After an accident that results in a physical injury to the victim, the first step in the recovery process is medical stabilization. Medically stabilizing the victim after a serious car, motorcycle, or other accident should be top priority, and the focus until the patient is well enough to transition home from the hospital. Once the victim has been stabilized medically, it’s easy to paint the picture of wellness and moving forward with a restored quality of life. However, this should not be mistaken as the case.
If the physical injury is permanent, the accident catastrophic, or in some cases both, recovery doesn’t end after the physical injuries are cared for. PTSD, flashbacks, fear, and isolation are all what’s known as mental anguish, and these symptoms can persist for an extended period of time, or permanently after an accident in which a victim experienced trauma.
This article will answer questions those who have suffered catastrophic accidents, as well as their families, may have related to the mental health side of Personal Injury, and why it’s important for a lawyer to have experience in not only the visible injuries catastrophic accidents cause, but the mental anguish that goes along with physical pain and suffering.
- What are invisible injuries?
- What are the different types of mental anguish?
- What kind of help is there for accident victims who suffer symptoms of mental anguish?
Within this writeup we’ll also begin to explain to readers the definition of mental anguish, what it encompasses as far as symptoms and their presentation, and why only an experienced lawyer (Board Certified, as we consistently stress on the Law Resource!) can fully understand the lifelong mental health issues posed by physical injuries sustained after a catastrophic accident.
What are invisible injuries?
The problem most jurors and those involved in determining an outcome of a case have with mental anguish (under the umbrella of which encompasses multiple, complex symptoms such as depression, PTSD, flashbacks, and feelings of fear and isolation) is that if it can’t be seen, it cannot be proven as factual. An experienced lawyer will know how to deter this preconceived notion. A lawyer’s first step to delivering an adequate burden of proof on behalf of a victim suffering from mental anguish is to use Demonstrative Aids. We covered Demonstrative Aids at length in the article Demonstrative Aids: An Important Tool in Preparing Successful Cases.
One example of how an experienced lawyer may attempt to provide visible evidence of mental anguish symptoms a victim is experiencing, is in the case of a Traumatic Brain Injury. Because this type of injury is “invisible” to the eye after physical cuts, scrapes, bruises and any surgical wounds have healed, a lawyer must utilize what’s known as accident recreation. This Demonstrative Aid is a helpful tool that can provide a picture of the severity of what occurred during and shortly after an accident, even if the victim appears visibly healed during trial.
Accident recreation of any kind may include a timeline to show trauma minute-by-minute, as closely as possible to the way the victim actually experienced it (the victim may, together with their lawyer, decide if they should step out of the courtroom for this phase of trial, as accident recreation may cause them PTSD or flashbacks, which can be mentally harmful). Accident recreation is meant to provide a clearer, more “visible” picture for those hearing the case during trial. Accident recreation can provide further proof to any verbal testimony provided by expert witnesses as to why the victim may be suffering from mental anguish and its accompanying symptoms.
What are the different types of mental anguish?
Mental anguish is an umbrella term for multiple, mentally painful symptoms a victim can experience after surviving a catastrophic accident. PTSD, isolation, depression, fear, and flashbacks (living with constant reminders of the accident such as an amputation or being unable to ride in a car). The following are several of those symptoms, explained:
PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common mental health issue after an accident that causes physical trauma to the body, although it’s very often overlooked or the victim doesn’t realize what they’re experiencing fits the criteria for this issue. While physical injuries can heal enough to allow the victim to return to their life, PTSD is a lifetime affliction that negates quality of life all over again. PTSD can cause stress and/or anxiety so extreme it causes the victim to panic and the need to remove themselves from a situation immediately. This can result in feelings of isolation. Psychologists who specialize in PTSD can provide the emotional “tools” a victim can use during periods of extreme anxiety, and if necessary, prescribe medications on a case by case basis.
Flashbacks: Like PTSD in a way that panic and anxiety may occur, flashbacks occur and can constantly remind an accident victim of the trauma they experienced. This can be exacerbated if the victim has suffered any kind of disfigurement such as burns, scars, or amputations. Flashbacks can be triggered by events most of us wouldn’t consider to be emotionally disturbing at all. A car or motorcycle whizzing by on the road may remind a TBI patient of their own accident, causing them to become fearful and refusing to take car rides, furthering feelings of isolation.
Depression: After an accident, there may be a long physical road to recovery health-wise. This means the victim may have been out of work for an extended period of time (or permanently unable to work). They also may have become so physically injured they’re unable to participate in much of anything at all including hobbies and time with family and friends. They may have also suffered great financial devastation due to lost wages and mounting medical bills. All of these things, along with physical injuries that cause pain, can lead to a state of depression for a victim.
One example of depression after an accident or medical malpractice is CRPS. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome after an accident is known as “the suicide disease” because patients are often unable to cope mentally with the physical pain suddenly placed upon them after living a full life prior to accident or medical error. Victims who become isolated due to extended hospital stays or the inability to go out and live life to the fullest may suffer bouts of depression when kept away from their friends and loved ones, further causing mental anguish.
What kind of help is there for accident victims who suffer symptoms of mental anguish?
An experienced lawyer knows, numbers on a check should never take priority over their client’s return to the best state of mental health possible after an accident. In order to provide a client suffering from mental anguish with the lifelong expenses of proper treatment: psychologists, therapists, and any medications prescribed to treat depression and anxiety, a lawyer may call in expert witnesses, and backed by Demonstrative Aids, be able to obtain the maximum amount of compensation for the client.
This compensation should not looked at as a “win” for its high (sometimes multimillion dollar) amount (an experienced lawyer has excellent ethics and does not consider the physical or mental pain of a victim to be a win under any circumstances). It’s looked at as a win for both lawyer and client because it can now begin to provide the necessary help to restore quality of life. Removing financial distress from the client’s life can also aid in easing some of their depression and feelings of isolation, because medical treatment once unavailable to them due to lack of financial means is now a possibility.