Physical injuries often result from accidents, but they are not the only type of injury you can sustain. Mental and emotional injuries can lead to serious consequences and harm. Psychological harm, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can require years of therapy to treat. If an accident causes psychological harm, you may be entitled to compensation in California for it. Most of the time it must accompany a physical injury but not always. That's why it is important to speak to a personal injury lawyer to make sure you demand and recover just and fair compensation – the value of which addresses any psychological harm you or a loved one may have experienced.
At The Geller Firm, our personal injury lawyer in San Francisco will thoroughly review your personal injury case and help calculate both economic and non-economic damages. Psychological harm would fall under non-economic damages. Contact us at 415-840-0570 to schedule a free consultation and to make sure you recover compensation that considers the total value of your damages.
PTSD and Other Psychological Conditions in California Personal Injury Claims
In addition to physical injuries, a plaintiff in a personal injury case in California may also seek damages for psychological harm, like post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is a mental health condition that develops after experiencing or seeing a traumatic event. Examples of traumatic events include a car accident, natural disaster, or assault. People who are regularly exposed to trauma in their line of work, such as police and firemen, can also develop PTSD as a result of their professional experiences.
Common PTSD Symptoms
The effects of PTSD can range from minor to more debilitating symptoms and can last for months or even years. Symptoms include:
- Severe anxiety and depression
- Difficulty coping
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Avoiding situations or places related to the event
Other Psychological Harm
Other psychological conditions subject to compensation via personal injury claims include:
- Mental anguish
- Emotional distress, like depression and anxiety
- Sleep disturbance
- Severe mood swings
- Loss of appetite
- Sexual dysfunction
What Are the Challenges of Mental Health Claims in California?
Mental health claims like PTSD can be complex conditions that are generally not well-understood. While a term like PTSD is widely known, it may be difficult for a jury to appreciate the specific impacts of PTSD on an individual. What's more, the insurance adjuster or defense team may try to downplay the health condition or suggest that it is the result of another event in your life. Oftentimes this happens when the third-party insurance company demands your medical records and you release your entire history to them without knowing you are not required to do so. They will scour your medical history with a fine-tooth comb looking for vulnerabilities they can use to minimize or avoid a payout.
Regardless of your medical history, however, mental health claims are still difficult. Unlike a physical injury, PTSD and other psychological conditions are not visible to the naked eye. Symptoms may develop some time after an incident and, when they do, they can be more difficult to prove than physical injuries which can be established through photos, scarring, or medical reports.
While not essential in all jurisdictions, it's often easier to prove PTSD if there is an associated physical condition.
For these reasons, parties in a personal injury claim involving damages like PTSD typically engage expert witnesses. Some personal injury cases can turn into a “battle of the experts,” with both sides' expert witnesses explaining the condition to the jury and why the plaintiff does or does not have it. This can make it challenging for a jury to decide a case.
As mentioned, a defendant in a personal injury case involving PTSD or another psychological condition may use these issues to argue that their actions or the incident did not cause a plaintiff's injury and avoid liability.
How to Build a Case in California Based on PTSD and Other Psychological Injuries
Your personal injury case involving psychological damages can be built in most part on the evidence you bring to the table. As noted, expert witnesses will be critical but just as critical are lay witnesses.
Qualified expert witnesses are essential to building a strong personal injury case involving PTSD or another psychological injury. In a trial, these witnesses' role is two-fold.
- Expert witnesses explain PTSD or other mental health conditions to the jury so they understand what may have caused it and what is needed to diagnose it.
- In some states, expert witnesses can also give an opinion as to whether the plaintiff's symptoms resulted from the accident and fit the diagnosis.
Lay Person Witnesses
Lay witnesses are not experts but they are witnesses who either saw the accident occur and can testify to what happened or know you personally and can testify to how the psychological harm has impacted your life. You can collect statements from witnesses and, if the case goes to trial, you can have them testify before a jury. But it is their statements before trial and during negotiations that will be used to build your case.
There are steps you can take before engaging witnesses. If you start noticing psychological symptoms after an incident, take notes or keep a diary and document how the condition has impacted your life. Also, keep copies of any medical records or doctor's letters confirming a diagnosis and subsequent treatment. If you have a care plan, you must follow it exactly as prescribed.
What Types of Physical Injuries are More Likely to Cause Psychological Injury?
Coping with a physical injury can lead to someone developing psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Some physical injuries are more likely to lead to a psychological condition, and examples include:
- Brain injuries
- Chronic pain
If you've sustained a psychological injury as the result of the negligence of another person, you can seek compensation via a personal injury claim.
How are Mental Health Claims in California Calculated?
Mental anguish or emotional distress is usually categorized as pain and suffering and compensated via non-economic damages.
There's no standard formula to calculate non-economic damages in a personal injury case. The amount depends on the circumstances of each case and is ultimately determined through negotiations or by the jury if the case goes to trial. There are, however, two common methods.
- The Multiplication Method. Here, all economic expenses (like medical bills and lost wages) are tallied and then multiplied by a certain number, 1.5, 2, or 3. The number used depends on the severity or duration of the injury. So, a broken arm may result in a multiplier of 1.5 while an amputated arm will result in a multiplier of 3.
- The Daily Method (or Per Diem Method). Here, a number is established to represent the worth of one day without pain and suffering. The daily value is based on the severity of the injuries and the impact it has on your life. It is predicted (using expert witnesses and medical records) how long you might endure the pain and suffering. Then, the two numbers are multiplied together. If the daily rate is $100 and you suffer the health condition for 100 days, the result in non-economic damages would be valued at $10,000.
To note, some states cap the amount of non-economic damages a jury can award a plaintiff.
How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer in California Help?
If you've sustained a psychological injury as a result of the negligence of another person, you should speak to a personal injury lawyer. They can review your case and advise you as to whether you have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit.
They can also help you navigate the process, including engaging expert witnesses, to ensure you build the strongest case possible and receive compensation for both your physical and psychological injuries.
Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer in California Today
If you or a loved one has suffered a psychological injury, like PTSD, after an accident caused by another person, you may be entitled to compensation for it (along with any physical injury you also suffered). At The Geller Firm, our personal injury attorney in San Francisco knows how to review and work with these types of cases. Contact us either online by filling out the form or calling us at 415-840-0570 to schedule a free consultation today.