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Suing for Psychological Harm After an Accident

An accident that results in serious physical injuries often does considerably more harm than what may be outwardly visible. People who have been in an accident can suffer a broad range of psychological effects from the accident. Some effects stem directly from the accident itself, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Others can be a consequence of living with the limitations that come with a serious injury, or from side effects of treatment. Depression, emotional imbalances, and struggles with interpersonal relationships are just a few examples of the kind of psychological harm an accident can cause.

Accident victims may have the option of pursuing damages for their psychological suffering as part of their lawsuit to recover compensation for other costs associated with their injuries. In a personal injury lawsuit, damages typically fall within one of two categories. Economic damages cover concrete costs that have been or are reasonably expected to be incurred by the injured plaintiff as a consequence of the defendant’s negligence. Economic damages include things like medical bills, lost wages, and property damage. Noneconomic damages capture the more abstract categories of harm for which a straightforward “invoice” isn’t readily available. Compensation for pain and suffering is an example of noneconomic damages.

A psychological injury may have components of each type of damages. To the extent that the plaintiff’s psychological harm can be established as a medical problem, its associated costs may be regarded as a form of economic damages. If the psychological harm is less a matter of medical diagnosis and more a question of subjective opinion, it may be more likely to fall within the scope of noneconomic damages, as a form of “suffering.”

The distinction between economic and noneconomic damages is important in part because Nevada caps the amount a plaintiff can recover for certain types of damages. For example, in Nevada a plaintiff cannot recover more than $350,000 for pain and suffering damages. If a damages cap applies to a specific category of damages it’s important for the plaintiff’s attorney to ensure that damages are not miscategorized to the client’s detriment.

Proving psychological harm can be a challenge in any personal injury case. Psychological problems are often difficult to diagnose. Among other things, the plaintiff must be able to prove that the psychological harm was caused by the defendant’s negligence and not another cause. For example, a plaintiff who had an existing alcohol problem before the accident may have a hard time arguing that the accident triggered a more serious alcohol dependency. To prove psychological harm, the testimony of a psychiatrist can assist the court’s analysis. Testimony from friends and family about how the accident affected the plaintiff can also be valuable.

For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury and accident cases. We take care to ensure that each client is given the attention they deserve. In pursuing our clients’ interests we take into account every aspect of their wellbeing, including the kinds of psychological effects that the accident may have had. For a free attorney consultation about your case, please call us today at 702-388-4476 or reach us through our contact page.

Workers’ Compensation and Depression

Depression is a common side effect of injuries. It can arise as a consequence of the injured person’s changed circumstances—lost enjoyment, sleep problems, diminished career prospects—or it can be a side effect of medications. Like any mental illness, depression can be a difficult condition to reliably prove and document for legal purposes. This includes incorporating it into a workers’ compensation claim.

A baseline requirement for an injury to be covered by workers’ compensation is that it must have arisen out of or in the course of the worker’s employment. When a person suffers mental health problems as a consequence of work-related events, establishing a causal link between work and the illness can take special care. In the case of depression, showing that it arose specifically because of work, or a work-related injury, may be challenging if the person also suffered depression for reasons having nothing to do with work. Someone with a history of depression may have a more difficult time getting coverage.

The problem of proof is an advantage for insurers, who will require injured workers to undergo “independent” evaluations that are often conducted by professionals who have a financial interest in making diagnoses that are favorable to the insurer. Unlike a broken bone, depression can’t be found in a scan or observed in a person’s physical movements. Instead, it has to be evaluated by questioning the patient and potentially the patient’s family members, and may be interpreted according to an evaluator’s subjective opinions.

The link between work and depression may be easier to establish if the worker suffering depression can point to a specific event that triggered it. If a physical injury at work leads to depression, that causal link may help. Depression that can be linked to a particular pain medication prescribed as part of a treatment plan may also be easier to link to work. Nevada law also has specific allowance for mental illness resulting from “extreme stress in times of danger” at work, which may apply if a worker suffers depression due to witnessing or suffering a particularly shocking circumstance on the job, such as a violent accident.

Someone suffering from depression in connection with a work-related incident should not be discouraged from exploring a workers’ compensation claim to cover treatment costs. At Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez we have represented clients in workers’ compensation matters for more than 45 years. For a free attorney consultation about your circumstances call us today at 702-388-4476 or reach us through our contact page.

Factoring Psychological Effects into Personal Injury Damages

The psychological consequences of an injury can be long-lasting and severe. However, psychological injuries differ significantly from their physical counterparts. Unlike a broken bone, an injured person’s depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) won’t show up in a conveniently objective medical scan. Instead they need to be proven by psychiatrist testimony, evidence about the person’s changed behaviors, and so on. Among the challenges of proof is the need to reduce a victim’s psychological trauma to a dollar figure that can be factored into a claim for damages.

