Can I Seek Compensation for Psychological Injuries?
When an accident or abuse is traumatic enough, those involved could suffer psychological injuries, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Those suffering from psychological injuries can also often recover damages for them, including pain and suffering and medical expenses for therapy sessions.
Events That Could Cause Psychological Injuries
Many types of events could cause someone to suffer psychological injuries if the event is traumatic to the person involved. From vehicle accidents to abuse by family members, friends, or even the clergy, these events could be traumatic enough to cause psychological injuries, especially in children who see a traumatic accident or suffer from abuse at the hands of a trusted person or family member.
Car Accidents and Psychological Injuries
Vehicle accidents involving cars, trains, trucks, boats, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists are often traumatic, especially fatal accidents. Parents with children in the vehicle could suffer from psychological issues in an accident even if they and their children do not suffer serious injuries. Just the thought of a child dying or being severely injured in an accident is enough for some people to suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Medical Malpractice Psychological Injuries
Patients, medical associations, peers, and medical facilities all hold doctors to a higher standard of care because of their education, experience, and knowledge. However, sometimes a doctor makes a mistake—but when is a mistake negligence? The doctor’s actions during the event dictate whether the doctor was negligent.
Definition of medical malpractice: A plaintiff must prove that a medical professional was negligent in his or her duties so far as to deviate from the professional’s normal standard of care for his or her specialty. Types of medical malpractice include misdiagnosis, medication errors, acts of omission, and mistakes in treatment, healthcare management, and aftercare.
In some cases, a patient might suffer psychological trauma after a medical professional’s treatment, whether it is an in-patient surgery, a short out-patient surgery, prescription errors, and more. Examples of medical malpractice that some might consider traumatic include amputation of the wrong body part, a baby born alive but who dies from a doctor’s actions during and after delivery.
Sexual Abuse Psychological Injuries
Abuse comes in many forms, including sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse, clergy sexual abuse, spousal sexual abuse, and even sexual abuse between friends and strangers can all have psychological impacts on people.
Sexual abuse for anyone has a long-term effect on the victims, and it has an especially long-term effect on children. They can carry psychological damage throughout their lifetime, affecting family relationships, friendships, and, later in life, romantic relationships.
Medical Facility Abuse Psychological Injuries
Assisted living and nursing homes also provide opportunities for abuse. In addition to the abuse, the abuser often threatens the resident with more abuse if the resident tells anyone. In many cases, the residents’ loved ones notice something wrong and report the abuse.
Child Psychological Injuries
Children can suffer injuries for many reasons. For many of those reasons, you could recover damages, including damages for psychological injuries.
Child injuries that could cause psychological issues include:
- Sickness from a poison, such as lead paint or asbestos.
- Injuries from a defective toy or product.
- Medical injuries, including wrong diagnosis and other medical malpractice.
Hospital stays could also leave a lasting impression on young minds, especially when a parent cannot go with the child for certain tests or surgery.
In some cases, these types of injuries could kill a child. In that case, the parents might need psychological therapy, especially if the child was an only child and the couple cannot have more children.
Oil Rig Psychological Injuries
In a recent year alone, 35 people died in the oil and gas mining industry. Oil rigs have a lot of heavy equipment that present health and safety hazards.
Types of accidents include:
- Being struck by swinging equipment, such as pipe or chains
- Caught between or in equipment
- Exposure to chemicals
- Falls from high places
- Fires and explosions
- Vehicle accidents
Because of the weight of the equipment on an oil rig and all of the moving parts, it is easy to suffer or witness a traumatic accident. A pipe weighing hundreds of pounds knocking a person down could easily kill that person. Large chains used on the rig could snap under the intense pressure they are under and snap back, killing or severely injuring someone.
Oil rigs are regulated by OSHA for safety. If a rig manager wants to cut corners or try to save money by ignoring these safety regulations, it could cause traumatic injuries or even death. Watching a co-worker die after an accident is often traumatic since the space on the oil rig is limited, and most people are in tight quarters. Even as a witness to an accident, you could develop symptoms of anxiety, depression, and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Premises liability and Psychological Injuries
Accidents can happen on public and private property. These types of accidents are known as premises liability accidents.
- Slips, trips, and falls
- Burns from chemicals and stoves
- Trespassing with intent to harm
- Vehicle accidents in parking lots
- Sporting accidents
- Animal attacks, including dog bites
- Injuries from defective and poorly cared for structures, such as a weak floor that falls in when you step on it
Wrongful death. Losing someone you love is always traumatic, but it is even more so when you don’t expect it. A car accident, work accident, sporting accident, or any type of accident could take the life of a loved one.
