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Psychological Trauma After a Car Crash

You’ve heard about soldiers returning from war zones with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But traumatic events much closer to home can also have serious psychological consequences and leave deep emotional scarring.

Motor vehicle crashes are frequent causes of emotional as well as physical injury. It’s not uncommon to be depressed, anxious or afraid to ride in a vehicle again after an accident. Sometimes the emotional, cognitive and psychological consequences can be long-lasting and disabling.

If you suffer serious psychological injuries as a result of a car crash, you could be entitled to money compensation.

Consider this recent B.C. court case, where the claim was mostly about the victim’s psychological and emotional injuries.

Jane (real name changed) was a front seat passenger in a VW Beetle driven by her husband when they were struck in a head-on collision. The other driver, who was responsible for the crash, was killed in the accident. Jane injured her neck, shoulders, chest, lower back, abdomen, left hip, left knee and tailbone in this accident.

She was rear-ended in two more minor car accidents some years afterward. In both cases, the other drivers were at fault. Her physical injuries in the second accident were minor, but it brought up bad memories for her and she recalled crying hysterically at the scene. There were no significant injuries from the third accident.

Jane had no previous history of emotional difficulties. She was treated extensively for her physical as well as her psychological injuries from the car accidents. This included treatment from a trauma counsellor, a clinical counsellor and a psychologist for her emotional and psychological injuries.

More than six years after the first, very serious accident, Jane continued to suffer from serious psychological injury (she also had chronic pain problems from her physical injuries). While most of her injuries were due to the first fatal car crash, the two later accidents made her condition worse.

Medically, she was diagnosed with chronic adjustment disorder and depressive mood. She also suffered from PTSD, in her case characterized by nightmares and flashbacks, crying spells and fears of driving and being a passenger in a car. Formerly a strong person with an optimistic and upbeat personality, she became a more emotionally fragile one, likely on a long-term basis.

Even with further psychotherapy, her ability to function adequately in a stressful work environment in future was in doubt.

The court decided Jane should get $110,000 for her “pain and suffering” including her psychological injuries. She also got judgment for $96,000 for her reduced earning ability – for example, because of her psychological difficulties, she wouldn’t be able to run her own business in future. And she collected some additional amounts, for past wage loss and past and future treatment costs.

Cases involving psychological injuries on top of physical ones tend to be more complex. They involve intangible, hard-to-pin-down factors that may be difficult to prove in a court hearing. After an accident, you should seek good medical and legal help as soon as possible. This will help ensure the best possible recovery, and fair compensation for the unfortunate accident consequences.

Janice Mucalov, LL.B. for Gertsoyg & Company. This column provides information only and must not be relied on for legal advice. Please call Gertsoyg & Company at (604) 602-3066 for a free legal consultation concerning your particular case.

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