Your heart races. Your palms start to sweat. You hear a vehicle whizzing by, and you start breathing hard, fast. Anxiety, tension, fear. A simple ride – or even laying down to sleep – can bring on intense, overwhelming, feelings of distress. Your once-favorite activity, hobby, mode of transportation now brings nothing but dread.
If you have suffered from motorcycle accident injuries, you know the physical pain isn’t the beginning and end of the story. What about the emotional consequences? Can you make a claim for emotional distress if you suffer from PTSD?
What Is PTSD?
After a motorcycle or car accident, it is normal to react with feelings of fear, have memories intrude as you go through your day, and/or experience difficulty sleeping. It may be hard to concentrate on normal tasks at work or school, and even enjoyable activities, like spending time with family and friends, can be stress-inducing.
For most people, these symptoms begin to resolve themselves in weeks or months. But in others, the effects persist. They may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD “is a psychiatric disorder than can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault.”
While certainly underreported, and under-treated, PTSD affects about 3.5 percent of the adult population. Approximately one in 11 people will struggle this disorder in their lifetime. In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, these people may experience:
- Intense, disturbing feelings and thoughts that persist long after the triggering event.
- Reliving the event.
- Flashbacks and nightmares.
- Feelings of anger, fear, sadness, and detachment.
- Estrangement from other people.
- Reckless and self-destructive behavior.
- Avoidance of people, places, and activities that trigger distressing memories.
- Strong negative reactions to normal stimuli (e.g. a soldier with PTSD may experience intense fear when listening to/watching fireworks).
It bears repeating that many people who have sustained motorcycle accident injuries will experience some of these symptoms. PTSD is different: it is an ongoing, and serious, medical condition. To be diagnosed with PTSD, you must meet criteria described in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). In terms of a motorcycle accident, that means:
- Exposure to death, threatened death, or actual/threatened serious injury. (Note: People who witness the trauma, learn a loved one was exposed to trauma, or deal with the aftermath (e.g. first responders) can also be diagnosed with PTSD.)
- Reliving the traumatic event through upsetting memories, nightmares, flashbacks, emotional reaction to traumatic reminders, or physical reminders to traumatic reminders. You must experience at least one of these symptoms.
- Avoidance of trauma-related stimuli. You avoid situations that deal with trauma-related thoughts/feelings or trauma related reminders.
- Negative thoughts or feelings that have grown worse after the traumatic event. To be diagnosed with PTSD, you must experience at least two of the following symptoms:Inability to remember aspects of the traumatic event.
- Excessively negative thoughts about the world or oneself.
- Excessive blame of yourself or others for causing the traumatic event.
- Negative effect.
- Inability or difficulty to experience a positive effect.
- Feelings of isolation.
- Decreased interest in activities.
- Trauma-related arousal or reactivity that started with or grew worse after the event. You must experience at least two of the following:
- Irritability or aggression.
- Destructive/risky behavior.
- Increased startle reaction.
- Difficulty with concentration.
- Difficulty sleeping.
Symptoms have to persist for longer than one month and create significant distress or impair your ability to work, socialize, or function as usual. Further, your symptoms must be caused by the traumatic event itself, not substance abuse, medication, or pre-existing illness.
PTSD and You
A study conducted by J. Gayle Beck and Scott F. Coffey found that “Individuals who experience a serious motor vehicle accident are at increased risk for psychological projects, particularly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Another sad statistic: Florida leads the nation in motorcycle-related accidents and fatalities.
The big question is can you make a claim for emotional distress following a motorcycle accident? You can if you have been properly diagnosed with PTSD. It is a recognized medical condition and thus considered an “injury” under Florida law.
A correct diagnosis is critical – both for your health and your pursuit of appropriate compensation. If you are injured through the reckless, negligent, or careless actions of another party, you may be able to seek both economic and noneconomic damages.
- Economic Damages: medical bills, transportation expenses, medications, physical therapy, lost wages, etc. These items have a precise monetary value.
- Noneconomic Damages: essentially, this is your “pain and suffering” – fear, loss of concentration, mood swings, nightmares, etc. These items do not have a precise monetary value.
Pursuing a claim can be challenging. Not only do you have to prove that you have PTSD to a medical certainty, you must fight the insurance companies. In Florida, motorcyclists are not required to carry PIP coverage (this limits a motorists ability to pursue compensation following an accident).
If your accident was caused by a third party (e.g., another driver), you can take legal action to obtain the compensation to which you are entitled. This includes monetary damages and those related to less precise “pain and suffering.”
Because of the complexity of these cases, it is best to consult with an experienced Florida personal injury attorney. They will fight tirelessly for your rights; having an advocate on your side as you face the insurance companies is not only a relief, it gives you the best chance to recoup the compensation you deserve.
The LaBovick LaBovick & Diaz team has decades of experience representing victims of motorcycle accidents. If your psychological injuries are not healing, it’s time to give us a call.