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After a motor vehicle accident, most victims are focused on recovering from their physical injuries.  After all, every morning when they wake up and they look in the mirror they can see and touch their injuries. However, there is one type of injury that can’t be seen by victims but is equally as damaging. That is the psychological trauma that results from a car accident, including post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”).

The alarming fact about PTSD is that it receives very little attention, despite the fact that up to 45% of auto accident victims suffer from this type of personal injury.

This statistic is well-documented among researchers as well as the medical community.  Often times, insurance adjusters and health care providers don’t acknowledge the fact that post-traumatic stress disorder is one of the major consequences of motor vehicle accidents. Unfortunately, when trying to settle a car accident claim, we have to educate insurance adjusters on the importance of these damages.

Auto Accidents Are A Leading Cause Of PTSD

Over 15 years ago, the American Psychological Association recognized motor vehicle accidents as one of the leading causes of PTSD in the United States.   In fact, around the world the correlation between PTSD and motor vehicle accidents is so well-documented that it is specifically referenced as “Motor Vehicle Accident Related PTSD” (“MVA-PTSD”) or “Motor Vehicle Collision Related PTSD” (“MVC-PTSD”).

See, e.g.,  Stein, Dan J. et al. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Associated with Life-Threatening Motor Vehicle Collisions in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys.” BMC Psychiatry 16 (2016): 257. PMC. Web. 20 Mar. 2018.

Reality Of MVA-PTSD

Many traffic accident victims find family members and friends confused about their behavior after a car crash.  Everyone’s stress can be exacerbated by loved ones’ frustration and impatience in the face of the victim’s post-accident behaviors.

Historically, there has been a stigma associated with PTSD which has been thoroughly refuted by medical experts.   In the late 1970s, PTSD was a controversial diagnosis.  Some considered it to be the result of internal strife or weakness.  Today, it is known that PTSD is the result of an outside event or trigger (the “etiological agent”) which causes suffering and trauma for its victim.

The reality of PTSD is not disputed, although many family members, colleagues, and friends are still ignorant of its implications.  PTSD is a disorder caused by an outside event that is a serious and sometimes debilitating condition recognized within the medical community.

MVA-PTSD is a part of the pain and suffering many accident victims experience after an accident which can be treated through a combination of medication and / or psychotherapy. 

Over 15 years ago, the American Psychological Associate recognized motor vehicle accidents as one of the leading causes of PTSD in the United States.

DSM-5 Recognition Of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an acknowledged illness listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5).  Published by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM is used by mental health professionals in both diagnosis and treatment.  Insurance carriers recognize the DSM as well.

In the DSM-5, PTSD is no longer considered an “anxiety disorder,” but recognized as a “trauma or stress related disorder” triggered by the victim’s exposure to:

  1. actual or threatened death,
  2. serious injury, or
  3. sexual violation.

See: DSM Fact Sheet (pdf) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (2015).

18 Signs And Symptoms Of PTSD

The DSM-5 first considers PTSD as being classified within the following four clusters:

  • Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms);
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the event;
  • Negative changes in beliefs and feelings; and
  • Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal).

Within these four clusters, or categories, the DSM-5 breaks down symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder into the following 18 individual symptoms:

Re-experiencing, or reliving, the traumatic event includes these symptoms:

1. Frequently having upsetting thoughts or memories about a traumatic event

2. Having recurrent nightmares

3. Acting or feeling as though the traumatic event were happening again, sometimes called a flashback

4. Having strong feelings of distress when reminded of the traumatic event

5. Being physically responsive, such as experiencing a surge in your heart rate or sweating, when reminded of the traumatic event

Actively avoiding people, places, or situations that remind you of the traumatic event includes these symptoms:

6. Making an effort to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations about the traumatic event

7. Making an effort to avoid places or people that remind you of the traumatic event

8. Making sure you’re too busy to have time to think about the traumatic event

Feeling keyed up or on edge, known as hyperarousal, includes these symptoms:

9. Having a difficult time falling or staying asleep

10. Feeling more irritable or having outbursts of anger

11. Having difficulty concentrating

12. Feeling constantly on guard or like danger is lurking around every corner

13.Being jumpy or easily startled

Thoughts and feelings about yourself and others may become negative and can include these symptoms:

14. Having a difficult time remembering important parts of the traumatic event

15. A loss of interest in important, once positive, activities

16. Feeling distant from others

17. Experiencing difficulties having positive feelings, such as happiness or love

18. Feeling as though your life may be cut short

Treatment And Help For Victims Of MVA-PTSD

After an accident, victims should demand that the at-fault driver cover the following expenses as part of any personal injury settlement.  Alternatively, these expenses can be itemized and presented to a jury for its consideration in assessing damages in its verdict.  What expenses can be covered in a claim for damages involving MVA-PTSD?  The American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) offers the following guidance to those who suffer from MVA-PTSD.

While a victim’s course of treatment will be designed to meet their individual needs, as a general rule, the following will likely be a part of most treatment plans for anyone who has been involved in a car crash and suffers from MVA-PTSD.

1. Professional Counseling

First, accident victims should work with their health care providers to return the victim to the same level of functioning that he or she enjoyed before they were involved in the car crash.  Counseling will involve many things, including learning how symptoms may be triggered in the future and what the victim can do to lessen exposure to trigger situations.

