed the diagnosis for PTSD. He believes soldiers may have been suffering from TBI-related symptoms.
His endocrinologist colleague, Mark L. Gordon, also believes that PTSD symptoms are associated with TBI injuries. He has determined that some of his PTSD patients were suffering from undiagnosed or forgotten head injuries.
Who Is Responsible for PTSD Injuries?
When you’re in an auto accident, the driver who caused the crash (or that person’s insurance company) is primarily responsible for your damages. Depending on vehicle ownership and the purpose of your trip, other parties or entities share the driver’s liability.
- Vehicle owner: If the negligent driver is operating someone else’s vehicle with their permission, the owner also shares responsibility. In Texas, The Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act provides that an owner is financially responsible for damages his vehicle causes. When an accident occurs, both the owner and the driver must show evidence of financial responsibility. Additionally, an owner is responsible for negligently entrusting a vehicle to a driver with known adverse driving history.
- Commercial carrier: If the driver is operating a commercial vehicle, his employer shares responsibility for the driver’s negligent actions. The company is liable based on vehicle ownership and on driver control and supervision. A commercial carrier is responsible for any negligent entrustment. A commercial carrier also has a duty to ensure that a driver complies with all safety and driver guidelines.
- Manufacturer: If a vehicle defect or vehicle component defect caused or contributed to an accident, the manufacturer is liable for the damages. Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Chapter 16.102, determines the responsible parties.
- Maintenance/repair company: If an accident occurs because a company improperly repaired or maintained a vehicle, they share responsibility for the damages.
What Damages Can a PTSD Victim Recover?
People suffering from PTSD often require extensive medical and psychological treatment long after their physical injuries heal. When they’re ready to settle their PTSD claim, the settlement will also cover damages related to their physical injuries.
Auto accident settlements usually include economic and general damages. Under certain circumstances, juries also award exemplary or punitive damages to punish a defendant for egregious conduct.
Economic damages include out of pocket costs incurred during treatment and recovery for physical and PTSD-related injuries. As PTSD treatment and disabilities sometimes continue indefinitely, settlements also include projected costs for future expenses.
Economic damages include:
- Medical bills
- Lost income
- Mobility devices and prosthesis
- Physical and psychological therapy
- Medical transportation costs
- Replacement services
- Scar revision surgery
For a PTSD victim, general damages must consider both physical and psychological injuries. A PTSD-injury victim often endures the traditional pain, suffering, anxiety, and emotional distress associated with overcoming physical auto accident injuries. In addition, they must also cope with the profound psychological and emotional losses affiliated with PTSD.
As with any general damage claim, the extent of the injury varies depending on the person and their course of treatment. A PTSD victim often seeks treatment with a mental healthcare professional or counseling organization. Treating with a mental health care professional can confirm damages that traditionally rely on subjective complaints.
General damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Traditional PTSD symptoms (re-experiencing, flashbacks, mood swings, reactivity, etc.)
- Diminishment of spousal, family, and social relationships
- Loss of bodily functions
- Permanent scars and disfigurement
- Permanent limitations and disabilities
- Lifestyle changes
Under Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Sec. 41.003, a jury can award exemplary or punitive damages. The injured plaintiff must prove the defendant’s “fraud, malice or gross negligence” by presenting “clear and convincing evidence.”
How Do Responsible Parties Try to Avoid Paying PTSD Damages?
Psychological injuries, including PTSD, are not always easy to prove objectively. Charles S. Meyer faced the same issues when working with shell-shocked soldiers during World War I. His critics believed the afflicted soldiers were simply cowards or malingerers. Those same credibility issues still exist. At times they are used strategically during personal injury claim negotiations or litigation processes.
Doubt surrounding the severity of an injury is often an insurance company’s justification for making an inadequate settlement offer. Insurance companies rely on credibility issues when trying injury claims. Insurers and their attorneys sometimes defend a case on damages when they have no other options for mitigating their losses. However, that doesn’t prevent insurance companies from citing other defenses as well.
Long before your lawyer initiates negotiations or enters a courtroom, he or she needs to prepare your case to discredit every potential defense tactic. You will want someone who knows how to prove PTSD to a jury.
Do You Still Need Answers?
If you or a family member is struggling with PTSD from a car accident, you shouldn’t deal with an insurance company on your own. By calling experienced car accident attorneys who are driven to do what it takes to protect your legal rights, you might reduce the stress in your life while recovering more compensation to help with your treatment.