Car accidents happen every day and are one of the most common traumatic events people suffer. The average driver is in a car accident about once every 18 years, so throughout a lifetime the average person will experience about four car accidents.
Everyone responds to accidents differently. For some people, the emotional trauma can last long after cuts and bruises have healed. You may think your injuries are minor, but physical injuries can also affect your mental and emotional state.
Those who experience emotional trauma usually recover, but some people develop serious anxiety or emotional distress after an accident. They may be afraid to drive, ride in a car, pass the scene of the accident, or experience recurring memories of the crash. Studies estimate that as many as one-third of people involved in non-fatal auto crashes suffer from some type of emotional trauma following the event.
Symptoms of anxiety or emotional distress
It’s natural to feel upset following an accident. But an anxiety disorder is more than the mild stress accident victims often feel for a short time after a crash. Individuals with an anxiety disorder may have trouble functioning day-to-day. They may overreact or be unable to control their responses to certain stressful situations.
The harmful effects of emotional trauma can take many forms, including anxiety, depression, panic attacks, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The effects of trauma can last for weeks, months, or even longer.
For example, the symptoms of car accident-related PTSD vary from one person to another, but common symptoms include:
- Chest pain;
- Heart palpitations;
- Shortness of breath;
- Queasiness and nausea;
- Vertigo and dizziness;
- Impatience and irritability;
- Restlessness; and/or
- Problems with thinking and concentration.
Common treatments for anxiety
Treatment for anxiety depends on the severity of the condition. Doctors may suggest treatments one at a time or in combination. They may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication, for example. Counseling or group therapy, such as behavioral, cognitive, and psychological therapy, may also be helpful. In some cases, medical providers may recommend inpatient treatment.
Can you sue for emotional distress if you were not physically injured?
Typically, a claim for emotional distress accompanies a claim for physical injury. However, it is possible to sue for emotional distress when no one was physically harmed.
Most car accident cases arise from the theory of negligence. Negligence is “a failure to behave with the level of care that someone of ordinary prudence would have exercised under the same circumstances.” In some situations, negligent behavior may be a failure to act when there is a duty to act.
If you were involved in an accident due to someone else’s negligence, you might feel a mixture of feelings such as fear, anger, confusion, depression, anxiety, and more. Those feelings can impact every aspect of your life, every day. For example, a person experiencing this type of emotional distress may find it difficult to function and have to take time off of work, in which case the income loss only adds to the person’s overall stress. If you experience mental or emotional distress after an accident, you may be entitled to compensation.
The State of California does permit victims to recover damages for mental anguish resulting from a car accident. However, there are some restrictions. In California, car accident victims do not need to have been physically injured to file a claim for emotional damages under the theory of negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
To prevail in a case of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the victim must prove that the defendant:
- Acted in an extreme, atrocious, or outrageous manner;
- Intentionally meant to cause emotional distress to the plaintiff; and
- Behaved in a way that did, in fact, cause the plaintiff emotional distress.
- In a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the victim does not need to prove that the defendant’s conduct was intentional. Instead, they must prove that the defendant acted without exercising reasonable care. The negligent conduct may have been directed at the victim or have injured the victim as a bystander.
In the case of negligent behavior directed at the victim, the plaintiff must prove the defendant was negligent, the plaintiff suffered severe emotional anguish, and the defendant’s negligent actions caused the plaintiff’s emotional distress.
In a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress on a bystander, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s negligence injured or killed someone the plaintiff knew, and that the plaintiff witnessed the injury or death, thereby suffering emotional anguish.
Lawsuits for emotional distress can be highly technical and complicated to prove. There must be a clear connection between the accident and the victim’s anxiety or emotional distress. In preparing your claim, your attorney will gather and preserve evidence such as medical records, photos, sworn testimony, or social media posts. Your therapist or psychiatrist can evaluate and document your symptoms and treatment to support your claim.
It can be difficult to quantify how much money will compensate a victim for psychological harm resulting from an accident. How much is a person’s suffering worth? This is a highly individual question.
Under California law, victims of someone else’s negligent or intentionally harmful behavior may seek compensation for:
- Past and future physical pain;
- Past and future emotional or psychological suffering;
- Diminished quality of life;
- Physical disabilities;
- Disfiguring injuries;
- Humiliation and shame;
- Inconvenience; and/or
- Anxiety and grief.
If you are suffering from anxiety or emotional distress after a car accident, seek medical attention and then consult an experienced, compassionate attorney. Your experience is real, getting help is important, and you may be entitled to compensation. Act quickly, because you only have a limited amount of time to file a claim. The California statute of limitations is just two years from the date of the accident, although there are some limited exceptions.