Psychological Injuries Without Physical Injuries
Psychological Injuries Without Physical Injuries
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento car accident lawyer. The harm that follows from a personal injury accident is not always physical in nature. Psychological injuries can be just as devastating to an injury victim as physical injuries, yet the two are often not treated the same in a personal injury lawsuit. Judges and juries have no trouble awarding compensation for injury victims with only physical injuries: broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and disfigurement, for example (so long, of course, that the injury victim meets his or her burden in proving the elements of a personal injury lawsuit). Where physical injuries exist, most judges and juries are inclined to believe that the victim suffered some measure of psychological harm. Judges and juries will award “pain and suffering,” believing that even a simple fracture or bump on the head is likely to result in some mental pain.
Psychological Pain and Suffering
The story is different, however, where the injury victim’s harm consists solely or almost-solely of psychological pain and suffering. Skeptical jurors or judges may question:
- How bad can the mental suffering be if he or she was never actually hurt?
- Why can’t this victim simply “get over it?”
- Are the doctors testifying about psychological harm (mostly psychiatrists and psychologists) as trustworthy as medical doctors?
While it is true that an injury plaintiff who proves his or her case for negligence is entitled to compensation for all injuries resulting from the negligent act of the defendant – both physical and mental – no compensation will be awarded for injuries that are not proven. How does an injury victim and his or her attorney prove psychological damages in the absence of serious physical injuries?
Past, Present, and Future Psychological Injuries are Compensable
Psychological injuries – or “pain and suffering,” as these damages are often called – can include a range of negative feelings that follow an injury accident such as fright, grief, shock, humiliation, and/or embarrassment and so on. As with physical injuries, an injury victim can recover compensation for psychological injuries that he or she experienced in the past at the time of the incident, is experiencing now in the present, and/or can reasonably be expected to experience in the future. The only limitation in California on psychological injuries is the element of proof: those psychological injuries that are not proven to actually exist, not shown to be related to the defendant’s negligence, and/or are not able to be quantified and expressed as a dollar figure are not compensable.
The Role of the Expert Witness
In proving psychological injuries, your attorney will likely consult with one or more psychologists, psychiatrists, and/or other mental health professionals. The purpose of this expert testimony is to both educate the judge or jury as to the existence and nature of your psychological injuries and persuade the judge or jury as to the reality and impact of these injuries on your daily life. The expert witness(es) may refer to psychological testing that has been performed on you, counseling sessions, and/or the expert’s own observations of your behaviors and struggles in rendering his or her opinions.
Lay Witnesses May be Persuasive, Too
Your attorney may choose to corroborate the experts’ testimony by calling one or more lay witnesses who are familiar with your life and struggles before and after the accident. Friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and similar individuals who have noticed a change in your behavior or who have observed how your accident has caused you mental anguish or difficulties can be just as persuasive – perhaps even more persuasive – than expert witnesses.
Establishing the Dollar Amount
When you are seeking compensation for psychological injuries, it is essential that you not only identify that you are seeking compensation for these injuries but that you also request a specific dollar amount as compensation for these injuries. Psychological injuries are difficult to value, however: How precisely does one affix a dollar amount to the shock experienced as you witness a horrific car accident? An experienced personal injury attorney working in conjunction with expert and lay witnesses and referring to your medical records and other objective evidence should be able to help you arrive at a reasonable and justifiable dollar figure for your psychological injuries.
Contact a California Car Accident Lawyer for Help
If you are injured by another person’s careless acts, contact The Law Office of Edward A. Smith today.
I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Car Accident Lawyer. I’ve practiced personal injury law exclusively for over three decades. Call me today at (916) 921-6400 for free, friendly advice. Elsewhere, call me toll free at (800) 404-5400.
View my past Verdicts and Settlements here.