Delayed shock can have its own set of symptoms, but it also can delay your treatment and recognition of symptoms of other injuries after an accident
Delayed shock could have symptoms that vary from physical to emotional, but it’s important to take all of them seriously because they can have an impact on your recovery and life later on.
Even a small accident can leave you with big feelings.
It’s jarring. You might lie awake at night thinking about what might have happened. You might repeatedly “see” the accident in your mind, lamenting what you might have done differently. You might be worried about whether a loved one who was with you could suffer injuries that appear later. There are many reasons why an accident might be just as painful for your mind as for your body… or maybe even more.
You might already know that if you’re physically injured in a car accident, you can often claim damages—or even file a lawsuit—against the at-fault driver. In some states, you’d rely first on your own insurance, but even in a no-fault state, you have legal options if your insurance doesn’t cover the full extent of your injuries.
But what if you are physically unharmed but left with mental trauma or shock? These injuries aren’t visible to the eye, but they can affect your life just as much.
To bring a lawsuit for shock or other emotional trauma, you need to establish that you suffered a significant and diagnosable emotional injury as a direct result of the accident. You’ll need to provide evidence like medical records, psychiatric records, and expert testimony from mental health professionals.
Definition of “shock”
There are two medical definitions of shock.
- Circulatory shock: This is a medical emergency. If a person is in shock, their organs don’t receive enough blood or oxygen. This can lead to permanent organ damage or death. It’s caused by a sudden drop in blood flow through the body that results from trauma, heat stroke, blood loss, or an allergic reaction.
Obstructive shock Cardiogenic shock Distributive shock The shock from an injury prevents the blood from flowing through the body. The heart is damaged and cannot effectively pump blood through the body. Nervous system damage prevents blood vessels from carrying blood to the heart and other organs.
- Emotional shock: This is a reaction to an unexpected event or traumatic incident that upsets you enough to make it difficult for you to function. Emotional shock can cause your body to go into a state of physical shock.
Emotional shock is your brain’s response to a threat (or perceived threat), and is part of a fight or flight response. If your brain is so threatened that it can’t process the situation, it freezes to protect your mind and body.
Psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, LCP, says that emotional shock could have physical and emotional symptoms. As she said:
“You might feel numb, or cry, or rage. You might just sit there, emotionally unable to move. You might disassociate and feel like nothing around you is real or that it‘s actually happening to someone else.”
Symptoms of emotional shock
|Denial||Numbness||Disassociation||Panic||Anger||Difficulty with rationalizing, thinking, or planning|
|Breathlessness||Headache||Nausea||Dizziness||Lightheadedness||Loss of interest in surroundings|
|Muscle tension||Increased heart rate||Tightness in the throat||Tightness in the chest||Inability to speak or move||Inability to express emotion|
What is “delayed shock”?
The brain might protect the victim by blocking out a traumatic event. In other words, the victim doesn’t process the experience immediately. This can result in psychological shock that arises days (or longer) after an accident; one form of psychological shock is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
The trauma of an accident could actually cause an adrenaline rush, which would mean the physical injury does not seem as serious as it actually is. This adrenaline could mask physical pain and other symptoms, so the victim does not realize they’re seriously injured.
For this reason, the victim could experience serious medical issues because the original injury could worsen.
Symptoms of delayed shock
There are symptoms of physical shock that you should watch for if you or someone you care about has been through a traumatic event or accident. These include:
- Quick breaths
- Difficulty breathing
- Elevated blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Confusion, disorientation
- Clammy or cold skin
- Weakness or fatigue
- Loss of consciousness
Symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Guardedness, paranoia
- Easy to startle
- Sleep issues
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Avoidance of talking about the event or being reminded of what happened
- Aggressive behavior
- Detachment from loved ones
Get an immediate medical evaluation after an accident
If you’re involved in an accident, the best way to protect your legal rights is to have a medical evaluation as soon as possible. You should wait to contact the insurance company until you’ve received a medical evaluation; if you tell the insurance company that you’re “fine” in the aftermath of an accident (because you might genuinely believe you are), it can hurt your chances of receiving a settlement if injuries are not immediately apparent.
If it doesn’t seem that the physician is evaluating your mental state, you can ask for a psychological consultation.
Can you recover compensation for shock?
In some states, you can recover compensation for shock during a personal injury event. Compensation is available for both physical and emotional shock if they were caused by a reckless or careless person or entity.
However, it’s crucial that you have an actual diagnosis of shock—physical or emotional—by a licensed medical or mental health provider. Unfortunately, your recounting of your experiences and feelings or condition are likely not enough for financial compensation; it would need to be documented by a licensed professional in order to be evidence for a legal claim.
Being sad or angry after an accident, even after an injury, is not enough to claim compensation for trauma. You would need a psychological diagnosis of a mental health impact that directly results from the accident in order to claim compensation.
Specific requirements for the circumstances under which you can make a claim for emotional shock or distress vary by state. Sometimes you can make a claim for emotional shock or distress without physical injuries, but you would likely need to prove that the emotional shock caused significant harm or impact.
If you’ve been injured and suffered emotional effects, you can contact a personal injury lawyer to learn more about your options and whether you might be able to receive compensation.