PTSD in the Aftermath of an Automobile Accident
According to estimates from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 9 percent of all individuals who survive an automobile accident will experience some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.) If you’ve been involved in a car accident in New Jersey that was precipitated by the actions of a reckless motorist, and you find yourself experiencing PTSD symptoms, seek medical attention. You should also contact an experienced auto accident attorney who may be able to help you obtain compensation for any costs associated with your mental distress.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the American Psychiatric Association identifies PTSD as a pathological anxiety disorder that develops as an aftermath of an emotionally traumatic event.
PTSD is characterized by four related sets of symptoms:
- Memory disturbances: It’s not uncommon for some PTSD sufferers to have complete amnesia about the precipitating event. On the other hand, many other PTSD victims will experience recurring flashbacks and vivid dreams in which they are forced to relive the traumatizing events over and over again.
- Numbing: The PTSD sufferer feels unsafe. To bolster personal safety, that person may seek to enforce an emotional and psychological distance from the world, which can lead to feelings of profound depression.
- Isolation: The PTSD sufferer seeks to avoid people and circumstances that may remind him or her of the trauma. This often evolves into profound social anxiety and feelings of panic.
- Hyper-vigilance: To preserve safety, PTSD victims often maintain a state of exaggerated alertness. This can manifest as sleep disturbances and an inability to focus on circumstances unrelated to the traumatic events while awake.
PTSD is often a delayed reaction. The onset of the condition typically begins within three months of a precipitating event, but some PTSD symptoms take years to manifest. This makes PTSD that occurs in conjunction with an automobile accident particularly difficult to deal with. However, research carried out by the American Psychological Association suggests that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of PTSD among Americans who are not affiliated with the military.
PTSD and New Jersey Car Accidents
Much of New Jersey’s legal precedent regarding PTSD following car accidents was set in the case Halina Jablonowska v. David P. Suther. In 2000, Halina Jablonowska and her mother were riding in a car that was rear-ended in Newark. Ms. Jablonowska’s mother died, and Ms. Jablonowska was awarded $500,000 in wrongful death damages.
Ms. Jablonowska was subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. When Ms. Jablonowska filed a claim based on this diagnosis, however, it was dismissed by a trial court in 2014 because her emotional distress did not meet the verbal threshold requirement established by the Automobile Insurance Cost Reduction Act of 1998.
In April 2004, an appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision. In June 2008, however, the Supreme Court of New Jersey upheld Ms. Jablonowska’s right to sue by a four to three decision, ruling that claims of emotional trauma should not be subject to the verbal threshold provision.
Proving the Existence of PTSD
To collect damages related to PTSD in a New Jersey civil suit, you will have to be able to prove the diagnosis. This means that the diagnosis must be rendered by a licensed mental health professional who is qualified to diagnose the condition.
You may also be called upon to provide evidence that you are pursuing treatment for your PTSD condition. This may involve producing records of any therapy you may be undergoing, providing prescriptions for medications you may be taking and presenting other forms of medical documentation as requested.
Additionally, a prominent psychologist may need to appear in front of the court as an expert witness who can testify more generally about the symptoms associated with PTSD and how they may affect your future.
If you or a loved one is suffering post-traumatic stress disorder connected to an automobile accident that was caused by another motorist’s carelessness, it’s important to contact an experienced auto accident attorney as soon as possible. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations for personal injury suits is two years. Contact RAM Law to set up a free case review. You can contact our office in New Brunswick, NJ, at (732) 247-3600 and our office in Somerville, NJ, at (908) 448-2560.