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Car Accident PTSD & Mental Trauma (Everything You Should Know)

Steven Matz
April 11, 2024 | Car Accident

Key Takeaways

  • PTSD is a mental health injury often occurring as a result of being in or witnessing something traumatic, such as a car accident.
  • Approximately 9% of all auto accident survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Car accidents can trigger PTSD due to threat of physical danger, feelings of helplessness, intense aftereffects, and/or witnessing severe injury or death of another.
  • PTSD may not appear right away and can take up to a year to show symptoms. It can last for just weeks or be ongoing for years.
  • Various symptoms of PTSD include avoidance, lack of sleep, mood swings, and flashbacks.
  • Compensation is available for PTSD resulting from a Michigan car accident.

How Common is PTSD After a Traumatic Car Accident?

Following a car accident, survivors often face significant challenges beyond physical injuries, including the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which usually occurs in 9% of accidents. This condition represents a critical aspect of the post-accident experience, affecting a victim’s psychological well-being and complicating the recovery process.

Case Story From A Previous Case

I remember when we represented two boys who lost their father in a Michigan car accident. As you can imagine, this was such an intense experience for everyone involved. Even the insurance agent had to take a moment to pause after hearing the outcome of the car accident.

The boys sustained no bodily injuries, but they did lose their father, and that was irreversible. This type of loss obviously causes emotional trauma and PTSD, and we were able to reward the boys with $250,000 for the death of their father. We were also able to claim monetary value for the wrongful death claim and transfer the father’s estate to his sons.

The Michigan car accident attorneys with Matz Injury Law do more than address legal concerns; we advocate for the victim’s total recovery. Our experienced attorneys understand the comprehensive impact of car accidents on mental health and are here to help relieve the burden.

PTSD After a Car Accident in Michigan

After a car accident, you or a loved one could be injured both physically and mentally. All injuries may not be apparent at first, particularly the psychological ones such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

PTSD suffered as a direct result of a car accident is a mental health condition caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. This mental health condition differs in that it is more challenging to heal and often lasts for years after the trauma. It can also affect daily life and activities over the long term.

Car accident victims experience a range of reactions following such a trauma. While many make a full recovery over time, others are so greatly affected that they continue to experience issues and are often diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Who Can Suffer PTSD After a Car Accident?

According to reports from the National Institute of Mental Health, anyone at any age can suffer from PTSD. When this happens, they can feel overly stressed or even frightened at times when they are not exposed to any type of danger.

We all have a “fight or flight” reflex when potential danger lurks. However, for those with PTSD, this response continues, seemingly at all times or recurring with or without any external stimuli.

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Treatments Available to Help With PTSD After a Car Accident

  • Medications (e.g., antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, nightmare-suppressing medications such as Prazosin)
  • Cognitive therapy, with the focus on recognizing patterns that prevent the sufferer from moving past the trauma (may be in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy or cognitive processing therapy)
  • Exposure therapy, helping PTSD sufferers face the memories that continue to cause them trauma
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), where guided eye movements are used to change reactions to these traumatic memories

While each patient will differ, seeking treatment will be the first step to learning to cope with traumatic memories from a car accident.

How Do Car Accidents Cause PTSD?

A car accident can leave those involved in shock, fear, and physical pain.

Every car accident victim, however, is unique in how they respond to trauma. Therefore, car accidents can trigger PTSD in different ways. Some of those triggers include:

  • A threat of physical danger
  • A feeling of helplessness (such as being in an out-of-control car or suddenly seeing another vehicle bearing down on them)
  • Experiencing immediate aftereffects, including panic, shock, or intense fear that pervades their every thought at that moment
  • Witnessing another’s severe injury or death

With the exception of the military and combat-related PTSD, auto accidents are one of the main causes for this psychiatric disorder. According to The American Psychological Association, vehicle crashes are a leading cause of trauma for the male population, while for females, it is the second leading cause.

How Long Does PTSD Last After a Car Accident?

woman stressed out sitting behind the wheel of her car

While mental health issues following a car accident are often temporary, diagnosed PTSD can last for years or just weeks. Treatment might help to alleviate its symptoms or at least provide coping mechanisms.

Several different factors can play a role in how long PTSD will last after a car accident. To begin with, signs of PTSD or symptoms of the disorder may not appear immediately following the crash and could take up to a year to do so. This makes calculating an average time span difficult, as all cases will be different.

