The Emotional Toll of an Accident: Seeking Compensation for Pain and Suffering

June 23, 2023

Accidents rarely cause only physical pain. It’s easy to overlook the impact on mental health because we often can’t see it — an individual might convince others they are coping when they’re struggling. As advocates and government agencies have long held, mental health problems are no less valid than physical illness or injury and can be just as significant or life-altering.

If someone else’s negligence caused your accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages or losses — including the emotional suffering and distress you’ve suffered.

In this article, Dr. Louis Patino, a personal injury lawyer in McAllen, Texas, explains how you can recover damages for the emotional toll of your accident.

Understanding the Emotional Impact of an Accident

An accident is a traumatic event. Even if you sustain minor injuries, getting hurt can put you in a state of helplessness and vulnerability — you may need to rely on family, colleagues, or strangers to get the help you need. Then, you might feel scared, confused, and angry. It’s not unusual to experience the gamut of negative emotions during and after an accident. 

Adrenaline is released as an automatic response to keep you safe — this is your survival instinct at work. It’s only natural, then, that it can take time to process what happened. Accident victims might have debilitating anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that affects their daily lives long after physical recovery.

What Is Pain and Suffering?

We’re all familiar with the general concept of pain and suffering. An individual might be suffering if they have a headache or stomach pain, but equally, they might be grieving, stressed about work, getting over a breakup, or struggling with financial hardship. Discrimination, prejudice, and existential dread can also cause suffering.

There is some overlap when looking at pain and suffering from a legal context. However, the crucial piece is it refers to physical or emotional distress a person experiences due to their accident and injuries.

Because the law recognizes pain and suffering as a loss (of health and enjoyment of life that you would not have experienced but for the accident), you can recover compensation for it with a personal injury claim.

How Is Pain and Suffering Calculated?

Unlike other losses such as medical expenses, wages, and vehicle repairs — which you can also recover in a claim — it is challenging to quantify pain and suffering. If you need hospital tests or medication, you will have a bill. A payslip can easily prove how much you earn — and, therefore, how much you’ve lost while not working. But how do you approximate something as subjective as emotional suffering?

Various factors influence how much you might receive for your pain and suffering, including its severity and permanence.

Accidents impact everyone differently. One person might have anxiety after an accident but be driving again after six months. Another individual might develop PTSD resulting in insomnia and horrific flashbacks. They might be terrified of the road and be unable to even get on public transport, let alone behind the wheel. As a result, they might rarely leave the house and become withdrawn, impacting their relationships with their partner, loved ones, and friends. While one scenario has a short-term impact, the other has long-term consequences and compromises the victim’s quality of life.

Insurance adjusters will consider these factors when determining how much pain and suffering is worth. Insurers use unique formulas to calculate settlement offers, typically taking the sum of quantifiable losses (like lost wages and medical bills) and applying a multiplier between one and five to reach a figure. A higher multiplier is applied if pain and suffering is long-term or permanent — such as if the accident leaves the victim disabled, preventing them from enjoying independence.

It’s worth noting that pain and suffering damages cover emotional distress and physical pain — there is no separate calculation. One person could receive $200,000 for pain and suffering because they will be in pain for the rest of their life, while another could receive the same amount for long-term emotional distress even if they are no longer physically hurt.

How to Prove Emotional Distress in a Personal Injury Claim

Evidence is crucial for recovering compensation after an accident, and several types can help you prove emotional distress. Evidence can include medical reports, psychiatric evaluations, and eyewitness testimony from people who have seen the impact of your injuries on your mental health.

A personal injury journal can also be valuable evidence. It’s tough to remember how we felt on a specific day last week, last month, or last year even when not dealing with depression, PTSD, or physical pain, so a journal can document your emotions and the challenges you faced.

Expert witnesses also play a significant role in personal injury cases involving the emotional toll of an accident. Mental health professionals can testify to the impact of your injuries, explain specific mental health problems and conditions, and draw on their experience to predict how much longer you will continue to suffer.

The Importance of Legal Representation

Legal representation is crucial when recovering compensation for emotional distress.

A skilled attorney can help you overcome the challenges of quantifying emotional suffering by gathering evidence and seeking expert witness testimony to support your case. They will also negotiate with insurance companies or defendants who might dismiss your suffering as exaggerated.

The emotional toll of a personal injury can be life-altering, and you deserve recognition and compensation when it wasn’t your fault. Recovery isn’t easy, and a settlement won’t make your emotional distress magically disappear, but it can help you get the support you need as you focus on healing.