Car accidents in California can cause serious – or even fatal – injuries. However, we must not forget the emotional toll that a car crash takes on victims.

Even relatively minor crashes can cause more than physical pain. And serious crashes may leave victims with significant mental health concerns. If you are experiencing anxiety after a car accident, you deserve compensation for your suffering. That’s where we can help.

Our personal injury attorneys can assist with any car accident claim in California. Let our attorneys explain when you might sue for trauma and driving anxiety after an accident.

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Emotional distress has its own definition. In simple terms, it’s when another person’s conduct causes you to experience a “highly unpleasant emotional reaction”. Such a reaction includes anxiety and mental trauma after a car accident.

Emotional distress is sometimes called mental distress or emotional harm.


Car accidents don’t just leave physical wounds. They can leave emotional or mental wounds, too. This is unsurprising. After all, even minor fender benders can leave you feeling startled, shaken, and distressed.

In many cases, the distress only lasts a few days, or maybe a week or two. However, it’s not uncommon for emotional trauma to last longer than this. The issue is that prolonged mental trauma after a car accident can have long-term consequences.


Every accident is completely unique. However, the type of car accident anxiety you may experience may include: 

  • Driving anxiety: Some drivers may be wary about getting behind the wheel again, or even being a passenger 
  • Avoidance: Victims may be reluctant to drive past the crash site again. It could trigger painful emotions and become too distressing to handle.  
  • Guilt: If you feel in any way responsible for the crash, you might experience recurring emotions of guilt. These feelings can be crippling in the long term. 
  • Stress: The stress of the aftermath can leave a victim with heightened emotions, anxiety, and tensions for weeks or months.
  • Anger: Victims may feel anger, frustration, or resentment, especially if someone else caused their injuries.
  • Fear: Victims may experience fear, doubt, and panic when they think about the accident.


Anxiety after a car accident is just as real – and problematic – as physical injuries. In many cases, the impact can endure well beyond physical recovery.

  • If a victim has severe driving anxiety after the accident, it could affect their day-to-day life. They may even be unable to work if their livelihood depends on driving.  
  • Avoidance behaviors, such as avoiding a certain route, can make it harder to perform daily tasks. For example, it may be impossible to commute to work. 
  • Victims may withdraw from friends, family, and social events if the stress is severe. 
  • A victim may lose confidence in their driving abilities. They might struggle to get behind the wheel again.  
  • Sometimes, the fear of having another accident becomes overwhelming. The victim may be unable to travel anywhere, such as to medical appointments.

Young anxious woman covering face with hands after car accident

While individuals often focus on the physical injuries, the emotional harm can be grave. If you’re concerned about car accident trauma, contact our attorneys for a free initial consultation.


Everyone reacts differently to trauma. For some victims, the experience is traumatic enough to trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a serious mental health condition. It is triggered by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. It typically develops a month or so after a trauma, but it could take years to manifest.

According to the American Psychological Association, car accidents are a primary cause of post-traumatic stress disorder among the general public and military personnel.

Studies show that almost 40 percent of individuals who did not receive mental health treatment for PTSD resulting from either a motor vehicle accident or other cause within six years after the trauma continued to suffer from PTSD for up to ten years after the accident.

Signs of PTSD resulting from a car accident include:

  • Frequent upsetting thoughts or memories about a traumatic event
  • Recurrent nightmares
  • Flashbacks to the accident
  • Avoiding people, places, or situations that remind you of the accident
  • Staying excessively busy to distract yourself
  • Being keyed up or constantly on guard, also called hyperarousal
  • Having a hard time falling or staying asleep
  • Negative thoughts about yourself and others
  • A loss of interest in activities you previously enjoyed
  • Feeling distant from others
  • Feeling sad or lonely
  • Feeling as though something may shorten your life

Common physical symptoms may also include:

  • Heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or angina
  • Nausea
  • Faintness
  • Shaking
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Mood swings, irritability, or impatience
  • Cognitive problems, such as difficulty with concentration

PTSD is a serious manifestation of car accident trauma. It requires careful evaluation and management. Contact the May Firm if you suspect you have PTSD after a car or motorcycle accident in CA.


Each situation and each individual is unique. As with any health issue, your doctor or health care professional will determine the best treatment for you. However, treating anxiety and emotional distress can include psychotherapy, medication, self-help, or a combination of these approaches.

Psychotherapy treatment for anxiety, emotional distress, and PTSD

Early intervention is crucial to car accident anxiety recovery.

The National Center for PTSD estimates that only 9 percent of those whose condition goes untreated recover after three months. However, 53 percent of people who receive trauma-focused psychotherapy recover after three months.

Psychotherapy is probably the most common treatment for emotional and psychological issues. The many types of psychotherapy take different approaches. Doctors, therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals use these methods depending on the patient’s symptoms and situation.

They typically perform a physical and psychological evaluation before starting treatment.

Common psychotherapeutic approaches for treating trauma include:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to teach someone how to change the thoughts and feelings they’ve been struggling with since the traumatic event. The treatment may involve various coping strategies, such as breathing techniques.

Exposure therapy.

This type of therapy helps the individual gradually relive the traumatic event in a careful, controlled way.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

This therapy helps the person focus on the traumatic memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral eye movements, sounds, or taps.

In some cases, the doctor may prescribe medication to treat symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are drugs frequently prescribed to treat anxiety and depressive disorders and other psychological conditions. It is not safe to self-medicate or take medication provided by anyone other than your doctor.

Examples of SSRIs include:

  • Zoloft
  • Paxil
  • Celexa
  • Lexapro
  • Prozac


You may have a compensation claim for car or driving anxiety after an accident. However, you will only have a personal injury claim if you can prove negligence.

