How Does the Law Define a Psychological Injury?

March 11, 2021 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
How Does the Law Define a Psychological Injury?

A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Obtain Compensation

After any type of accident or intentional act that results in injury, the injured individuals are often told that they may qualify to seek compensation for their injuries. However, not all injuries resulting from an accident are physical; psychological injuries occur as well. If you suffered a psychological injury in an accident that another party caused, you likely qualify to seek compensation. Below, we provide additional information on how to seek compensation for psychological injuries following a preventable accident.

What Is a Psychological Injury?

A psychological injury is a psychological or psychiatric condition that developed as a result of a traumatic event. The condition is severe enough to impact the suffering individual's ability to perform routine personal and work tasks. Generally, the types of traumatic events that give rise to psychological injuries are those that occur out of the blue at a time when the injured individual is unprepared, leaving him or her feeling a loss of control over the situation.

How Psychological Injuries Occur

Psychological injuries usually result from experiencing or witnessing trauma. Various types of trauma can result in a psychological injury, such as:
  • Motor vehicle accidents in which the individual has suffered a traumatic injury or has witnessed someone else suffering a traumatic or even fatal injury.
  • Childhood sexual or physical abuse.
  • Violent crimes, such as assault or rape.
  • The sudden death of a loved one.
  • Workplace or premises liability accidents in which the individual was seriously injured or watched someone else become seriously injured by a hazardous feature.
  • Nursing home neglect or abuse in which an elderly or infirm resident is subjected to mistreatment.
  • An individual incurs an injury as the result of a product defect.
  • An individual incurs an injury or the worsening of an illness due to medical negligence, including misdiagnosis, missed diagnosis, injuries related to the birth process, wrong-way surgery, medication errors, or lack of adequate follow-up care.

Types of Psychological Injuries

Several psychological conditions can result from experience or witnessing trauma, including:
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a psychological response to trauma that is characterized by hyper-vigilance, nightmares or flashbacks, and uncontrollable fear or anxiety. The symptoms of PTSD generally appear within a month after the traumatic event, but also may not show up until many months or years later.
  • Mild traumatic brain injury (concussion): A traumatic brain injury is caused by a violent blow or jolt to the head or body that causes damage to the brain. A concussion is considered a mild traumatic brain injury; however, because the brain is responsible for controlling all of the functions for the rest of the body and only has a limited ability to heal itself, a traumatic brain injury is never actually a mild injury. Concussions can result in long-term psychological injuries that include mood swings, difficulty remembering events, and fatigue.
  • Chronic pain: Chronic pain is a psychological condition in which an individual feels pain consistently, weeks, months, or even years after an injury occurs. This pain often gets into a cycle with depression in which the pain worsens the level of the individual's depression, and the depression causes the individual to focus more on the pain.

Signs and Symptoms of Psychological Injuries

After a traumatic event, most people will experience feelings of fear, anger, and loss of control; however, many of these symptoms will resolve over time. For an individual who has incurred a psychological injury as a result of trauma, the symptoms may worsen with time and can lead to a cascade of complications, with one of the most serious complications being suicide. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of a psychological injury listed below, you should contact your doctor or your mental health provider.
  • Intrusive thoughts or visual images of the event.
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares, insomnia, or difficulty staying awake.
  • Memory loss or difficulty concentrating.
  • Mood swings.
  • Disorientation or confusion.
  • Avoidance of individuals or activities that remind the sufferer of the trauma experienced.
  • Social isolation and withdrawal from activities that the sufferer previously enjoyed.
  • Easily startled.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Vague complaints of pain throughout the body.
  • Being hyper-vigilant, always looking for a disaster.
  • Overwhelming fear or anxiety.
  • Obsessive or compulsive behaviors.
  • Detachment from people and emotions.
  • Guilt or shame, particularly if the individual survived the traumatic event but someone else didn't.

Seeking Treatment for Emotional Trauma

Psychological injuries, also commonly referred to as emotional trauma, are often alleviated through treatment by a mental health care professional. Some of the most effective treatments involve talk therapy in combination with other activities, such as short writing assignments or field trips focused on making the individual face the trauma and learning new ways of coping with it. Doctors may prescribe medications to address emotional trauma, often providing the individual with a sense of calm and the ability to rest, which are both important components of recovering from trauma. As the symptoms of emotional trauma are often similar to or related to depression or anxiety, many of the same medications used to treat those conditions are also used for psychological injuries.

The Consequences of Failing to Treat Your Psychological Injury

Psychological injuries require treatment from an experienced care provider just as physical injuries do. Unfortunately, some people never obtain treatment for their psychological injuries. Failing to obtain the necessary mental health treatment after trauma can lead to complications, including:
  • Drug or alcohol abuse.
  • The inability to maintain healthy relationships or to make friends with appropriate people.
  • Hostility and strained relationships with loved ones.
  • Self-destructive behaviors, such as speeding, cutting, or excessive gambling.
  • Impulsive behaviors and difficulty controlling emotions.
  • The inability to make healthy occupational and lifestyle choices.
  • Dissociative symptoms, including the feeling of disconnection and a lack of continuity in thoughts, actions, and memories.
  • Clinical depression or anxiety.
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings.
  • Suicide.

