Psychological Harm without a Physical Injury: How to Prove the Psychological Injury in Order to Maximize General Damages
In any personal injury lawsuit, claiming emotional harm can be tricky as more often than not, personal injury actions involve physical injuries. In many cases, both psychological/emotional harm and physical harm are present, as a physical injury may also have led to psychological and emotional harm. However, if a personal injury action alleges only psychological harm and no physical injury, the injured person may have a difficult time proving his or her case. As such, it is crucial that an injured individual has a qualified and experienced attorney who understands just how debilitating psychological harm can be, even if no physical injury exists.
Like any physical injury, a plaintiff must prove his or her case with support by expert testimony, the testimony of family members, medical records, and other evidence that documents the nature and extent of a plaintiff’s psychological harm. It may be difficult to convince a jury that psychological harm has caused, and will continue to cause feelings of fright, nervousness, anxiety, shock, apprehension, or terror, among others. (Capeluto v. Kaiser Found. Hosps. (1972) 7 Cal.3d 889, 892-93.)
However, a plaintiff may present evidence that does document the serious nature of a plaintiff’s emotional injuries. An expert’s role in this area is imperative to prove to a jury that the psychological harm is real. A plaintiff’s testimony or that of a family member may not be strong enough by itself to convince some jurors.
What Role Does an Expert Play in Psychological Harm Cases?
The goal in any personal injury case is to maximize the plaintiff’s recovery as much as possible. If a case does not settle, and the plaintiff takes his or her to trial, an expert’s testimony could make or break the case. The expert is the person who essentially links a plaintiff’s psychological injuries to the conduct of the defendant. This link must exist for a plaintiff to prove under the law that his or her psychological harm was directly caused by the defendant’s actions. A good expert will have the necessary credentials, experience, and presentation to effectively communicate to the jury. An expert should keep things simple to avoid jury confusion or boredom. The more engaged a jury is, the more likely the message is getting across to them, and the more likely the jury will truly understand the extent of the plaintiff’s psychological harm.
Other Important Evidence to Document Psychological Harm
The expert’s testimony may be valuable, but so too is other evidence that will support the expert’s testimony. For example, if an expert expresses the opinion that the plaintiff is suffering from extreme fear due to an injury, a family member’s testimony describing such fear can provide a jury with an overall picture of what has happened to the plaintiff. While expert testimony is critical, jurors also like to hear testimony from lay witnesses who they may relate to more than the expert. Additionally, medical records and testimony of treating doctors also help to provide the jury with what they need to award a plaintiff the maximum recovery possible.
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