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Exploring the psychological impact on survivors of accidents/incidents and why it should be...

Exploring the psychological impact on survivors of accidents/incidents and why it should be thoroughly considered when claiming for a loss of earnings

By Valeske Kelly, Caren Swanepoel and Gideon Heyns, Directors and Managing Director of CSIP (Caren Swanepoel Industrial Psychologists), CSIP Heyns and CSIP Kelly. CSIP may be contacted on 067 930 5709 or Visit our website: Linkedin:


Motor vehicle accidents are, unfortunately, a common occurrence in South Africa, resulting in injuries, fatalities, and extensive financial and emotional burdens on those affected. While the Road Accident Fund (RAF) provides compensation and support for accident victims, the impact of psychological trauma associated with such accidents can be profound and often overlooked. While many individuals may heal from their physical wounds, psychological distress can linger long after the accident. The emotional aftermath of such accidents can have a profound impact on various aspects of an individual's life, including their workplace functioning. Apart from motor vehicle accidents, other third-party claims associated with physical injuries and psychological distress may also be considered as it is based on the same premise, including Medical Negligence claims, Loss of Support claims, Police Brutality claims, and Workplace Injury claims. This article explores the repercussions and impact of psychological trauma on accident/incident victims, and why it should be considered imperative when dealing with loss of earnings matters.

In general, claims for such incidents aim at covering medical expenses, loss of income, and general damages for pain and suffering, aiming to alleviate the financial burden faced by victims and their families. However, while such claims are aimed at providing financial relief, they often fail to address the hidden wounds of psychological trauma that result from such incidents.

Psychological Trauma: A Silent Consequence

An accident is an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.

Hence, surviving an unfortunate incident, as a result of unnatural and unexpected circumstances, can have a lasting and detrimental impact on an individual's psychological well-being and emotional functioning.

Psychological trauma resulting from these incidents can manifest in various ways, including:

1. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Survivors may experience vivid flashbacks, nightmares, and intense anxiety related to the accident/incident, making it difficult to resume normal life activities. Additionally, the emotional experience of psychological trauma can have long-term cognitive effects. Among others, symptoms of PTSD involve alterations to cognitive processes such as memory, attention, planning, and problem-solving, and emphasizing the detrimental impact that psychological trauma may have on cognitive functioning.

2. Depression and Anxiety: The aftermath of an accident or incident can trigger feelings of sadness, fear, and uncertainty, leading to clinical depression and anxiety disorders that require treatment. Depression and anxiety can lead to difficulty concentrating, social interactions, lack of motivation, and absenteeism if left untreated.

3. Survivor's Guilt: Individuals who survive accidents but lose a loved one or witness severe injuries may grapple with profound feelings of guilt and helplessness.

4. Phobias and Aversion: Some survivors develop a fear of driving, or even a strong aversion to, for example, being near cars or the accident/incident scene.

5. Sleep Disturbances: Accidents can lead to insomnia or nightmares, impacting an individual's overall health and quality of life.

Understanding the impact of psychological trauma on survivors of accidents is a critical aspect of the work conducted by experts within the medico/psycho-legal field. These professionals recognise that traumatic experiences can have profound and long-lasting effects on an individual's mental and emotional well-being. It is imperative to consider these effects when assessing loss of earnings and employment capacity, as trauma can significantly hinder a survivor's ability to function in a workplace, maintain consistent performance or even uphold his/her employment. Experts within this field take into account the complex interplay between psychological trauma, physical injuries, and their consequences. By doing so, they ensure that the compensation and support provided to survivors of accidents are fair and comprehensive, taking into account not just the visible injuries, but also the “hidden scars” that trauma can leave behind, which can affect a person's ability to work and earn a livelihood.

The Impact of Psychological Trauma on Workplace Functioning

1. Reduced Productivity: Psychological distress often results in decreased productivity as individuals may struggle to focus on tasks, have trouble making decisions, and experience memory lapses. This may pose a risk to continued employment and promotional opportunities.

2. Increased Absenteeism: Frequent absenteeism due to psychological distress can lead to a loss of income and affect colleagues who may have to take on additional workloads. This may result in negative performance appraisals and demotions.

3. Interpersonal Issues: Mood swings, irritability, and difficulty managing emotions can strain workplace relationships and lead to conflict resulting in possible disciplinary actions, demotions, and even dismissals.

4. Decreased Job Satisfaction: An individual's reduced ability to perform at their best can contribute to decreased job satisfaction, which can have long-term consequences, including attrition and resignation.

5. Occupational Functioning: Those with severe psychological distress may find their career progression hampered, as they may be unable to handle the demands of their position or take on new responsibilities. Hence, they may not apply for promotion / be considered for progression or even resign.

All of the above factors, naming only but a few, may result in decreased earnings and even unemployment, impacting directly on the victim’s earnings and career capacity.


Surviving an accident often results in significant psychological trauma which is often overlooked by attorneys and may go unaddressed when claiming for loss of earnings. It is essential to recognize that the psychological distress following such an accident/incident can have a profound and lasting impact on an individual's workplace functioning, which could have significant financial consequences. Financial implications in this regard may include, negative performance appraisals hampering bonuses and promotional opportunities, demotion to lower-paying positions with fewer responsibilities and decision-making, termination of employment due to underperformance or negligent errors, retrenchment, early retirement or resignation.

By recognising the impact of psychological trauma on survivors of accidents/incidents, South African Personal Injury Attorneys can better support accident victims on their road to recovery and provide comprehensive assistance for the compensation required to seek treatment and rebuild their lives after traumatic events.

CSIP (Caren Swanepoel Industrial Psychologists)

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Lexinfo CC.

Posted: 2 November 2023

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