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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder After Auto Accident - $150,000 Award

Type of action: Underinsurance/Uninsurance Arbitration
Tried before judge or jury (or mediation): Robert Larkin, Esq. (arbitrator)
Amount (specify award or settlement): $150, 000.00
Date (of verdict or settlement): September 10, 2001
Highest Offer: $50,000.00
Attorney for plaintiff(s) and city of office: Kenneth I. Kolpan

Other useful information:

On August 30, 1997, claimant was a fourteen-year-old front seat, unbelted passenger in her mother's car traveling southbound on Route 24 when another vehicle, traveling southbound in adjacent lane, cut in front of their vehicle. The claimant and the operator each testified that the phantom vehicle caused their vehicle to veer in to the guard rail. The claimant's mother lost control of their vehicle and it slid across three lanes of traffic and came to rest against a boulder. The phantom vehicle was never identified.  The insurer accepted the underinsurance because the phantom vehicle was deemed, under the policy, as uninsured.  Claimant proceeded against her own vehicle insurance policy seeking payment under her (U) coverage which is available under this scenario where the other vehicle is deemed uninsured, is uninsured or is underinsured in an amount below the claimant’s underinsurance policy.

During and after the initial collision, claimant struck her head on the dashboard and windshield causing the window to be starred. The impacts broke one of the claimant’s teeth.  Shortly after the crash, the claimant returned to school as a ninth grader but had difficulty in her courses, and had numerous absences. During the ensuing four years, claimant was treated by her pediatrician and neurologist. She was also prescribed Prozac for depression.

At the time of the arbitration, claimant had graduated high school. But her treating physicians opined that she currently has a "disabling depression" requiring special accommodations should she attend college. Claimant's expert, Dr. Thomas Deters, diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Respondent (insurer) offered expert testimony of a neuropsychologist, Nancy Hebben, PhD and Robert A. Levine, M.D., a neurologist, neither of whom examined the claimant. Each of the insurer’s experts conducted a record review to support their respective opinions.  Dr. Hebben opined that the claimant did not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur when an individual under goes a traumatic experience where s/he fears her life is in danger.  Post-traumatic stress disorder is a recognized mental condition.  There are several studies indicating that auto crashes can cause occupants to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, not only because they feared for their life but an auto collision can affect one’s sense of control or, more appropriately, one’s sense of no control over their world.  Post-traumatic stress disorder, if not appropriately treated early on, can have devastating and permanent consequences. Referral to an appropriate provider is important to address this disorder with therapies and/or medications.  Those with a history of early childhood trauma are at increased risk of Post-traumatic stress disorder from a horrifying vehicle crash.

Matter was arbitrated before Robert Larkin, Esq., a former insurance attorney, who awarded claimant $150,000. (Claimant's mother was awarded $25,000 for damages she sustained in the accident.)