• North State Auto Law

Can I Sue for PTSD/Emotional Distress After Car Wreck



Emotional distress, mental anguish, and mental injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are compensable injuries after a car wreck.


The at-fault driver is responsible for all compensable damages, including emotional distress that results in PTSD. In this article, we will take a look at:

  • What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),

  • The common symptoms of PTSD,

  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress, mental anguish, and PTSD, and

  • How we prove mental injuries like PTSD in court.

PTSD & Car Accidents

Car wrecks can cause much more damage to a person than just physical injuries – the mental anguish, emotional distress, and mental scars that can result from a traumatic event like a car crash are serious and can be debilitating.

First we will take a look at what Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is and how it fits in with car accident claims.


What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Feelings of shock, anxiety, helplessness, and emotional trauma are normal for many people after they have been involved in a car wreck, but these emotions will usually fade away after a few days or so.

When these feelings persist, worsen, and begin to affect your life on a daily basis, however, it may be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by the mental anguish and emotional distress of the crash.

When PTSD or other forms of emotional distress are caused by someone else’s negligence, they are compensable, meaning you are entitled to recover damages for your emotional distress just as you are entitled to recover damages for your medical bills and pain and suffering caused by your physical injuries.


Common Symptoms of PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD after a car crash may appear immediately, or they may begin to appear in the following weeks or months.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms after a car wreck, it is important that you seek treatment immediately, because 1) your symptoms may worsen over time, affecting every aspect of your life, and 2) the injury must be documented so we can seek full and fair compensation from the other driver.

Common symptoms of PTSD after a car crash include:

  • Re-living the experience. Many people will have recurring nightmares, insomnia, flashbacks, and intense fear and anxiety. Some have described seeing the crash over and over again, like a movie playing out in their head on repeat.

  • Avoidance. You may avoid people, places, and things that remind you of the traumatic event.

  • Hyper-arousal. Intense feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, and sudden outbursts may be symptoms of PTSD.

  • Difficulty sleeping. Because of the recurring thoughts, flashbacks, and nightmares, PTSD can result in insomnia.

  • Other behavioral changes. PTSD can result in intense feelings of depression, difficulty concentrating, suicidal thoughts, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, self-destructive behavior, and difficulty in maintaining relationships.


Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress & PTSD After a Car Wreck


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that manifests after a car wreck is just one form of emotional distress or mental anguish.

To prove negligent infliction of emotional distress, we must show that:

  • The other driver’s conduct was negligent,

  • It was reasonably foreseeable that their negligence would cause severe emotional distress, and

  • The conduct did cause severe emotional distress.

The other driver was negligent if 1) they had a duty of care (like the duty of care to not cause harm to other drivers or pedestrians), and 2) they breached that duty of care (by violating a traffic law or failing to keep a proper lookout, for example).


Emotional distress and PTSD are reasonably foreseeable if a “reasonably cautious person” would have foreseen that emotional distress would result from their actions. In many cases, it is reasonably foreseeable that a traumatic car crash will result in severe emotional distress.

What is severe emotional distress? It is more than “temporary fright, regret, or disappointment.” We must be able to show that you suffered from a severe and disabling mental or emotional disorder that would need to be diagnosed and treated by a mental health professional.


This means post-traumatic stress disorder. It could also apply to other emotional or mental disorders that were caused by the crash like chronic depression, neurosis, psychosis, or phobias.


What are the Challenges to Proving PTSD After a Car Wreck?

There are challenges to recovering full and fair compensation for PTSD after a car crash.

Insurance companies will often refuse to pay your claim for PTSD, or they will offer much less than you are entitled to. Insurance companies will attempt to deny or limit every claim they can – they make money by taking in premiums and not paying claims unless they are forced to.


Another issue with some PTSD claims is delayed onset. Because symptoms of PTSD will sometimes not begin until weeks or even months after the crash, the insurance company will try to say that the PTSD was not caused by the accident.

We will also need expert testimony to prove your PTSD claim and that it was caused by the car wreck – this could be your therapist, or it may be an independent expert witness who can give their opinion to the jury based on a review of your records and symptoms.


Can You Sue for Emotional Distress/PTSD Caused by Injuries to Someone Else?


In some cases, you may be able to sue for PTSD caused by someone else’s injuries. To recover damages in this situation:

  • The emotional distress must have been an “immediate and foreseeable” result of the defendant’s actions,

  • You must have been present when the crash happened, and

  • You must have witnessed the traumatic event.

For example, if my daughter is killed in a car crash, I am going to experience severe emotional distress. But, if I was not present and did not see the crash and her death, I cannot sue for PTSD.


On the other hand, if my daughter is killed in a car crash while I am in the car, and I witness her death, my emotional distress and resulting PTSD is compensable in the lawsuit that I file for negligence and wrongful death.

Speak With an Attorney About Filing a Claim for PTSD

Whether it is PTSD caused by the trauma of the car wreck or PTSD caused by witnessing injuries to another person in the crash, full and fair compensation includes damages for:

  • Therapy, counseling, medications, and other treatments for PTSD,

  • Lost wages due to inability to work, and

  • Mental anguish and suffering.

If you have been in a car wreck that was caused by someone else’s negligence, do not lose hope! Call Northstate Auto Law now at 336-990-0572 or send us a message through our website to talk to an attorney who cares.

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