What are Mental and Emotional Injuries?
Mental and emotional injuries are generally referred to in personal injury cases in different ways but one component of these type of injuries is the pain and suffering element. A wide variety of mental and emotional injuries from traumatic injuries can occur.
Less severe mental and emotional injuries include such problems as:
- mental anguish,
- emotional distress,
- shock, or
- embarrassment and
- People with even mild cases of mental or emotional distress can experience bouts of crying, severe anger, loss of appetite, weight fluctuations, lack of energy, sexual dysfunction or loss of interest in sex, mood swings, and/or sleep disturbances. A mild case of mental or emotional distress might go away relatively quickly, but a more severe case might require professional medical or psychological assistance.
More severe mental and emotional injuries can have specific diagnoses such as:
- acute stress disorder,
- even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You may have thought that PTSD only affects soldiers or crime victims, but it can affect car accident victims as well. Some people keep replaying the accident over and over in their head or begin to fear certain types of driving situations. For example, let's say that you were rear ended pretty badly. After you got back on the road again, you might start worrying that you would get rear ended any time that you stopped in an unusual situation, like to let a child cross the road in the middle of a block. PTSD can become paralyzing for those who don't get help sooner rather than later. Some factors to look for to see if PTSD is affecting you after your wreck are:
- Being afraid to drive or ride in a vehicle;
- Reliving the accident through nightmares and flashbacks;
- Placing irrational blame on yourself or feeling guilty about the collision;
- Sleep problems or inability to concentrate;
- Feeling persistent depression or hopelessness; or
- Being unable to remember details about the crash.
How to Prove Mental and Emotional Injuries
You prove mild mental anguish or emotional distress from your own testimony. Most people with mild emotional distress don't seek professional treatment. They would just tell the jury what happened to them.
More severe mental and emotional injuries become a medical issue, and must be proved with medical testimony. A lay person is not permitted to testify that he/she is suffering from PTSD. Only that person's mental health provider can testify to such a diagnosis and the lay person can testify to how they are feeling differently.
Mental and Emotional Injuries are not Always well Perceived By Insurance Companies and Juries
Insurance companies and juries accept claims for mental and emotional injuries as long as the mental injury claims are not out of proportion to the physical injury claims and/or to the severity of the accident. If you have whip lash and you are claiming you can never get in a car again, Insurance Companies will not pay those kind of allegations and a jury probably is not going to award damages for that as well as it is beyond the realm of reasonableness for most people.
Another example, if someone was involved in a mild fender bender and suffered no more than a neck strain, but claims severe mental anguish and emotional distress, with the full range of symptoms, an insurer is simply not going to accept those claims (or compensate them). Nor will a jury. Someone who claims mental or emotional injuries completely out of proportion to their physical injuries loses all credibility with the insurance company and the jury. They also put the legitimate claims at risk because the jury is enraged and therefore the jury diminishes or extinguishes those claims.
Finally, even if the claimed mental and emotional injury is proportionate to the physical injuries, the insurer and jury are less likely to accept the injury if the person did not get any treatment. If, for example, the injured person testifies that he/she is too scared to drive because of the accident, has lost his/her appetite, can't sleep, and cries for hours on end, but has never had any mental health treatment, an insurer (and, most likely, a jury) is going to take such claims much less seriously. The reason is if it was such a problem why did you not do anything about it. If you are suffering from the above it is necessary to treat your brain by going to a mental professional the same as treating your back for whiplash.
How Mental and Emotional Injuries Affect Your Damages in A Car Accident Claim
Generally, claims for mental and emotional injuries do not generally play a huge role in determining an injured person's damages (the amount of compensation he or she will receive). Minor claims of mental anguish and emotional distress simply allow the injured person to be humanized; that is, to let the insurer and the jury see that the injured person is a regular person who can suffer pain. Your attorney will work with you to make sure you are using accurate words to describe the unfortunate experience and the level of severity it affected your life as well as mental status. Too many times Plaintiff's want to exaggerate the problems and more often then not it will lead to less compensation because the jury will not be sympathetic to you.
More severe claims of mental injury (those in which the injured person has had mental health treatment) certainly increase a person's damages in the sense that they increase the claim for medical bills and perhaps even for lost earnings. But they do not necessarily increase very significantly the amount of damages a jury will award for pain and suffering.
As a general rule the more severe your injuries the more severe the mental problems associated with your wreck can be. Just because something could have happened does not matter, what matter is exactly what happened in the particular instance and all the facts that go with it. Jurors likely assume that some amount of mental pain and suffering goes with the territory -- i.e., if you suffer a severe physical injury, you are likely to have suffered a severe emotional injury as well.