When someone is hurt due to the actions of another, they have the right to compensation for the harm done to them. Personal injury claims often follow a car accident, a slip-and-fall incident, or a medical mishap. Broken bones, lacerations, and other physical injuries are easy to attribute to a specific incident. But can a personal injury be mental?
Long after the physical wounds heal, victims of serious crashes and other tragedies sometimes continue to suffer from mental illness injury or psychological damage. It is possible to receive a fair settlement for the treatment of these issues, just as they can for their medical expenses.
The Nature of Psychological Injuries
Victims are often reluctant to seek help for their psychological distress. They may feel they should be able to “shake it off” or “get over it.” But according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
“…people occasionally assume trauma has to be something as significant as a death of a loved one or a natural disaster, but trauma is anything that is “deeply distressing or disturbing,” and that looks different for each individual. It’s important to remember that you don’t even necessarily have to be the driver in the accident for it to be traumatic, you can be the passenger or a bystander for it to have its effects on you.”
Personal injuries to one’s mental health can show up in three different variations: A traumatic brain injury, the emotional trauma of the incident itself, or the inability to cope with the aftermath of the incident. Every person is different, so not everyone will have the same degree of suffering. Like some delayed injuries, it can also take days, weeks, or even months for some of these mental issues to show up.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A violent collision or blow to the head can cause a concussion or traumatic brain injury. These are physical issues that require medical treatment, but they can also result in mental or cognitive impairment.
After a TBI, a victim might have memory loss, trouble concentrating, and problems with reasoning and problem-solving. These symptoms may improve over time as the injury to the brain heals, but they can be permanent, requiring re-learning basic tasks or assistance with daily living.
Emotional Trauma: The traumatic experience of being in a horrible accident can cause mental disorders. The memories of fear and pain as well as the trauma of witnessing others’ harm or even death can be devastating.
Victims may suffer from insomnia, fatigue, loss of appetite, and emotions such as fear, sadness, or anger that outlast any physical injuries.
Inability to Cope: Serious accidents can change a person’s life forever. Visible scars, limps, lost limbs, or permanent disability may be their new reality. They may no longer be able to participate in activities that once brought enjoyment, like biking or hiking. Or worse, they could be paralyzed or blind. The inability to go back to “normal” can cause psychological distress and mental disorders.
People struggling to cope with these changes can show the same signs as emotional trauma. Mood swings, insomnia, and weight loss all can occur.
Identifying Mental Illness Injury
Psychological problems after a bad accident should be evaluated and treated with the help of a mental health professional, just as physical injuries should be examined and tended to by a doctor. That evaluation may include diagnosis of a number of different mental health issues. Here are the most common disorders that account for a mental personal injury. Their symptoms can overlap and it is possible to suffer from more than one condition at a time.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is common in people who have experienced a traumatic event. Certain situations, sights, or sounds can trigger them into reliving the shock and stress of the incident. They may suffer from nightmares, become depressed, or be hyper-alert. This can lead to insomnia, mood swings, and the use of drugs or alcohol in an effort to self-medicate and cope with what’s happened.
Feelings of sadness and grief can consume a person after an accident and they may suffer from clinical depression. They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and become lethargic or moody. This can be extremely disruptive to their lives and interactions with family members and friends.
A trauma like a serious car accident is stressful and frightening. It can leave a victim overly tense and jumpy. They may worry about things constantly. The constant stress can result in trouble sleeping and an inability to relax. Stress-related physical conditions like increased blood pressure or gastrointestinal issues might develop.
Along with anxiety, a trauma may trigger an irrational fear of something specific. After a car accident, a victim may be afraid to drive or even get into a car. If they were hit as a pedestrian, they could become fearful of crossing the street. A dog bite victim could become terrified of dogs. These phobias, especially the ones involving transportation, can interfere with a person’s ability to get to work or go about their daily routine.
Chronic Pain Disorder
Accidents can sometimes cause injuries that are hard to diagnose and hard to tie directly to the incident. Conditions like tinnitus and sciatica are two examples. A victim can also suffer from acute pain that is caused by psychological stress. The feelings of pain are real, but there is no direct link to any physical injury and they may be non-specific. Chronic pain disorder is often accompanied by the symptoms of other mental disorders, such as insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
Compensation for Psychological Injuries
The person whose negligence leaves someone with a mental personal injury is liable for the damage they have caused. This includes reimbursement for any counseling, medication, hospitalization, or psychological treatment that is necessary to ease their suffering and get them back to the condition they were in before the accident.
If a victim’s psychological issues are chronic and result in a long recuperation or permanent disability, they may seek compensation for several losses:
- Lost wages and future income, if they are unable to work
- Ongoing therapy and medication
- Caregivers for assistance with daily life
- Emotional distress or pain and suffering
The first step in any type of personal injury case is to prove liability. If a victim has injuries from an incident that was not their fault, they deserve compensation.
In order to prove mental personal injuries, victims need to seek professional treatment as soon as possible. Ideally, a mental health professional will be able to make a specific diagnosis using the American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This isn’t always possible, as some conditions are not tangible or measurable. There is no one test to pinpoint mental illness.
But just as with physical injuries, mental injuries can be proven with documentation and statements made by professionals, as well as with receipts for treatment.
Getting Compensation with an Attorney’s Help
It is useful to get a personal injury lawyer’s advice with any personal injury case, especially one involving a mental injury. Psychological disorders can be difficult to prove and to link directly to an accident. Defendants and their insurance companies may try to claim that the symptoms are not real or that the victim is faking or overreacting.
Chronic stress, anxiety, or PTSD can severely disrupt someone’s pursuit of a comfortable, productive life. An attorney with experience in personal injury cases can help determine the value of both the monetary and non-financial losses suffered in an accident. Hipskind & McAninch can start the process of getting you the fair settlement you deserve for your physical and emotional well-being.