However, there are identified risk factors that may contribute to when it develops and its duration. These factors include the following:

  • The car accident included a fatality.
  • You experience severe pain after the motor vehicle accident.
  • A significant risk to your life occurred in the accident.
  • The car accident victim has little to no support from family or friends following the accident, leading to a feeling of isolation, low self-worth, and more.
  • There is a personal history of traumatic events, resulting in a heightened fight or flight response already.
  • A family or personal history of mental disorders exists.

In some instances, the duration of PTSD can be exacerbated by certain activities such as using drugs or alcohol, participating in high-risk activities, or avoiding your feelings and not talking about them.

Call our law firm for FREE if your accident caused PTSD.

Common Symptoms & Signs of PTSD After a Car Accident

There can be several symptoms of PTSD or signs that you may have mental trauma following a car accident. These may show up individually or in combination. Some of the most common symptoms include the following.


Victims of PTSD may attempt to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. For example, they may have trouble getting into a vehicle again or will find ways to travel that do not involve passing the accident scene. They may even refuse to discuss the event. Even thinking about it brings on extreme emotions, causing many to do whatever they can to avoid it.

Lack of Sleep

Difficulty sleeping is another symptom of suffering from PTSD. This lack of sleep may occur due to any of the following.

  • You avoid falling asleep as much as possible because you fear having nightmares.
  • You continually awaken due to such nightmares.
  • You are unable to fall asleep deeply and experience the full circadian rhythm because of nightmares.
  • You are sleeping longer or more often so as not to have to face daily realities.


Reliving the motor vehicle collision in your mind becomes constant, often involving the questioning of your own actions and what you could have done differently.

These flashbacks actually make you feel like you are physically there at the accident scene. They may be triggered by external stimuli, such as specific sounds or smells, or something internal.

Flashbacks are intrusive, causing the PTSD sufferer to relive the event, and often involve feelings of severe distress and even a physical response.

Mood Swings

PTSD sufferers often experience extreme emotional highs and lows, or what is referred to as mood swings. They may or may not notice this themselves, but others close to them most likely will.

A person may seem happy one minute and then suddenly switch to feelings of despair, guilt, or hopelessness. They can also seem calm one minute and then suddenly show anger, impatience, or aggression and are easy to startle.

Can You Receive Compensation For PTSD After a Car Accident in Michigan?

PTSD victim sitting on a couch speaking with his counselor

Following a car accident, you will most likely be able to receive compensation for PTSD from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. To be successful in this claim, however, you will need to show that you are being treated for the mental health injury with documentation prepared by a medical professional.

When the trauma of a car accident clearly causes you to suffer mental and emotional distress, but the insurance companies do not pay or decide to cut off benefits, you can likely sue for pain and suffering and other economic damages.

Types of Compensation Available In A Car Accident Claim

  • Medical bills, current and future
  • Lost income
  • Pain and suffering

To prove PTSD resulting from the trauma experienced or witnessed in a car accident, you will need to show you sought medical treatment soon after the accident, went to all follow-up appointments and treatments, and reported all symptoms relating to your mental condition.

Examples of Documentation Needed For Your Case

  • Medical records from all physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors
  • Prescribed medication records
  • Testimony from medical professionals that speaks to the extent and severity of your PTSD and how it is impacting your life
  • A journal of your experiences and daily symptoms
  • Records showing how it affects your income.

Should the insurance company deny or cut off your benefits, seek legal advice from an experienced Michigan car accident attorney immediately.

Related Resources

For additional help, refer to these related resources.

Why Clients Choose Matz Injury Law

Let’s refer back to the case in which I won $250,000 for the sons who lost their father. Considering the gravity of the situation and the emotional weight carried by the boys, every aspect of their case was approached with compassion and determination. The outcome not only provided monetary compensation but also a sense of closure and security for the boys as they faced their new future.

Not only do we take on each case with such compassion and determination, but we also charge a lower fee than the standard rate. To show this, below we calculate the payouts for both fee structures based on the $250,000 settlement mentioned above.

  • Standard 33 1/3% Attorney Fee:
    • Total settlement: $250,000
    • Attorney’s Fee: $83,333 (33 1/3% of $250,000)
    • Client’s payout: $166,667
  • Matz Injury Law 22% Fee:
    • Total settlement: $250,000
    • Attorney’s Fee: $55,000 (22% of $250,000)
    • Client’s payout: $195,000

With Matz Injury Law’s fee structure, the client will receive $28,333 more compared to the standard 33 1/3% fee. We come out with more for our clients every time.