2. Discussion of the Event

Second, the victim will need to regain control over their behaviors by discussing the car crash and sharing the details that created the traumatic condition.  Family doctors and mental health specialists may both participate in the victim’s need to discuss what has happened to him or her.

3. Education of the Victim and their Loved Ones

Third, accident victims need to be educated about how common it is for motor vehicle accident victims to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Their family members and friends also need to be educated on this realty to lessen the stress for everyone and increase the strength of the victim’s support system.  Education is a process where the MVA-PTSD is “normalized” which is a step toward recovery from the disorder.

4. Long-Term Recovery

Fourth, MVA-PTSD is complicated.  Some symptoms will be present very soon after the crash has occurred.  Other symptoms will not surface for weeks, or months, later.  Treatment for MVA-PTSD will need to cover the entire time period required by the accident victim to gain victory over the trauma and return to a fully functioning state.

5. Medication

Fifth, prescription medication may be advised. MVA-PTSD victims may benefit from benzodiazepines, for instance, which can help treat anxiety and other symptoms.

Questions To Ask An Accident Victim Who May Suffer From MVA-PTSD

What if you are a parent or spouse concerned about a loved one who has been in a severe motor vehicle accident?  Are there signs that you can find to help establish if your loved one is suffering from MVA-PTSD?

After a serious car crash, the accident victim may not want to address changes in his or her behaviors.  The victim may not want to consider they may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Maybe they just want to “get over it.”  Maybe they are frustrated they aren’t bouncing back as they’d like.  Some may be ashamed to think they may have psychological issues that need to be addressed.

The American Association of Family Physicians (AAFP) describes the following two questions  as part of a family doctor’s assessment of an accident victim’s trauma and whether they suffer from MVA-PTSD.   While these questions are not offered as a diagnostic tool, they may help concerned family members wanting to help the accident victim dealing with unresolved issues resulting from the serious car crash.

Any “yes” answer is a clue that the victim may be suffering from MVA-PTSD.  If the victim answers “yes” to both questions, then the AAFP position is that the likelihood that he or she is experiencing MVA-PTSD is high.

1.   “Do you have flashbacks or nightmares of the accident?”

Explain to the victim that these are not just dreams that happen in the middle of the night.   You want to know if they are daydreaming about the crash.

Also, you want to know if they are going over the accident again and again in their head, in slow-motion replays or “freeze-frame” images of the accident.

The more the accident victim is revisiting the accident or crash, then the more likely that he or she needs help to recover from MVA-PTSD.

Also, be aware if they claim to remember nothing about the crash whatsoever.  This can be a sign of head trauma or traumatic brain injury, which often has amnesia as a symptom.

2.   “Have you had any difficulty with driving or traveling in vehicles since the accident?”

The AAFP reports that most accident victims do not refuse to drive again, but that most accident victims are somewhat timid getting behind the wheel after they’ve been in a serious crash. That’s understandable.

When the line is crossed into MVA-PTSD, the accident victim may have real distress when they are in a vehicle, even if they are not driving.  He may start refusing to drive at night, or on highways where he would have to go over a certain speed limit.  Self-imposed limitations on driving may be a hint the accident victim is experiencing MVA-PTSD.

Ritualistic behaviors or avoidance are hints that the accident victim needs help to recover from MVA-PTSD.

Those At Higher Risk For MVA-PTSD: Risk Factors

Some accident victims are at a higher risk for developing MVA-PTSD.  Research has confirmed that there are identifiable PTSD risk factors for victims of a serious motor vehicle accident.

As explained by Dr. Steven Gans and Professor Matthew Tull in an article published by VeryWellMind on January 7, 2018, entitled “PTSD and Car Accidents: Know Your Risk After a Crash,” the following are MVA-PTSD risk factors:

  • Having had another traumatic event or events
  • Having psychological difficulties prior to the traumatic event
  • A family history of psychological problems
  • Whether the trauma was life-threatening
  • Losing someone in the trauma
  • The amount of support received following the event
  • Emotional response (fear, helplessness, horror, guilt, or shame)
  • The presence of dissociation during the trauma.

If your loved one is an accident victim who exhibits one or more of these risk factors, then he may suffer from MVA-PTSD. 

Florida Accident Lawyer Can Help Victims Of MVA-PTSD

Those who have been involved in a serious car accident caused by the negligence of another are able to file claims for damages resulting from the crash.  Under Florida law, the accident victim is able to obtain financial compensation for things like lost wages, physical pain and suffering, surgery expenses, hospital stays, rehabilitation costs, and even personal property losses caused by the wreck.

Included among these legally recognized damages claims is financial compensation to cover the cost of treatment for MVA-PTSD.  The specific damage claim will be tailored to the victim’s needs.  Some may need things like medication coverage for anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications.  Some may need cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) among other courses of psychological treatment.

While there should no longer be a stigma regarding the diagnosis and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, these damage claims after a serious auto accident may be difficult to process and complete.  The victim may not want to pursue the claim initially because of anxiety or stress or shame.  The insurance adjuster may discredit the situation or the diagnosis.

Having an experienced Florida car accident attorney to advocate for a victim suffering from MVA-PTSD with compassion and zeal can be  vital to the victim to getting the justice he or she deserves. 

Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.

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Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.



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