What types of psychological harm can come from injuries?

Suffering a serious injury is often a traumatic event, followed by a string of further stressful experiences. The injury itself might come about because of a violent car accident, a dog attack, or even a slip and fall resulting in broken bones. The pain and fear of the event itself can lead to psychological consequences. But the aftermath of the injury can also have side effects: lost work, long-term difficulty with sleeping, an inability to enjoy life, and so on. Some of the psychological consequences of these things can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • PTSD
  • Changes to personality
  • Mood swings

What sort of compensation is available for psychological injuries?

In a lawsuit for personal injury the aim is to get the injured person compensation for the costs (or damages) related to the injury. The term damages includes concrete things like medical bills and lost earnings, and can also include more abstract notions like pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment. Calculating the amount of damages a plaintiff is owed is a complex and contentious part of any personal injury lawsuit.

To recover damages the plaintiff must prove several things. First, the defendant’s wrongful behavior must have been the legal (or proximate) cause of the damages. For example, a plaintiff who was already addicted to opioids at the time of the accident may be unable to recover damages for his or her ongoing addiction, even if that addiction was made worse by the accident. Second, the damages must be proven by evidence. For psychological injuries this element can be difficult. The costs associated with treating the psychological condition, such as psychiatry bills and medication, may be only one part of the whole. A plaintiff’s attorney can find ways to build a strong case for compensation that fully captures the consequences of the injury.

GGRM is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm

For more than 45 years the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has helped clients in the Las Vegas area recover compensation for personal injuries. We provide each client with personal, caring service. If you have questions about how psychological factors may affect your personal injury claim, please call us today for a free attorney consultation at 702-388-4476 or reach us through our contact page.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Workers’ Compensation in Nevada

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Workers' Compensation in Nevada

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has received a lot of media attention for its prevalence among soldiers returning from overseas. But PTSD can also be a problem for people who experience extremely stressful workplace situations here at home. This is especially true for first responders who deal with violent or traumatic situations, but can also apply to someone who witnesses a bad work accident. Because the symptoms of PTSD can make working difficult or impossible, it can qualify someone for disability benefits. If the event that triggered PTSD happened at work, the sufferer may also qualify for workers’ compensation benefits.

Nevada’s stress injury statute

NRS 616C.180 governs workers’ compensation for injury or disease caused by stress, including PTSD. There are two important features of this statute. First, it explicitly exempts from coverage any condition “caused by any gradual mental stimulus.” This precludes workers’ comp claims for certain types of anxiety-related conditions. Second, the statute defines when a stress-related claim is compensable. To qualify for benefits, the condition must meet these factors:

  1. The employee has a mental injury caused by extreme stress in time of danger.
  2. The primary cause of the injury was an event that arose out of and during the course of employment.
  3. The stress was not caused by a layoff, termination, or any disciplinary action.

NRS 616C.180(3).

The most important feature of this statute is the requirement that the stress must arise from a distinct event. A gradual accumulation of stress will not be compensable. In McGrath v. State Dep’t of Pub. Safety, 123 Nev. 120 (2007), the Nevada Supreme Court interpreted the statute to require claimants “to identify a discrete, identifiable, traumatic occurrence that gave rise to stress.”

Like other disease-related workers’ comp claims, proving that the injury “arose out of and during the course of employment” may also be a challenge for PTSD sufferers. For example, if the traumatic event was not itself work-related, an insurer may try to deny the claim. A police officer involved in an on-duty shooting might have little trouble with this element, but it might be less clear for an off-duty officer who witnesses a traumatic traffic accident and offers her assistance.

Late onset further complicates claims

One challenge of PTSD is that it can develop long after the precipitating event. For a worker who begins to experience symptoms long after the event, it can be difficult to meet the statutory requirements for a good compensation claim. In Nevada a work-related illness must be reported to the employer within seven days of being discovered. In the case of PTSD, which can come on gradually, the point when the condition was known may become a major point of dispute. Insurers will deny claims on the basis that they were not reported on time, shifting the burden to the employee to show that he or she provided timely notice only after becoming aware of the connection between the traumatic work-event and PTSD.

Late onset involves other practical problems as well. It may be difficult to trace the PTSD to a specific event. Witnesses to the event also may be difficult to procure.

GGRM is here to support people dealing with PTSD

The attorneys at the law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez have handled complicated workers’ compensation cases for over 45 years. We are especially proud of our work with first responders in the Las Vegas area. If you are suffering from work-related PTSD and have questions about how to pursue a workers’ compensation claim, reach out to us for a free attorney consultation. Call us at 702-388-4476, or send us a request through our site.