A car accident injury can cause enormous stress. Even if your physical injuries heal, the emotional injuries and their impacts may last far longer and, in some ways, be far more painful. Based on the severity and longevity of these emotional injuries, New York law permits accident victims to recover compensation for both physical injuries and emotional pain and suffering.
Remember, however, that New York is a no-fault state for car insurance and auto accident purposes. As a general rule, you cannot sue for your simple injuries.
However, if you can prove that your injuries were serious as defined under New York law, you can recover compensation for pain and suffering.
Serious injuries in New York include:
- Significant disfiguring
- Permanent loss of use of an organ, member, function, or system of the body
- Permanent consequential limitation of use of a body organ or a member
- A significant limitation of use of a body function or system
- Medically determined injury or impairment of a non-permanent nature that prevents the injured person from performing their usual and customary daily activities for more than 90 of the 180 days following the injury or impairment.
If your case and injuries fit into one or more of these categories, then you can recover compensation for pain and suffering in New York.
The last four categories listed above may sound strange, but they are variations on the theme that you can’t do things the way you used to. These qualitative limitations mean that you can’t do everyday tasks like you used to, or you can’t play sports or the violin anymore. There are also measurable factors in your limitations: can you turn your head, touch your toes, or raise your arm over your head. These quantitative limitations are measurable and easier to prove.
Among the best ways to prove these types of limitations is demonstrating that you have sought medical advice and have followed it consistently. Objective evidence-based indicators of your injury like X-rays, MRIs, nerve tests, are also valuable evidence.
Can Physical Injury Bring About Emotional Injury?
A person who is the victim of severe injuries in an auto accident is likely to suffer more than just those physical injuries. Extended hospital stays and medical treatment can, of themselves, lead to depression and anxiety. Add to that the victim’s worries about how long their recovery will take and whether they will be the same afterward, and the emotional impact on the victim deepens.
At the same time, the accident victim will think about how little money is coming in without working and how much is going out between treatments, drugs, and repairing property damage.
Suppose the injuries have permanently affected the injured party’s ability to earn a living, share a life, or enjoy the things they used to do. In that case, the emotional impact can be tremendous. The loss of independence and the constant dependence on others to perform even the simplest and most routine tasks can take a huge emotional toll on the victim. These emotions can hurt all of the relationships in the victim’s life, including those with spouses, friends, and other family members.
The victim’s spousal relationship can also be affected by a loss of consortium: the inability to function physically as a spouse due to the injuries resulting from the accident. This injury causes its own trauma—the loss of the love and support of one’s spouse can devastate a marriage.
Finally, the physical damage caused by the injuries can also result in emotional damage. For example, burns not only put a victim through a long and extremely painful healing process, but they can also leave horrific scars. The scarring, especially in visible locations like the face, reduces the victim’s self-confidence and can make dealing with others nearly impossible. This loss of self-confidence and social support can cause depression, anxiety, or social mood disorders.
The physical injuries you suffer in an accident aren’t the only problem or concern. The emotional impact of those injuries can be equally, if not more, catastrophic than the physical injuries themselves.
What Does Emotional Injury Look Like?
We all exhibit emotional trauma in different ways, and it’s important that others recognize it in us and that we recognize it in ourselves. Now that we know how serious emotional injuries can be after a physical injury, it’s time to consider how to identify them.
Although we all react differently to emotional trauma, there are some common signs and symptoms that you might want to look for in yourself or a badly injured loved one.
- Excessive, unexplained fatigue
- Insomnia or sleep disturbances
- Rapid heartbeat, muscle tension, or aches and pains without any obvious cause
- Feeling guilty about the accident
- Feeling numb and disconnected
- Withdrawing from or avoiding social interactions
- Startling easily
- Mental confusion
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing
- Mood swings, especially unexplained anger or irritability
In a New York personal injury cause of action, all of the above signs and symptoms will be part of the victim’s pain and suffering in conjunction with a serious injury and will be compensable without a cap.
Emotions recognized as part of the compensable anguish after an accident include shock, sorrow, anxiety, fear and apprehension, embarrassment and humiliation, and unexplained stress. These, too, can be claimed as non-economic damages in a New York personal injury or car accident case so long as they occur with a serious injury.
How Long Is the Recovery Period?
Emotional injuries don’t necessarily heal to a schedule as physical ones do. If you break your forearm, for example, a physician can say you’ll likely require the cast for about 12 weeks.
