Emotional Distress After a Car Accident in California

Emotional Distress After a Car Accident in California

California law recognizes that a person’s emotional well-being warrants legal protection.

Emotional distress is harmful to your peace of mind, and California law allows car accident victims to claim emotional distress in certain situations.

Our experienced San Bernardino car accident lawyers at LA Century Law explain emotional distress after a car accident in California.

What Counts as Emotional Distress for a Car Accident Claim in California?

A mental or emotional injury that counts as emotional distress for a car accident claim in California may include:

  • Fright
  • Nervousness
  • Grief
  • Anxiety
  • Worry
  • Mortification
  • Shock
  • Humiliation
  • Indignity
  • Physical pain

Deevy v. Tassi, 21 Cal.2d 109 (1942).

Recognizing the Signs of Emotional Distress Post-Accident

The signs of emotional distress post-accident may be physical or mental.

Physical symptoms of emotional distress

  • Headaches
  • Stomach aches
  • Aches and pains, somatic pain
  • Crying
  • Skin problems
  • Back pain

Mental symptoms of emotional distress

  • Anxiety
  • Survivor’s guilt
  • PTSD
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares, sleep disturbances, insomnia
  • Depression, feelings of hopelessness
  • Emotional distance, trying to shut off emotions
  • Avoiding places and situations
  • Employment problems, relationship problems
  • Difficulty with daily routine
  • Criminal behavior

Emotional distress can take many forms. A victim may experience one symptom or multiple symptoms.

How Emotional Distress Is Evaluated in Legal Claims

A car accident claim is about valuing and compensating the victim’s losses. The greater the person suffers, the more they should be compensated. It’s necessary to evaluate and value emotional distress to compensate a victim fairly.

Emotional distress may vary in:

  • Intensity
  • Duration
  • Progression
  • The extent of physical harm
  • Types of disruption
  • Underlying cause
  • Daily changes
  • Prognosis

There is no exact calculator for emotional distress so it is inherently subjective. The jury must decide by the evidence. Pearl v. City of Los Angeles, 36 Cal.App.5th 475 (2019).

Documenting Your Emotional and Psychological Impacts for Your Case

Once emotional distress has been evaluated, it must be documented. As the victim, you must support your claim of emotional distress with evidence.

Evidence that may be used to document emotional and psychological impact may include:

  • Journal – A journal can be powerful evidence of how a car accident affects you day by day. It can track physical symptoms, the severity of symptoms, whether they improve or worsen, and other ways that your emotional health has been impacted.
  • Your testimony – Speaking of the ways that you have been impacted by the car accident can be a powerful way to prove emotional distress. Detailed and specific information can make your testimony effective.
  • Other witness testimony – Friends, family, and coworkers can testify to their observations.
  • Medical records – As you seek medical care, your healthcare providers create a record. This documentation shows treatment dates and the nature of treatment.
  • Employment records – You may lose a job, perform poorly, or be unable to work in the same capacity. Changes in work can be a sign of emotional distress.
  • Sleep and vitals tracker – Tracking your sleep and other vital information can show changes and patterns.
  • Expert witness – A psychologist or other expert can provide testimony.

As car accident lawyers, we can build the evidence in your case.

The Law for Emotional Distress After a Car Accident in California

  • California law recognizes emotional distress as compensable after a car accident.
  • A victim who suffers physical injury may also claim emotional distress.
  • In addition, California law recognizes bystander emotional distress in limited circumstances.

Bystander emotional distress car accident claims

The California courts explained bystander recovery for emotional distress in Dillon v. Legg, 68 Cal.2d 728 (1968). The court said that to recover for bystander liability, the plaintiff must be:

  1. Closely related to the victim.
  2. At the scene of the injury-producing event at the time it occurs.
  3. Suffering from emotional distress beyond that of a disinterested victim.

See Thing v. LaChusa, 48 Cal.3d 644 (1989), where the court denied the bystander emotional distress compensation when a minor had been struck by a car. The parents didn’t see or hear the accident, but they were told about it and rushed to the scene. The court said it was not appropriate to compensate the parents because they did not witness the accident as it occurred.

Strengthening Your Emotional Distress Claim

You may be looking to strengthen your emotional distress claim. One thing to be aware of for an emotional distress claim is causation. The defense may try to argue that the accident didn’t cause your mental injuries. They may say that you had preexisting conditions. Be prepared to respond to these allegations. In addition, you may need to challenge discovery requests that are overly broad, invasive, or harassing.

Also, know that you can seek compensation for past and future emotional distress. In the California model jury instructions for physical pain, mental safety, and emotional distress, (CACI No. 3905A), there are two separate paragraphs regarding future emotional distress. Ask for these instructions to be read to the jury, if appropriate.

Do not overlook the importance of detailed evidence. There is no fixed or absolute standard to compute emotional distress. Because the jury has vast discretion, your evidence and arguments are important. Plotnik v. Meihaus, 208 Cal.App.4th 1590 (Cal. Ct. App. 2012). You should consider using expert testimony. While not required as a blanket rule – the testimony of the victim alone may be sufficient, it should be considered. Knutson v. Foster, 25 Cal.App.5th 1075 (2018).

Resources and Support for Emotional Recovery After an Accident

Crash Support Network – Non-profit offering resources and emotional support for car accident victims.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving – A mission to end drunk driving.

Trauma Survivors Network – A community of trauma survivors.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Resources and referrals for anxiety and depression.

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline – Free and confidential support.

Mental Health America – Crisis help and mental health screening.

Reach Out to an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer

At LA Century Law, we’ve helped recover millions in compensation for our clients. That’s because we look at all aspects of the case, including emotional distress. You can have representation from our experienced professionals on every step of your case.

Reach out to an experienced car accident lawyer. Call or message us now.

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