Trauma From Witnessing an Accident: Can You Sue?

By CarsFellow 5 Min Read

Witnessing a car crash can be undeniably traumatic. This is especially true when those involved in the accident sustain serious or even fatal injuries. Being a first-hand witness can leave you both emotionally shaken and unable to comfortably drive your own vehicle.

In many instances, people who’ve witnessed major car accidents are later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With this condition, loud noises, large crowds, and other environmental factors can be virtually impossible to tolerate. There are even times when the stress and trauma of these experiences leave witnesses unable to work or engage in many other normal activities.

The good news is that it may be possible to recover damages for the resulting emotional pain and suffering, even if you weren’t involved in the accident directly.

When Negligence Leads to Emotional Trauma

When someone is deemed responsible for a car accident, their negligent acts can lead to the physical injuries and emotional suffering of those they have collided with. A negligent act or behavior can be defined as speeding, running a red light, driving while under the influence, or even operating a vehicle that was poorly maintained among other things.

Physical injuries resulting from car crashes are often easily diagnosed and documented. Emotional pain and suffering, however, can be a bit more complex. In many states, emotional distress is defined as:

  • Shock
  • Shame
  • Worry
  • Fright
  • Anguish
  • Horror
  • Grief
  • Suffering

When considering this list, it’s easy to see that many of these same emotions can be experienced by those who’ve witnessed car accidents, just as they’re experienced by those involved in them. Thus, despite being absent of physical injuries and lacking direct involvement in a car crash, many accident witnesses still have a sure form of legal recourse.

Are You Able to Sue for Your Emotional Suffering?

Determining whether or not an auto accident witness can sue for emotional damages is sometimes complicated. Certain factors relating to when and how the accident was viewed can affect the validity of these claims.

In general, it is necessary for witnesses to have directly viewed the accident while it occurred, and to have directly seen the resulting injuries. As such, passing by the scene of an accident after the collision has already happened, even if it is an especially gruesome and traumatizing scene, is unlikely to qualify a person for compensation.

The Signs and Symptoms of PTSD

Developing and being diagnosed with PTSD can be life-altering, especially as this diagnosis pertains to your ability to continue handling your personal obligations and engaging in your normal activities. Many people who’ve witnessed injury auto accidents firsthand require ongoing psychiatric treatment for their resulting PTSD. The signs and symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive and recurring flashbacks
  • Problems with insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Irritability
  • Loss of focus
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated responses to being startled

People who suffer from PTSD from having witnessed serious or even fatal car crashes can also develop physical symptoms as the result of their heightened stress. From elevated blood pressure levels and muscle aches to chronic fatigue and digestive discomfort, PTSD can affect a person’s physical body in a vast range of ways.

If you decide that you want to sue for pain and suffering after witnessing an accident, you can follow this link for legal information. You should also consult with both a psychiatrist and your regular doctor. Your psychiatrist can document the psychological changes that you’ve undergone and can determine whether or not you have PTSD. A medical doctor can detail how this event has altered your physical well-being.

Simply being witness to a car accident can have a devastating impact on your emotional health and your quality of living. If you’ve witnessed one of these events first-hand and you believe that you are suffering from PTSD or other emotional distress as a result, consulting with a lawyer is important. You should also schedule appointments with a licensed psychiatrist and your medical doctor to have any changes in your mental or physical health properly documented.

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