Q: Two years ago, I witnessed my best friend dying after a lorry ploughed into her car whilst she was legally parked waiting for me. She was trapped in the wreckage for nearly two hours whilst I cradled her head and talked to her. She was screaming and kept asking me to help her until medics arrived and sedated her. Her screams and the picture of her terrible injuries have tortured me ever since. I am on anti-depressants and have had to give up work. A nurse friend thinks I have PTSD and that I should claim against the lorry insurance for compensation. Would I have a valid claim?
A: You may well have a valid claim. It is not only front-line military staff who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is widely acknowledged it can also be caused by other traumatic events, including witnessing an accident. PTSD symptoms include involuntary intrusive thoughts; images, dreams or recollections of the traumatic event; physiological hyperarousal such as concentration problems, irritability and disturbed sleep; avoidance of activities, thoughts and emotions that evoke memories of the traumatic event; apathy or emotional numbness.
To bring a claim you would need to provide expert evidence of the range of symptoms you have experienced and provide a view on how that fits on the recognized psychiatric diagnosis scales. As you were not directly involved in the accident you would need to establish a direct connection with the incident in place or time, and a connection with the physically injured person - which you clearly can.
Claims can include lost earnings, private counselling, medication costs and damages for the mental injury. For accident victims claims must be made within three years of the incident happening, or for witnesses such as yourself, within three years after discovering your injury was linked to the accident. You should get advice from a local personal injury lawyer as soon as possible.
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