One of the most common questions that I am asked during a personal injury claim, whether stemming from a dog bite, medical malpractice, auto accident, slip and fall, or other type of accident, is “what about my mental and emotional suffering?” If you have been hurt through the negligence of another person, you understand that in addition to the physical pain, you may also suffer emotional distress.
Common symptoms of emotional distress are:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fear of driving, or riding in cars following an accident
- Stress headaches
- Inability to concentrate
- Loss of appetite or joy in life
- and many others…
Clients suffering from one or more of these symptoms often ask if they will be compensated for their emotional pain and suffering.
Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer. For the most part, the Court is definitely behind the times when it comes to properly compensating people for emotional distress. Insurance companies and juries are capable of placing a dollar value on a broken arm, but find it difficult to value nightmares, lost sleep, anxiety, etc.
If you have any chance of collecting for emotional distress, you will have to prove the injury. It is not enough to merely say that you are feeling anxious. To be fairly compensated, you would need to seek treatment for the anxiety and have medical documentation of this emotional injury. Insurance companies look at X-rays to verify broken arms, and they will do the same when it comes to a claim of emotional distress.
In addition, the Courts will also consider the circumstances of the accident to determine the validity of an emotional distress claim. If you are involved in an auto accident, it is much more reasonable to believe that you suffered a mental breakdown if a passenger died in the accident, than if you were involved in a car crash with $500 property damage. Similarly, if you are bit by a pit bull, it is much more traumatic than being bit by a chihuahua.
This does not mean that you have to see a therapist every time you are in an accident. As part of your compensation for pain and suffering, a jury (and even an insurance company) will consider the overall negative impact on your life. Part of your pain and suffering is surely emotional distress.
If you do not have a history of mental illness but feel symptoms of mental distress or injury following an injury, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney.