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Can I Seek Compensation for Emotional Distress in a Personal Injury Case?

Posted January 8, 2024 | Personal Injury Blog

Compensation for Emotional Distress in a Personal Injury Case

If someone’s negligence caused you sufficient harm to leave you injured and in need of medical care, you have a right to file a personal injury suit to recover damages. You can also pursue compensation for non-economic damage such as the emotional distress that resulted from that party’s negligent actions. An experienced personal injury attorney could help you obtain compensation for non-economic damages that might be harder to prove in some cases.

What Types of Emotional Distress Can I Sue For?

In a personal injury suit, emotional damages are often associated with “pain and suffering,” which typically refers to the physical aspect of the pain and extreme discomfort that accompanies a severe injury. Emotional distress also falls within that category and represents one of the types of non-economic damages that a personal injury suit may include.

Although different states have varying laws that guide court decisions in personal injury cases, all states permit individuals harmed through negligence to obtain compensation for emotional distress when it arises from a physical injury.

After suffering physical harm, such as the severe injuries that could result from a fire or motor vehicle collision, emotional distress may take the form of:

  • Severe mood swings
  • Chronic anxiety or depression
  • Continuing sleep disturbances
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Mental anguish or debilitating flashbacks

What Are the Elements a Personal Injury Attorney Needs To Prove in an Emotional Distress Claim?

To prove to the court that you’ve suffered emotional distress resulting from someone’s negligence, your attorney must show evidence of the following circumstances:

  • Through another party’s negligence, you experienced a traumatic event and physical harm that was the direct cause of your emotional distress
  • The severity of your emotional distress resulted in a significant disruption of your life or career
  • Your emotional distress is not in any way connected to unrelated stress factors or the result of a pre-existing condition

What you could do to help your attorney win your case

Your attorney will take care of all the filing requirements, attend to the legal issues and litigate on your behalf, but there are also things you could do to optimize the results of your personal injury claim:

  • Seek both physical and emotional medical attention as soon as possible after an accident causes an injury.
  • Adhere to your doctor’s treatment and rehabilitation plan and don’t miss any follow-up appointments.
  • Maintain a journal that documents in detail any and all issues of pain and suffering including emotional struggles.
  • Do not post any details regarding your accident or recovery on social media.

What Steps May a Personal Injury Attorney Take To Pursue a Claim of Emotional Distress During the Courtroom Stage?

To persuade a jury to award an optimal amount of compensation for emotional distress, your attorney may rely upon one or more of the following:

  • Expert Witness Testimony: Psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals could provide expert testimony to help convince the jury of the cause and severity of your emotional distress.
  • Direct Witness Testimony: As the harmed individual and plaintiff, you could provide compelling testimony regarding the negative impact your emotional distress had on your life and well-being.
  • Corroborating Witness Testimony: It can make your case much stronger when your family members, friends or professional associates corroborate your claims based on their personal observations of your emotional distress.
  • Medical Records: Documentation and reports provided by the medical professionals involved in your care can help support and provide greater credibility to your claim.

Your attorney can also take care of other vital functions related to your case such as:

  • Providing guidance and support during your recovery
  • Interviewing witnesses and investigating your accident
  • Assessing your economic and non-economic damages
  • Negotiating with insurance company adjusters and evaluating out-of-court settlement offers
  • Preparing for a jury trial

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

One of the more common emotional aftereffects of a serious accident is post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD could leave an accident victim with a long-term disability. In some cases, it could be a life-altering or career-ending condition. If, for example, someone experiences a serious accident in which a large truck hits their vehicle, the aftereffect of PTSD could cause a once-confident driver to experience panic attacks when sharing roads with trucks. Some truck accident victims may never get behind the wheel again without triggering a panic attack.

Other symptoms of PTSD include:

  • An overwhelming need to avoid places or situations associated with a traumatic event
  • Nightmares and insomnia
  • Flashbacks accompanied by a rapid and pounding heartbeat
  • Difficulty in maintaining focus
  • Strong feelings of isolation

PTSD could lead to poor work performance, disrupted relationships and a withdrawal from previously meaningful social activities. In some cases, PTSD could lead to a job loss or an ended marriage.

What Types of Injuries and Accidents Are Likely To Cause Emotional Distress?

In addition to roadway collisions, almost any type of accident or exposure to violence could cause long-term emotional distress. Animal attacks, domestic or public violence, medical mishaps, fires and explosions all carry the potential to cause both physical and emotional harm.

Certain types of physical injuries are more likely to cause emotional distress and psychological harm, such as:

  • Scarring and disfigurement
  • Brain injuries
  • Paralysis and loss of functions
  • Chronic and debilitating pain
  • Amputations

Accident victims who must learn how to cope with long-term or life-altering physical impairments can often develop associated psychological ailments such as chronic depression, mental fatigue and PTSD. Through witness testimonies and medical records, your attorney can show a jury how the severity and impact of your emotional distress exceeded what a normal person could reasonably endure.

What Factors May Be Considered When Emotional Distress Damages Are Calculated?

Because emotional distress damages are non-economic, they do not easily “add up” to a numerical value like medical bills or missing paychecks do. Your personal injury lawyer can, however, determine a fair value for your damages by taking into consideration previous case history and the specifics of your accident claim.

In addition to historical comparisons, there are other factors that can help calculate the amount of compensation you could expect, such as:

  • How long it took to recover from your injuries
  • The severity of your injuries
  • Your age and overall health
  • The limitations placed on your previous enjoyment of life
  • The effect of your injuries on your personal relationships

Although there isn’t a standard and ironclad formula to arrive at a numerical value for emotional distress compensation, there are two methods that are commonly used.

The multiplication method

This method adds up all the economic losses, such as healthcare bills and lost wages, and then multiplies that amount by one of three numbers: 1.5, 2.0 or 3.0. The number chosen as the multiplier is based on the duration and severity of the physical injury.

The daily method

Also referred to as “the per diem method,” it establishes a monetary value that represents what one day free of pain and suffering is worth. That one-day monetary value is then multiplied by the number of days a medical expert witness predicts it will take you to return to normal.

Let one of the experienced personal injury lawyers at the Fielding Law firm work out all the details of your claim while you focus on your recovery. We’ll build the strongest possible case to get you the optimal amount of compensation for the physical and emotional harm you suffered. Contact us now online to schedule a no-obligation and no-fee consultation. You won’t owe us anything unless we win your case.

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Text edited by Mitchell Fielding, a personal injury lawyer and partner at Fielding Law. Mitchell is known for his hard work ethic, friendly personality and dedication to the law. You can find out personal injury law offices in Taylorsville, UT and Mesquite, TX.