Q&A - Can witnessing a traumatic accident have caused PTSD and warrant a compensation claim?

Q: I was walking across a busy road with a friend two years ago when a lorry mounted the pavement. Miraculously I was unhurt but my friend was trapped beneath the lorry and suffered horrendous injuries. I comforted him whilst we waited for the emergency services to come but he died before they got there.

I have suffered nightmares ever since. I can’t go out, I feel guilt that it wasn’t me who was hit, now I have had to give up my job. My GP prescribed anti-depressants but my father thinks I am suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder and I should sue the lorry driver’s insurance company for compensation. Is this possible?

A: People can develop PTSD months or even years after a traumatic event and although the condition is usually associated with soldiers returning from the front line experts acknowledge that it can also be caused by other traumatic events, including witnessing an accident. Common symptoms include nightmares, difficulty sleeping, anger, depression, grief and guilt. Your father may well be right in his assumption that you have the condition.

PTSD is an accepted form of injury and subject to satisfying some legal tests people are successfully claiming compensation. If you were not involved in the incident you need to establish a direct connection with the incident in place or time, and a connection with the physically injured person. Claims can include lost earnings, private counselling and medication costs in addition to damages for the mental injury.

As an adult you must make a personal injury claim within three years of the date of the accident which caused your injury, or three years after you discovered the injury was linked to the accident. You should therefore make an appointment to see a reputable local personal injury lawyer as soon as possible, for advice on how to proceed.


Robert Williams

Robert Williams

Partner and Complaints Handler

Partner and Head of the Civil Litigation, Personal Injury and Dispute Resolution team in Wrexham

Claire Parfitt

Claire Parfitt

Senior Solicitor

Senior Solicitor within our Civil Litigation team in Wrexham and Oswestry