What are car accident emotional injuries, and what are they worth?

Crumpled Up Paper HeadYou have probably heard the phrase “pain and suffering,” but what does it really mean when you are seeking damages after a devastating car crash in Albuquerque? Emotional injuries are considered “non-economic” damages, meaning there is no clear price tag on the losses you have suffered due to a traumatic event such as a car accident. We take a look at the kinds of emotional injuries you might experience in a crash and how a lawyer can help you get fair compensation for them from the at-fault driver.

Physical Injuries Require Immediate Treatment

If you were in a high-impact collision, you likely sustained serious physical injuries. Lacerations, broken bones, head trauma, and internal wounds will be obvious at the scene of the crash or shortly thereafter. You will need medical treatment—possibly in the emergency room immediately after the crash. You might need surgery, x-rays and MRIs, and follow-up appointments. Many types of car accident injuries require ongoing care, including physical therapy, additional surgeries, and accommodations for permanent disabilities. Compensation from the negligent driver should cover all of the costs of your physical recovery, which will be well-documented through doctors’ notes, diagnostic scans, and medical bills.

Emotional Injuries Are Not So Easy to See

When the car crash that left you injured was caused by a negligent party, they can be held accountable for compensating you for your losses. The goal of a personal injury settlement or lawsuit is to “make you whole” or to return you to the state you were in before the crash—as much as that is possible. Making you whole requires addressing the non-physical damage you might have suffered as well as the physical injuries. People who have been in car crashes often experience the following:

  • Emotional distress. While some car accident victims are eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many will experience symptoms such as anxiety, depression, fearfulness, insomnia, and recurring nightmares without being diagnosed with PTSD.
  • Avoidance behavior. Flashbacks and anxiety can cause accident victims to avoid driving or even riding in cars, preventing them from going to work or school, caring for children, and going to appointments. When fear impacts daily functioning, this needs to be made right.
  • Panic attacks. The shock of a sudden car accident can uproot the victim’s sense of security and lead to random panic attacks for months or even years after the crash. Panic attacks can feel like a medical emergency and can be very disruptive to everyday life.
  • Mood swings. Someone who has been through a traumatic event like a car accident can experience frequent mood swings. One minute they might feel happy and friendly, and the next, they could lash out in anger. Mood swings are hard on the victim as well as their family and friends.
  • Chronic fatigue. Depression and anxiety can manifest in frequent tiredness and a lack of energy and motivation. The combined struggles of a person who has experienced trauma can become exhausting to cope with, leading to chronic fatigue.
  • Psychological effects of brain injury. In some cases, these emotional responses are caused by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that occurred in the crash. If the victim suffered a concussion or another form of TBI, they might experience long-term depression, anxiety, mood swings, and insomnia and be unable to function on a day-to-day basis.

Many of these symptoms and disorders are connected to each other, and a person who has been in a catastrophic car accident could experience all of them at times.

Putting a Dollar Value on Emotional Suffering

While the cost of seeing a therapist to help with psychological injuries can be included in the economic damages part of a settlement, it is trickier to determine the value of pain and suffering damages. Insurance adjusters will use a formula—often starting with the economic damages awarded and multiplying that by a certain factor to determine the non-economic damages. You will need an experienced New Mexico car accident attorney on your team to make sure this calculation is fair and compensates you for your ongoing suffering.

James R. Keller
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Partner at Keller & Keller