Obtaining Compensation for a Psychological Injury

If you have suffered a psychological injury as a result of a traumatic physical injury or event that was caused by the reckless and careless actions of another person, you can likely obtain compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury through a personal injury lawsuit. This is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to prove liability for the accident that caused the injury and to show the court the expenses and quality-of-life impacts that you have encountered. To prove liability, you must show:
  • The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The term duty of care is used to refer to the way a reasonable person would respond in a similar set of circumstances. For example, an at-fault driver in a motor vehicle accident case that resulted in physical trauma and psychological injuries had a duty of care to drive his or her vehicle safely and legally.
  • The defendant breached the duty of care. The breach refers to the action or inaction of the at-fault party that violated the duty of care. Using the car accident example from above, speeding, distracted driving, or any other behavior that is contrary to the safe and legal operation of the vehicle would constitute the breach.
  • The breach in the duty of care caused your accident and led you to experience psychological injuries.
The personal injury claims process allows an individual to recover both economic and non-economic damages following an injury that someone else's careless or reckless behavior caused. The term damages refers to a payment made in compensation for harm. Economic damages are a payment made for the expenses you incurred as a result of your injury. This category of damages often includes:
  • Medical expenses, including transport to the hospital, emergency treatment, diagnostic and laboratory testing, hospitalization, physician and surgical services, prescription medication, physical therapy and rehabilitation, and assistive devices such as prostheses, crutches, or a wheelchair.
  • Lost income because you can't work while you are injured.
  • Loss of future earning capacity if you experience a permanent disability as the result of your injury that prevents you from returning to work or earning in the same capacity.
  • The cost of repairing or replacing property that was damaged in the accident, such as your car if it was damaged in a car accident.
Non-economic damages are a payment made in compensation for how an injury has impacted your quality of life. These are often known as pain and suffering damages, as physical and emotional pain and suffering are the most common type of non-economic compensation requested in personal injury claims. Psychological injuries can certainly give rise to non-economic damage claims for pain and suffering as well as emotional distress.

How Much Compensation Should You Expect for Your Psychological Injury

Because the compensation provided through a personal injury claim is unique to the specific details of the case, there really is no “average” amount that an individual can receive for this type of injury. The value of your case is determined using the following steps:
  • The financial expenses that you have incurred or will likely incur due to your injury are added together to provide a total economic damage claim.
  • The more severe your injury, the higher your non-economic damage claim.
  • The total of the economic damages is added to the total of the non-economic damages to establish the value of your case.
Psychological Injury AttorneyIn addition to the severity of your physical or psychological injuries, several other factors may affect the value of your case, such as:
  • The amount of insurance coverage held by the at-fault party. Insurance is the primary means by which personal injury settlements and awards are paid. While it is possible to file a personal injury lawsuit against an uninsured person and even receive a judgment on your behalf, collecting the award might prove difficult, as most people don't have the money to pay someone else's medical or mental health expenses out-of-pocket.
  • The clarity of liability. If you partially caused the accident that resulted in your trauma, you can still seek compensation from other at-fault parties. However, the court will likely reduce your award or settlement by your percentage of liability.
  • Your age and overall health at the time of the accident. Age matters, as it will often impact where you are in your career, which will impact certain damage categories, such as lost wages and loss of future earning capacity. For example, an injured individual in a successful career would likely recover a higher amount of wage loss compensation than a teenager who does not yet have a career or a retired person who no longer earns an income. Overall health comes into play if you have pre-existing conditions, and the insurance company chooses to argue that the source of your discomfort is those conditions, rather than the injury that was caused by your insured.
  • Your patience. Negotiating settlements in personal injury cases takes some time. While it may appear easy to secure an initial offer, getting an offer that fairly reflects the expenses and impacts you have incurred is an entirely different story. Often, the at-fault party's insurance will not make a fair settlement offer until the trial is about to begin, or even after it has begun but before a decision has been reached.

How Can a Psychological Injury Lawyer Help Me?

Psychological injuries are terrifying to experience and cause impacts not only to the sufferer but also to family members and any extended emotional support system. If you have sustained injuries in an accident as the result of someone else's careless or reckless behavior or from an intentional act, such as assault or abuse, you deserve compensation for both the physical and psychological harm that you have endured. Experienced personal injury lawyers have a deep understanding of this type of injury and the damage it can cause to your quality of life. Contact Dolman Law Group by filing a contact form online or calling the Clearwater office at 866-594-6094. Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA 800 North Belcher Road Clearwater, FL 33765 866-594-6094


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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