Two friends senior men sitting on sofa offering emotional support

Typically, you will need to prove that:

  • Someone owed you a duty of care. Meaning, a duty to behave with a certain level of care and skill to respect the safety of others. Drivers owe each other a duty of care. 
  • The other party breached this duty. This could be because they acted in a certain way or they failed to do something. 
  • You were injured in a crash with this person. This step is simple enough to prove. 
  • The other person’s negligent acts caused your physical and/or mental injuries.

What might be considered negligence in a car accident context? Examples of driver negligence include:

  • Aggressive driving 
  • Distracted driving 
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol 
  • Driving fatigued 
  • Failing to yield or obey traffic laws  
  • Running a stop sign or red light 
  • Speeding 
  • Tailgating

If you can prove that someone else’s careless acts caused the accident, and therefore your injuries, then you may have a claim.


Yes. If you meet the tests described above, you can file a civil lawsuit.

If you were in a car accident that someone else caused, you will want to receive monetary compensation, also known as “damages,” for any loss you suffered. In addition, typically, you need to demonstrate that you have suffered prolonged emotional or mental health issues diagnosed and treated by a qualified mental health professional.


As mentioned, anyone involved in the crash might sue for personal injury damages. But what about bystanders?

In California, bystanders can claim for emotional distress if:

  • Someone else acted negligently;
  • This negligence injured or killed someone the bystander knew; and
  • The bystander witnessed the injury or death of this person.

The bystander must have a “sufficiently close” relationship with the victim. This includes parents, children, and domestic partners. Friends and other relatives may not be “close” enough in law to merit a bystander claim.

Furthermore, the bystander must prove that they witnessed or were at least aware of the injury taking place. It’s not enough just to be at the scene. The bystander must have experienced the trauma by having some degree of sensory awareness of an injury occurring.

Lawsuits seeking damages for emotional distress can involve complex legal issues. It may be challenging to prove the connection between the accident and the victim’s anxiety or emotional distress.


Many forms of evidence may establish a claim of anxiety or emotional distress. Your attorney must establish that the anxiety or distress directly and substantially impacted your daily life.

Examples of evidence frequently include:

Medical records. These show the extent of both your physical injuries and the psychological effects of the accident. It helps prove your case but is also valuable for determining damages.

Expert testimony. In addition to your medical records, doctors and other expert witnesses can testify about how the accident has degraded your quality of life. They can also testify about treatment options and the prognosis of your condition.

Your journal or notes. If a car accident injured you, keep a journal or daily notes to record your pain, incidents of anxiety or emotional distress, the intensity of your symptoms, and other ongoing effects of the accident. In addition, if your attorney recommends that you testify, your testimony can be a powerful form of evidence.

Testimony from other witnesses. Family members, friends, co-workers, and others who know you well can testify about how the accident has changed your life.

Photos or videos. Pictures of the accident scene, your injuries, or videos that may have recorded the accident as it occurred can also prove emotional distress. A dramatic triggering event may support your claim for damages.

Proof of financial losses. Documentation such as receipts for any medications, therapy sessions, proof of lost income, and other expenses related to the claim will support your case.

Emotional distress is non-economic damage. The goal of these damages is to compensate you for the daily adverse effects of someone else’s negligence or intentional misconduct.


It’s common to feel overwhelmed after a car accident. Take back control of the situation with these tips from our motor vehicle accident attorneys.

  • Be kind to yourself. Accept and embrace how you’re feeling. Acknowledge that you may need time to heal and move forward – this is completely natural. Patience is critical.  
  • Talk through your feelings. You can confide in friends and family. Just remember that it’s healthy to talk about your feelings. In fact, it’s a sign of strength to admit when you’re struggling mentally.  
  • Seek professional help if you need it. This is not a sign of weakness, or a sign that you can’t cope with your emotions. Asking for help is courageous. It shows a determination to get better and overcome the trauma.   
  • If you have physical injuries, follow your doctor’s advice. The treatment plan they provide is for your long-term benefit. If you have concerns about your progress, discuss it with them. They should be happy to reassure you or discuss alternative treatment plans.   
  • A fear of driving is natural. Don’t avoid driving for too long, though, unless you’re limited by injuries. Gently ease back in by trying short trips. Ask someone to accompany you, if it helps.

If you feel anxious, don’t be afraid to tell your personal injury lawyer how you feel. It’s our job – and our privilege – to help you get the support you need. Let us help you.


The mental trauma after a car accident cannot be overstated. Even seemingly minor crashes can leave you feeling discouraged, anxious, and emotional for some time afterward. And when you return to driving, the anxiety after the accident can remain with you.

At the May Firm, we understand just how serious car accident trauma can be. That’s why we’re committed to offering you the help you deserve. Whether it’s damages for pain and suffering or compensation for injuries, we want to assist.

Our personal injury lawyers have significant experience helping car accident victims move forward after a crash. We offer free consultations to all prospective clients. If you have a case, we’ll work tirelessly to get you a fair settlement. And we don’t charge anything unless we win your case.

At the May Firm, clients are like family to us. And families support each other. We are here to champion you and help you through this challenging time. Contact us now to discuss your auto accident and pain and suffering claim.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is provided for general informational purposes only and may not represent the current law in the recipient’s jurisdiction. The article should not be interpreted as professional legal advice from The May Firm or the individual author, nor is the information intended to substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. The article, nor any of the information included, should not be used to act or refrain from acting without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s jurisdiction. Any reliance you place on such information is strictly at your own risk.