Contrary to that relative certainty about the time to heal a physical injury, emotional injuries are virtually impossible to predict. If you have experienced deep emotional trauma or the injury that causes the trauma won’t go away, as is the case with scarring.
If you have serious scars, it can take years for emotional trauma to improve. If there is no improvement or certain things set off an extreme reaction, you may even be a victim of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).
Can a New York Psychological Professional Help?
For some, the support and care they receive from friends and family may be enough to overcome emotional trauma resulting from an accident. If that isn’t enough, you should consider seeking professional help.
Some signs that you might benefit from psychological help are:
- Increasingly turning to self-medication via drugs or alcohol
- Feeling depressed and lacking enthusiasm for things you used to enjoy
- Actively avoiding reminders of the accident
- Avoiding social interaction
- Inability to function appropriately at work or home
- Repeated episodes of anxiety or fear
- Nightmares or flashbacks of the accident
The more frequent or extreme any of these symptoms are, the more likely it is that you should consider working with a therapist to resolve your post-trauma emotional injuries.
Therapy of this kind can be a daunting task. Even finding the right therapist is a challenge. But once you find a therapist with whom you can share mutual trust and respect, you may be on your way to conquering this trauma.
What Help Is Available?
Emotional trauma is not easy to live with, and it’s not easy to cure. You will have to deal over and over again with your trauma to resolve it, and suffering that pain repeatedly is itself traumatic. Nonetheless, certain forms of therapy are well suited to treating this kind of emotional trauma.
Some of them are:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy can be effective for emotional problems after an accident. It relies on the concept that psychological problems:
- Arise from faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking
- Reflect learned patterns of unhelpful behavior
- Can be treated by learning coping mechanisms and, through that process, relieving the symptoms.
- Prolonged Exposure Therapy is used, often in conjunction with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, to help individuals confront their feelings and fear. It teaches victims to gradually approach their trauma-related memories and feelings and become desensitized to them.
- Sensorimotor Therapy targets physical habits, autonomic dysregulation, and psychological symptoms to address the adverse effects of traumatic injury.
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy is a therapy that causes the patient to focus briefly on trauma memories while at the same time experiencing bilateral eye movement, which is associated with reducing the vividness of the memories. Experts recommend it for the treatment of PTSD.
Can I Recover Damages for My Emotional Injuries in New York?
Under New York law, you can recover compensation for your emotional trauma, either as non-economic damages from your car accident if there was a serious injury or for infliction of emotional distress.
To recover compensation as part of your car accident case
, you need to prove you suffered a serious injury in the accident and that:
- Someone owed you a duty of care
- They breached that duty
- They emotionally injured you
- They caused damages for which you seek compensation
To prove your emotional injuries, you need to provide hard evidence. You can do this by, among other things, seeking and obtaining treatment from your family physician and appropriate psychological professionals. You may wish to document your episodes as they happen, and testimony of friends and relatives who have witnessed your trauma may also be helpful.
Emotional injuries are considered non-economic damages in New York. Non-economic damages are somewhat more subjective than economic damages and more difficult to prove. However, if you have been receiving treatment and have those medical bills and insurance claims on hand, they will ease your need to prove your suffering to some extent. Economic damages, in contrast, are usually out-of-pocket expenses or losses easily demonstrated by paid bills or unpaid payroll. Neither kind of damage has a cap in New York.
Can I Afford to Recover Damages for My New York Emotional Injuries?
In short, yes, you can. Most personal injury lawyers charge their clients on a contingency basis. This arrangement means that they enter into a written agreement with their clients stating that the lawyer will represent the client and that the attorney will receive fees as a percentage of the settlement or award in the case.
In a contingency fee arrangement, you do not pay fees unless the case concludes successfully for you.
Your financial risk is limited because you do not pay unless you “win” your case. On the other hand, because the attorney bears most of the financial risk, they will carefully evaluate your case before agreeing to represent you. Since the lawyer will not receive a payment if you do not win, lawyers only take strong contingency cases.
Contact an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Today
If you or your loved one continues to suffer from the emotional distress arising out of a New York car accident, you are likely to be close to overwhelmed with the consequences of that distress.
Don’t try to deal with the legal system or insurance company lawyers and adjusters on your own. Instead, consider retaining a car accident lawyer with significant experience in auto accident cases and the emotional injuries that can result from them. Let us deal with the trauma of negotiating and litigating your cause; you can focus on healing from the accident.
Do not wait to learn about your legal options after your injuries. Doing so can help relieve stress so you can focus on your physical and mental recovery.