Does pain and suffering include emotional distress?
When you are injured through the negligence or recklessness of another party, the law permits you to seek compensation for your losses. These losses include “economic damages,” such as medical bills, lost time off work, home modifications to accommodate a disability, and property damage.
Many cases – certainly car accident cases – allow you to collect money for “non-economic damages,” such as “pain and suffering.” But what does that mean? Sometimes you hear the terms “pain and suffering” and “emotional distress” used interchangeably, but other times, they may be listed as separate items in a lawsuit.
In a nutshell: YES, the definition of pain and suffering does broadly include emotional distress, but the best Los Angeles personal injury lawyers should specifically list in the suit when applicable. Ellis Injury Law discusses the different legal definitions of these two terms, so you don’t miss out on an opportunity to seek rightful compensation following your car accident injury.
Legal definition of ‘pain and suffering’
“Pain and suffering” is a legal term that extends beyond physical pain to include mental and emotional injuries. Emotional injuries may include anxiety, depression, fear, grief, humiliation, inconvenience, insomnia, phobias, PTSD, torment, and worry.
Broadly speaking, pain and suffering may encompass:
- Emotional distress (also called mental anguish)
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment in life
- Physical impairment
Plaintiffs may collect for past, present, and future pain and suffering.
Legal definition of ‘emotional distress’
Emotional distress is one form of pain and suffering you may specifically list in your lawsuit, along with the other types of pain and suffering mentioned above. The legal definition of emotional distress is “a highly unpleasant emotional reaction resulting from another’s conduct, for which damages may be sought.”
People involved in car accidents often develop intense fears of getting behind the wheel, driving in adverse weather conditions, or even traveling in a motor vehicle. They may have anxiety and full-blown panic attacks by day, as well as nightmares and disturbed sleeping patterns at night. Car accident victims who witnessed a loved one die in the crash often suffer from anguish, depression, guilt, and even suicidal thoughts. These feelings are not just “in your head.” They can lead to real, tangible losses for years to come. Medical attention may be required to help you fully recover from the mental and emotional injuries, as well as the physical.
Combining emotional distress into a pain and suffering claim
When you seek compensation through an insurance claim or lawsuit, you will put in a claim for emotional distress under the general pain and suffering damages. In determining whether you have suffered sufficient emotional distress, consider whether your mental state following the accident has prevented you from going to work, caring for your family, or caring for yourself. Do you find that your emotions interrupt your normal cognitive functions, making it difficult to focus and get through the day without experiencing significant, debilitating stress? If so, you may have a strong claim for including emotional distress under your pain and suffering damages.
Types of emotional distress in lawsuits
In car accident lawsuits, emotional distress is not just something you’re dealing with in the aftermath of an accident; it is something inflicted upon you by the third party who caused the accident. In your pain and suffering claim, your attorney must determine whether the infliction of emotional distress was:
- Intentional: The defendant acted purposefully or recklessly in an extreme and outrageous manner that the conduct cannot be tolerated by civilized society.
For instance, you could argue the emotional distress was intentional if the other driver purposefully crashed into your car out of rage, or if the other motorist was attempting to goad you into street-racing.
- Negligent: The defendant engaged in negligent misconduct or a willful violation of a statutory duty.
When a driver falls asleep at the wheel or drives through a traffic light while texting, you can make the case for negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Whether you claim intentional or negligent infliction of harm, the conduct must have directly led to the accident and infliction of emotional distress, and the emotional distress should be severe enough to impact daily life.
Can family members claim emotional distress in a car accident lawsuit?
Most states require you to prove physical injuries related to your emotional distress, but this is not always so with car accidents. Certainly, directly witnessing a loved one’s serious or even fatal injury would cause any rational person to become emotionally distressed. Spouses, children, and caregivers may have a valid claim to emotional distress, even in the absence of physical injury in certain car accident cases.
A lawyer can help you prepare a claim for emotional distress
You can find an award-winning Los Angeles car accident attorneys to assist with your claim at the Ellis Injury Law Firm. We regularly consult with clients about these differences and assists in case preparation that maximizes the amount recovered. These consultations are provided at no upfront cost to you. In fact, you owe us nothing until we secure a settlement or jury award on your behalf. Contact our Los Angeles office to discuss your car accident claim. The State of California places a two-year statute of limitations on personal injury claims, so the sooner you contact us, the better.