Helping Accident Victims Who Suffer With PTSD

Posted by Stevenson Whelton LLP
July 07, 2016

Most Canadians will be involved in at least one motor vehicle accident in their lifetime and unfortunately, a significant number of these accidents will result in serious injuries. For some accident victims, the injury endures long after the accident and some of the most severe effects are psychological. A serious accident can lead to chronic anxiety to the extent that it impairs your ability to function in day-to-day activities.

Although post-traumatic stress disorder is normally associated with survivors of war or other catastrophic events, car accident victims can suffer many of the same symptoms.  In “Post-traumatic Stress Reactions Following Motor Vehicle Accidents”, a study published in American Family Physician (AAFP), it was concluded that about nine percent of people injured in serious accidents develop substantive post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most often brought on after a person experienced or witnessed an event that threatened their own or someone else’s life or resulted in a death.  It is also usually associated with intense fear and helplessness. 

Studies have identified some risk factors that predispose some people to post-traumatic stress disorder.  A previous traumatic experience and/or history of psychiatric disorders, in particular, are factors that increase the likelihood of developing this condition.  

Risk factors for developing post-traumatic stress disorder after a car accident

  • A severe or catastrophic accident
  • Fatally or seriously injured accident victims
  • Feeling that your life was threatened
  • Flashbacks of the event immediately following
  • Previous or multiple traumatic experiences
  • History of psychiatric disorder

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder

When someone develops PTSD, they often have many of the following symptoms.

  • Recurring memories of the stress-inducing event that often intrude on your thoughts
  • Frequently occurring, distressing and frightening dreams
  • A sense of reliving the event
  • Extreme psychological distress when exposed to cues that resemble or symbolize the event
  • Avoidance of activities, people, and places that bring on a recollection of the event
  • An inability to remember important aspects of the event
  • Significantly diminished participation in many activities
  • Feelings of estrangement from other people
  • Difficulty forming loving attachments
  • Sense of hopelessness about the future (jobs, marriage, children and so on)
  • Numbing or an absence of emotion
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic pain, particularly headaches
  • Feelings of survivor guilt if the event caused a fatality.

When young children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, the symptoms may vary somewhat. Children may experience agitated or disorganised behaviour to a greater extent than adults. They may also re-enact the traumatic event.

How PTSD impacts the accident victim’s life

Clearly, many of the symptoms of PTSD, such as ongoing anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain, can make it difficult if not impossible to function in the same capacity at your job. PTSD often impacts marriages and relationships with family members and friends, as the victim pulls away and isolates themselves from social contact and emotional attachment. Victims of PTSD are often reluctant to or refuse to drive, which can have a significant impact on their mobility and their ability to make contributions to the family. Essentially, PTSD may impact all facets of the accident victim’s life and their capacity to cope with normal activities.

Treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder

One of the challenges of treating PTSD is that many patients do not seek help until they have suffered from symptoms for years. At that point, PTSD can be more difficult to treat as it has become chronic. The loved ones of anyone who experienced a traumatic event are urged to watch the accident victims for symptoms and if PTSD is suspected, encourage and support their loved one in getting early treatment.
The objective of any treatment is to help the person reach a level of wellness that they had prior to the traumatic event. This can sometimes be achieved by a discussion of the motor vehicle accident, education about the nature of PTSD, providing reassurance, teaching and practicing coping strategies, and prescribing medication when appropriate.

It is helpful for the accident victim’s recovery when they can share details of the car accident in the safety of a doctor’s office. They must be made aware that PTSD is simply a reaction to the stress of the traumatic event and that after coping with the symptoms, it can often be resolved with the help of a medical professional. A doctor will educate the sufferer on the prevalence of PTSD among accident survivors so that the person’s experience is normalized and as a result, they are more willing to open up about their symptoms.  

The injured person can be taught relaxation techniques that they should continue to practice on their own.  It is also recommended that patients have regular exercise, which can reduce or relieve the hyperarousal symptoms.  

For some accident victims, medication can help in reducing the stress symptoms. Medication can also break the cycle that ensues when driving arouses painful memories of the accident trauma and related symptoms. Medication proves most effective when it is begun as early as possible.  

Getting help for PTSD victims

There can be a substantial impact on the lives of victims of PTSD as well as on the lives of their immediate family members, often for a significant time period after their accident.  Substantive compensation for losses such as lost income, medical and rehabilitation expenses and caregiver expenses is absolutely essential in allowing victims to pursue wellness and to provide financial support during their recovery process.  

At Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan, our team of personal injury lawyers understand the challenges for accident victims suffering from PTSD, as well as their families. We have years of experience assisting individuals like you in obtaining full compensation from insurance companies, and you can feel confident that your claim is being expertly handled. In the vast majority of cases, we will be able to successfully resolve your claim without having to go to trial. Call Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan for a no-obligation consultation and find out how we can help.

Disclaimer: Our blog is intended to inform our existing and prospective clients about topics pertinent to their lives. While our goal is to provide accurate and factual information, this in no way should be taken as legal advice or applied to specific cases. It is in your best interest to contact a licenced and practising lawyer for legal representation, as matters of the law are often complicated and cannot be fully assessed without knowing all of the details of a case.