When the loss of someone you love is sudden, it could cause psychological issues, especially in medical malpractice cases where you expect your loved one to go to the hospital to get well; and with the wrongful death of children, whether from a car accident or because of product liability.
Types of Psychological Injuries
The most common psychological injuries people suffer after an accident include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Anxiety may provoke dread, fear, and/or uneasiness. The affected person might feel restless, sweat, feel tense, and could even have a fast heartbeat. This is normal for most people, but for those with anxiety disorders, these feelings are not temporary. They become overwhelming.
Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, where people worry about ordinary issues nearly every day for at least six months. Panic disorder causes panic attacks. They come on you suddenly, and you feel intense fear when no danger is around.
A car accident could cause a person to have panic attacks. Phobias are fear of something that is not dangerous. Phobias might include spiders, flying, or riding in a car after an accident caused you to have serious injuries. Those who suffer traumatic events as children are at a higher risk for anxiety disorders.
Those who suffer from depression after an accident might have never had it before. People who get depression might do so because of longer recovery times and anxiety about providing for the family. Those who learn that their injuries caused long-term or permanent disabilities might also suffer from depression.
Symptoms of depression include:
- Constantly feeling sad.
- Losing interest in activities, hobbies, and people you used to enjoy.
- Losing or gaining weight.
- Insomnia or sleeping too much.
- The inability to concentrate or make decisions.
- The inability to sit still—a depressed person might pace or wring his or her hands.
- Feeling guilty or worthless.
- Suicidal thoughts.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
When most people hear about post-traumatic stress disorder, they think of the psychological injury that affects people who were in combat. However, those who were in traumatic accidents can also suffer from PTSD. This is a complicated disorder that has four categories of symptoms.
PTSD symptoms usually start within a month of the traumatic event.
- Intrusive memories include reliving the event, emotional distress, nightmares, and recurrent distressing memories.
- Avoidance includes doing anything to avoid thinking about the event and avoiding people, places, and activities that remind you of the event.
- Mood changes include feeling hopeless about the future, having negative thoughts about yourself and others, emotional numbness, having no interest in your favorite activities, detachment from family and friends, problems with remembering, and having a hard time maintaining close relationships.
- Physical and emotional reaction changes including trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, being easily frightened or startled, always on guard for danger, being irritable, self-destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, angry outbursts, and feeling overwhelming guilt or shame.
Someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder might have one or more of the symptoms across categories. He or she might also feel anxious or have depressive episodes. Symptoms may become more severe under periods of stress.
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Recovering Damages for Psychological Issues After an Accident
You can recover two types of damages for negligence in most states. The court orders compensatory damages in an attempt to make you whole again. Compensatory damages include economic damages, which have a monetary value, and non-economic damages, which do not have a monetary value.
The court orders punitive damages in some states as a punishment for the defendant’s grossly negligent behavior. The behavior cannot be of simple negligence—it must be grossly negligent, such as driving under the influence, excessive speeding, or performing surgery while under the influence and causing additional damage because of a slip of the knife.
In addition to the damages you can recover for physical injuries, you can also recover economic damages for psychological therapy appointments. You do need to show that you need the therapy sessions—an expert witness often testifies on your behalf to help prove your case—and that you continue to attend the therapy sessions.
You can also collect economic damages psychological therapy related to the wrongful death of a loved one.
If you suffer from psychological injuries after an accident, after suffering abuse, or after a wrongful death, you can also collect pain and suffering in the form of:
- Emotional distress after losing a loved one or suffering physical and psychological injuries.
- Loss of consortium if you can no longer have a physical relationship with your spouse.
- Loss of companionship if you can no longer enjoy or participate in family activities and events.
- Loss of quality of life if you no longer enjoy your favorite hobbies and activities or if you suffer from depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Retaining an Attorney
After suffering physical and psychological injuries, you might settle with the defendant or proceed to litigation to recover the compensation you deserve. Those who try to settle themselves, especially with an insurance company, often have a hard time collecting enough to cover medical expenses, because the insurance company will look for any reason to deny a claim.
Barring claim denial, the insurance company will look for any reason to offer you as low a settlement as possible, so it decreases its profits as little as possible. Psychological injuries don’t disappear once you obtain a settlement or a trial award, especially for accidents and events that were severely traumatic.
The insurance company will not want to pay future medical expenses for your future therapy sessions. However, an attorney with experience in psychological injuries knows the tricks the insurance company tries to play, including bending the law or attempting to blame the victim. Retaining a firm with the resources to stand behind you, including covering expenses such as expert witnesses, takes a lot of stress off your shoulders, and allows you to concentrate on what matters: Recovering.