Contact us today for a free consultation.


While we have a reputation for advocating fiercely for accident victims, earning them over $300 million so far, we are humbly honored by the many emotional testimonials shared by our clients. We share a few of these below.

“My family is grateful for Steve Matz’s professional handling of our case. Steve was very thorough, candid, responsive, and strategic in his approach throughout our legal proceedings. If ever in a situation again like my family has experienced over the past year, we would immediately retain Matz Injury law to represent our interests. Thank you, Steve.” – John P.

“For anyone looking for an attorney please look no further than Matz Injury Law!! Not only was Jared professional, he helped me beyond what I could have asked for. I’m so thankful for you all!!! To say I’m appreciative and grateful is an understatement. There’s no need to look for any other attorneys for your auto accidents!! They are so wonderful!!! Highly recommend 10/10!!!!!” – Tessa C.

“Following a near head-on collision that left my wife with serious injuries to her leg and a head injury from the airbag that caused “instant onset dementia,” she has been deteriorating and needs constant supervision. Hats off to Steve Matz and all the work he and his firm have done to secure the compensation needed from the insurance company to facilitate her care. Without his tireless help, I don’t know where we would be today. I highly recommend Matz Injury Law and, if needed, would definitely utilize the firm again.” – Thomas C.

Find Refuge In Your Recovery. Let Us Help You Fight For It.

Suffering physical injuries in a car accident requires your immediate attention. Yet, it is essential that you not ignore the mental and psychological effects of experiencing or witnessing such a traumatic incident.

If you suffer PTSD as a result of a car accident, you need to find refuge in your recovery, not more stress. A personal injury attorney with Matz Injury Law is here to fight for you and work toward a resolution that will benefit you and your needs at such a trying time.

Call our Southfield law firm today at 1-866-22Not33 or use our online contact form to get in touch. Ask for a free consultation with one of our dedicated partners and start on your road to recovery today.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Likely Am I To Experience PTSD After a Car Crash?

A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that PTSD frequently occurs after a car accident. As a matter of fact, auto crashes remain the leading cause of PTSD among civilians in the United States, with approximately 9% of all accident survivors developing this mental health disorder.

How Do You Diagnose PTSD Resulting From a Car Accident?

Generally, a doctor will diagnose your symptoms, which may include behavioral changes, intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, avoidance, and sleep disturbances. From there, you may receive a diagnosis of PTSD following a car accident, especially if these signs and symptoms persist.

How to Help Someone With PTSD From a Car Accident

Coping with PTSD will likely be difficult for someone involved in a traumatic car accident. Helping them cope may include offering your assistance with various tasks, such as being the driver.

You can also offer practical care, such as preparing healthy meals and helping to tidy up their home. If you are close to them, you may be able to gently encourage them to talk with a mental health professional and seek PTSD treatment if they are not already doing so.

steven matz headshot

Written By Steven Matz

Founding Shareholder

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury.

The maximum contingency fee permitted by law is actually 331/3%. Michigan court rules require that the attorney fee be computed on the net sum recovered after deducting all disbursements properly chargeable to the enforcement of the claim.

What does 22not33 mean, exactly?

We can charge 22% while virtually all other injury attorneys charge 331/3% because we are very, very, good at obtaining results for our clients.

We do not spend millions of dollars on television ads; instead, we offer a lower fee to all our clients. We do not have dozens of lower paid associates handling our work. All our clients are represented by Steven and Jared Matz. Steven Matz started the firm in 1977 and since then has dedicated his life to representing injury victims. Jared joined the firm in 2016 but grew up listening to stories, discussing theories, and generally learning at the dinner table about how to effectively and compassionately represent injury victims. Jared Matz was literally born to represent individuals involved in motor vehicle crashes.

All of our cases are handled on a contingency fee and all our cases are handled at 22%. Whether the case settles or goes through trial, the fee does not change. While our competitors make excuses as to why they charge so much, we are obtaining results for our clients at a lower fee.

At a typical television advertising law firm, your first call will be handled by a receptionist, who may refer you to an intake person, who will discuss your claim with an intake manager, who then discusses your claim with an associate, who may then report to a partner. You may never speak with the person whose name is at the top of the letterhead. At Matz Injury Law you will always speak with either Steven Matz or Jared Matz.