Stress & Anxiety as Damages in a Personal Injury Case

Stress, anxiety, and the mental toll an injury can take may be compensable damages in an injury claim.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

Any injury or illness can be stressful. When an injury warrants an insurance claim or lawsuit, the stress and anxiety it's caused may even be compensable. Stress, anxiety and mental anguish can be tangential results of a personal injury, or even a personal injury in and of themselves. Whether stress is compensable in a personal injury case depends largely on the nature of the injury suffered, as well as the specific medical diagnosis. Stress can be considered both a non-economic damage (usually falling under the category of "pain and suffering") as well as a medically-documented injury. Read on to learn more about stress and anxiety as damages in personal injury cases.

Stress, Anxiety, and "Pain and Suffering" Damages

Non-economic damages such as anxiety and stress that result from a personal injury are commonly referred to as pain and suffering damages. While economic damages such as lost wages and medical expenses are easily quantifiable in dollar amounts, pain and suffering damages (such as those caused by stress) are more difficult to put a number on.

Nearly every personal injury case contains some type of pain and suffering allegation. Stress usually falls under that more general umbrella. As long as the laws of your jurisdiction allow recovery for pain and suffering, the stress you incur can be compensable. A jury, after hearing the facts of the case and deciding a verdict in your favor, is charged with placing a dollar amount on pain and suffering. And even in an injury-related insurance claim, your pain and suffering will typically be a component of any injury settlement award.

In some states, non-economic damages are "capped." This means that the state has passed a law limiting the amount of pain and suffering damages a plaintiff can recover. The presence of damage caps can change from state to state, and even vary depending on the type of case. For example, there may be a limit on non-economic damages recoverable in a medical malpractice case (as there is in states like California), but a slip and fall case may have no limits. So, compensation for anxiety or stress may be limited depending upon your situation.

Stress Can Be a Medically Documented Injury

Stress, in and of itself, can be a medically documented injury. While this is less common, it is no less compensable. The most common medically diagnosed form of stress is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It is not uncommon for those that suffer injuries to develop symptoms of PTSD. Depression, anxiety, insomnia and various other psychological symptoms can result in an overarching diagnosis of PTSD. If you're experiencing any of the above symptoms after an accident or injury, it is essential that you seek the appropriate medical care and obtain a formal diagnosis for your condition. See Proving PTSD Damages in a Personal Injury Case

While PTSD may be on the extreme end of the spectrum, even non-trauma related stress might be compensable in a personal injury case. Stress has proven to be the cause of any number of resultant medical conditions. Skin rashes, migraines, acid reflux -- each of these conditions have been attributed to stress stemming from an injury. Simple documentation by your treating physician can ensure that your stress and related symptoms are part of the record of your case.

Once stress is diagnosed and placed on the record, it becomes a medically compensable injury that is no different than a broken arm. The cost of care and treatment for the stress you are suffering should be compensable as an economic damage.

Stress is a fact of everyday life. But serious amounts of stress, such as those experienced after a personal injury, can be physically and mentally devastating. Seeking compensation for stress in court, particularly in a personal injury case, is a legitimate avenue of recovery. However, the ultimate compensability of stress in a personal injury case depends on the laws of your jurisdiction and the nature of the stress itself.

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