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Suing for emotional distress damages after a car accident

When someone gets into a serious car accident, not only do they need to take care of the logistical side of the incident, but also the emotional side. There’s no denying a major event like a car crash can leave scars that can’t be seen. And if this mental anguish begins to negatively impact your day-to-day life, when is it appropriate to consider pursuing legal action? 

In this article, we’ll go over the details around suing for emotional distress damages so you can take the appropriate legal steps and confidently move forward with your life after a motor vehicle accident.

When to sue for emotional distress

Emotional distress is similar to pain and suffering damage. The definition by Merriam Webster describes it as a “highly unpleasant emotional reaction, which results from another’s conduct and for which damages may be sought.”

Pain and suffering can thus include:

  • Physical impairment
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of companionship
  • Disfigurement. 
  • Emotional injuries
  • Emotional distress

Knowing the difference between emotional distress that has impacted your life and common emotions following a car accident is important. It’s natural to feel some distress after a major car accident. But if these intense changes are making it difficult to live your normal life, then you should seek professional medical and legal help. Before you start looking for a personal injury lawyer, consider some of the common emotions following an accident:

  • Guilt
  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Fear
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

Your life should not stop because of someone else’s actions, and you should, regardless, feel justified in pursuing appropriate legal action.

When to file a claim

Per the statute of limitations, you have two years after the accident to file a legal claim for emotional distress, no matter if the accident was due to negligent or intentional actions from the other party. You’ll need to decide, though, if your emotional distress qualifies legally as pain and suffering before making the claim with an insurer.

Filing for pain and suffering damages can occur if you are unable to continue your normal life due to a car accident. In cases such as this, you may become afraid to drive again, suffer from panic attacks, feel depressed or experience other emotional reactions that make it difficult to get through the day.  

For example, if you cannot make it to work or take care of neither yourself nor your family due to any of these issues, you might be suffering from a psychological injury severe enough to file a claim for emotional distress damages — with the help of an experienced car accident lawyer.

Who can file a claim?

There are several circumstances in which accident victims who were not driving a vehicle should seek legal advice as well. If, for example, you were a passenger, cyclist or pedestrian and became involved in the accident, you may be suffering from emotional distress, and as such are within your rights to file for emotional distress damages. 

Children are also not excluded from suing for emotional distress. It should be noted that young children may need help articulating how they’re feeling after the accident, but their emotional distress symptoms could look like anxiety, outbursts of rage or prolonged sadness. 

How to prove emotional distress as a result of a motor accident

Emotional injuries after an accident can be just as debilitating as physical. While not everyone will experience the same psychological impact, post-traumatic stress at any level can be a valid reason to seek compensation.

Taking steps to file an emotional distress claim after a motor accident starts with acquiring evidence. This can involve regularly journaling your experiences following the crash, speaking with a psychiatrist, therapist or sleep specialist, and gathering testimonials from those who have interacted with you after the accident. If you seek emergency mental health care for emotional distress, build up documentation of this as well. In short, you want to gather as much paper evidence as possible to support your case. 

A psychiatrist can be particularly helpful for developing a paper trail of your emotional progress after the accident, ranging from immediate impact to symptoms you developed over time.

When you begin the filing process, you may have to undergo questioning from a state-appointed psychiatrist. They will assess your level of psychiatric impairment, asking about your:

  • Self-care routine (if any)
  • Ability to sleep
  • Personal hygiene
  • Social interactions
  • Social functioning in relationships
  • Concentration
  • Recreational activities
  • Travelling
  • Concentration
  • Pace, persistence and adaptation back into normal life

Your insurance company, or CTP, can help you prove emotional injury as well. They can help you prove your level of fault, the severity of the accident and how you were involved. Getting in contact with your insurance will allow you to explain everything you are going through, and can help support your claim that the accident has caused you emotional distress. 

Help your lawyers, and eventually, the judge, understand the full scope of your suffering by providing the details about how the accident occurred and how it has affected your life thereafter. The more information they have, the greater the possibility that your case will result in a successful claim.

Do insurance companies take psychological injuries seriously?

The insurance company of the party at fault may try to compensate you only for physical injury-related bills. If you were lucky enough to come out of a serious accident with just a few scrapes and bruises, the firm may try to lowball your compensation. This is why evidence is vital to help substantiate your legal case. 

Do not try to deal with your suffering alone. Not only will asking for help from those close to you and qualified professionals aid your case, but sharing your experience can aid your emotional recovery as well. 

Knowing how much to ask for in compensation

Placing value on the suffering you’ve been through can include medical bills, therapy expenses and loss of wages, just to start. But there are non-economic damages, such as a fear of driving, that should be accounted for as well. (In cases like these, you should consider doubling the total value of the damages you seek.) 

Sometimes an insurer will try to equate your level of physical pain with your emotional distress. If you suffered minor physical injuries but your emotional suffering is still high, documentation of this distress, such as verification that you see a therapist or psychiatrist, will help you substantiate your request for compensation.

Bringing your case to trial can help you win more compensation to cover your injury if the insurer refuses to cover you for how much you deserve. In this case, asking for legal advice or hiring a personal injury lawyer is your best next step. 

Finding a good personal injury lawyer to support you

A personal injury lawyer can not only help you feel empowered in your decision to care for your emotional distress, but their expertise will help you get through the process. Dealing with the logistics of receiving compensation for your vehicle replacement and managing your physical and emotional stress are things no one should have to go through alone. 

When you have to compile documentation to support a claim filing for emotional distress damages, things can get complicated. A personal injury lawyer can walk you through the process and take care of the necessary paperwork. 

If an insurer tries to offer you less than you deserve or if you realise you’re suffering more than just physical injuries, an experienced car accident lawyer can offer a free case evaluation and help you with complexities in the case such as: 

  • Minor or seemingly low-impact car accidents.
  • Pre-existing mental health issues.
  • Shared fault in the accident.
  • Family members suing for emotional distress.

Accident victims who were passengers or bystanders suffer just as much — sometimes more— than drivers. Navigating the complexities of staking your damages claim can thus be difficult to deal with.

 Some insurance companies will try anything to offer you less than you deserve. You should never settle for less, which is why a skilled professional supporting you through the entire legal process is not simply what you deserve but what you need. Gerard Malouf Partners have skilled personal injury professionals who are prepared to work on your behalf and seize the settlement your emotional distress justifies.

If you or someone you know has suffered through emotional distress damages following a car accident, reach out to one of our lawyers at Gerard Malouf Partners for no-obligation legal advice about your claim. 

We look forward to speaking with you because we are confident that, as Australia’s largest personal injury office with an excess of $4 billion in winnings on behalf of our clients, we are confident we can help you win the compensation you deserve.

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 — Personal Injury Compensation Lawyers

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