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Can an Accident Witness Sue for Psychological Trauma?

Bodily injuries resulting from an accident are rightfully given a lot of attention in the accident’s aftermath. Spinal injuries, broken limbs, and disfigurement are undeniably serious and highly visible. But the psychological consequences of an accident can be quite serious, too, and they may not be obvious to anyone outside of the small circle of the accident victim’s close friends and family. In any lawsuit following an accident involving serious personal injury, psychological harm needs to be factored into the compensation sought by the plaintiff.

The practical challenges of psychological injury

Someone who has suffered a mental health setback can require specialized care, potentially including medication, potentially for a long time. This kind of treatment can be very expensive but may be required to sustain the person’s long-term physical health. Getting compensated for these costs is important.

There are several reasons why a psychological injury may pose challenges for an injured plaintiff in a personal injury case. The first is diagnosis. Psychological injuries can be difficult to identify, let alone treat. In the immediate aftermath of an accident the victim’s physical injuries likely will give rise to significant costs and hardship. The victim may not even be aware of the psychological damage that he or she has suffered until sometime later.

Another potential problem for plaintiffs is proof. A plaintiff must be able to prove damages with reasonable certainty in order to recover compensation for them. Psychological injuries can give rise to a “battle of the experts” in the courtroom, as the defense tries to discredit or undermine the plaintiff’s claims related to these “unobservable” injuries.

Psychological harm and insurance

In accidents covered by insurance, like car crashes, a key question is whether the at-fault person’s insurance policy will cover treatment for mental health consequences of the accident. Many general liability policies are drafted to cover “bodily injury,” which they very specifically define to exclude psychological injury such as mental anguish, suffering, or specific conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Although an insurance company has a legal obligation to provide coverage for injuries that fall within the scope of its policies, it will closely scrutinize claims and deny anything that falls outside the policy.

This limitation has important consequences for people who hope to recover full compensation for their injuries from the at-fault party’s insurance policy. The injured plaintiff may need to pursue compensation from other sources, such as the personal assets of the at-fault individual.

For over 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented Las Vegas clients in personal injury cases. We can help you examine your legal options to recover compensation for psychological injuries. For a free attorney consultation, call us at 702-388-4476 or send us a request through our site.