How a Car Accident can Cause Emotional Distress

Car accidents can cause many different types of injuries, from whiplash to broken bones to brain injuries and even to death. Recovery after a car accident injury is a slow painful process, but in many cases, the body eventually heals. Car accidents can also cause injury to the mind, which can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Unlike physical injuries, emotional injuries are much harder to treat and take longer to heal. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common types of emotional distress caused by car accidents and a few ways you might be able to recover pain and suffering damages if you suffer from them.

Common Types of Emotional Distress After a Car Accident

Everybody responds to emotional distress from car accidents in different ways, but there are a few common conditions that often plague car accident victims, including:


Anxiety is a very common disorder for car accident survivors to suffer. Examples of anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias, and the sufferer often exhibits characteristics of each. Some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating and trembling
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Panic attacks

There is no one specific cause of anxiety, but it can often be caused by going through a traumatic event or witnessing a traumatic event like a car accident. Being injured or witnessing someone else being injured in the accident makes it more likely that the survivor will suffer an anxiety disorder.


Depression is a persistent feeling of being “down in the dumps.” Common symptoms of depression include:

  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in daily activities or activities that used to bring the sufferer pleasure
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Excessive weight loss or gain

The exact causes of depression are unknown but experiencing a traumatic event like a car accident can often trigger it. It can also arise in patients who have suffered severe physical injuries in a car accident and who are bedridden for several days or weeks. Patients in these situations often feel like they have lost control over their lives or that they will never be able to enjoy doing the things they used to do, which can lead to symptoms of depression.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (commonly known as PTSD) is a serious mental disorder that is triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. There are many symptoms of PTSD, including:

  • Recurrent, unwanted distressing memories of the event
  • Reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening again
  • Upsetting dreams or nightmares about the event
  • Severe emotional distress or physical reactions to something that reminds the sufferer of the event
  • Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind the sufferer of the event
  • Feeling emotionally numb or detached from family and friends
  • Being easily startled or frightened
  • Memory problems
  • Self-destructive behavior such as drinking or drug use
  • Irritability, angry outbursts, and outwardly aggressive behavior
  • Suicidal thoughts

In the past, PTSD was known as “shell shock” and was most often associated with soldiers who had experienced trauma in war. However, as mental health care has advanced, it is now understood that PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced a significant traumatic event, including a car crash. Crash victims with PTSD may have such severe symptoms that they may need to time from work and other activities while they engage in treatment.

Fear of Cars and Driving

While those who suffer from general anxiety and PTSD can both display fear and avoidance behaviors, occasionally that fear and avoidance can bloom into a full-blown phobia of cars and driving. Officially known as vehophobia, a phobia of cars and driving is often caused by being involved in a car accident. Symptoms of vehophobia are similar to other phobias and include shaking, trembling, dry mouth, rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, sweaty hands, and panic attacks. People who suffer from this phobia often have to radically adjust their lifestyles to be able to avoid driving completely and, as such, severe cases can be debilitating.

Recovery for Emotional Distress

Injuries from emotional distress are recoverable in personal injury lawsuits in the form of pain and suffering damages. This category of damages includes any emotional distress that has a significant negative effect on the plaintiff’s life, such as one of the conditions we discussed above. Because it is difficult to put a dollar amount on a person’s damages from emotional distress, courts look to a number of factors when determining how much to award, including:

  • The severity of the injury
  • The potential for ongoing consequences
  • The age of the person
  • Whether the person had pre-existing conditions
  • The amount of economic loss suffered

In most cases, there is no cap on pain and suffering damages in Florida. However, the Florida state legislature has placed limits on the availability of pain and suffering damages in the context of car accidents. For car accidents, pain and suffering damages are available only if the emotional distress is the result of:

  • Significant and permanent loss of an important bodily function, or
  • Permanent injury other than scarring or disfigurement, or
  • Significant and permanent scarring or disfigurement, or
  • Death

Thus, emotional distress alone is insufficient as a basis for pain and suffering damages as the result of a car accident. Rather, the emotional distress must be the result of a significant injury sustained in the accident or death.

Contact a New Port Richey Car Accident Attorney

If you have been injured in a car accident, you may be able to recover for your injuries, both physical and emotional. Please contact a car accident lawyer in New Port Richey at the Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-451-6900.

Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652
(727) 853-6275