Claiming Compensation For Psychological Injuries

Even though the term injury is defined as “an instance of being injured, damage to a person’s feelings” the vast majority of people would only recognise the description of a physical injury. The legal system is very different and as much emphasis is placed on psychological/ mental injury as physical injury. While it is perhaps no surprise to learn that the vast majority of personal injury claims are for physical injuries there would appear to be many negligent third parties escaping their legal obligations where psychological injuries occur.

Those who have suffered from psychological issues, whether or not as a consequence of negligent third parties, will know they can be as life changing as physical injuries.

Defining Psychological Injury

In the world of personal injury claims the process of claiming for psychological injury is exactly the same as claiming for a physical injury. In order to pursue a claim for mental injury this must have been caused by a traumatic incident which was the fault of a negligent third party. Very often we will see physical and psychological injuries wrapped up in the same claim but many people are under the misapprehension that claiming for psychological injuries alone is not permissible.

It is worth noting that when pursuing psychological personal injury claims there is a three-year period of limitations in which any claim must be lodged. The situation is slightly different where children are involved and can be extended by the courts.

Common Causes Of Psychological Injuries

In reality psychological injuries can be caused by an array of different incidents but perhaps the most common relate to car accidents, criminal activity and acts of violence. These can result in an array of life changing conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder which are often underestimated. Just because there is no physical injury, such as a broken arm, this does not mean that a psychological injury cannot be life changing, as sufferers will confirm.

While all of the above conditions can be brought on after witnessing a traumatic event, anxiety is one of the more common injuries. If for example you had an incident while riding your pushbike, such as a near miss with a vehicle due to the negligence of a third party, this could bring on anxiety and perhaps impact your ability to be mobile and even travel to work. While it is up to the medical profession to diagnose such symptoms and the underlying cause, this is not as difficult as many people assume. Just because an issue is seen as psychological does not mean it cannot bring on a physical reactions such as increased heart rate and sweating which are common with anxiety.

Primary And Secondary Victims

In perhaps another example of the need to educate the wider public about the legal framework regarding psychological injuries, many people are unaware that both primary and secondary victims (in some instances) are able to claim for psychological injury. Any injuries must obviously be directly associated with a traumatic event where negligence was involved.

Primary Victims

As we touched on above, while the vast majority of personal injury claims involving psychological injury may also involve physical injuries, this is not always the case. The primary victim are those who are directly involved in the incident which brought about psychological trauma as a result of negligence. Sometimes the threat of injury, as we touched on above with the near miss with a vehicle, can be as damaging psychologically in the longer term as a physical injury.

Secondary Victims

The guidelines regarding injury claims by secondary victims are a little tighter and there are various criteria which must be met:-

  • Where a claim is pursued because of a psychological reaction to witnessing a serious accident or near miss the secondary victim must have a “close tie of love and affection” with the primary victim. In layman’s terms this would be a parent, child, partner or spouse involved in an actual injury or near miss.
  • The secondary victim must have witnessed the actual incident, or the immediate aftermath, in order to pursue a claim. They cannot pursue a claim for psychological damage after hearing of the incident as they have to be physically present when it occurred.
  • There is a chain of events for secondary victim claims with the most obvious being a successful prosecution for third-party negligence by the primary victim. At this point secondary claims can be lodged although they would obviously need their own supporting evidence.

Symptoms Of Psychological Injury

There are many different types of psychological injury which can be brought on by third-party negligence. These include sleep deprivation, high levels of anxiety, depression, mood swings, and change in personality as well as physical effects such as heart palpitations, trembling, extreme headaches and dizziness. At this point it is worth noting you can only claim for an existing psychological condition where this has been “substantially worsened” as a result of the traumatic incident in question. This may sound difficult to prove but the medical profession will be able to assist.

Compensation Levels For Psychological Injury

As with any personal injury claim, whether physical or psychological, the amount of compensation awarded in any successful claim will depend upon the severity of the injury and the impact on a person’s everyday life. In common with physical injuries, a successful psychological injury claim could result in compensation covering loss of earnings as well as medical treatment/ advice paid for outside of the NHS. Historically the severity of psychological injuries tends to fall within one of five different groups which include:-

  • Severe psychological issues which have impacted a claimants working and private life. Unfortunately there are some psychological issues which are difficult to treat with limited success even in the longer term. While the guidelines can change, historically compensation for this degree of injury varies between £39,000 and £83,000.
  • So-called “moderately severe psychological trauma” is more treatable by the medical profession although would still likely leave lasting psychological scars on a person’s life and personality. In this instance claims have historically varied between £13,000 and £39,000 although nothing is set in stone.
  • Psychological injuries where there is reason for hope in the longer term and an encouraging prognosis are referred to as “moderate psychological trauma”. While they may still have an impact upon the claimant’s life, the effect is generally moderate. Traditionally compensation payments of between £4200 and £13,000 have been achieved.
  • Incidents which result in a less severe degree of psychological trauma and no long-term impact upon a person’s life tend to attract compensation awards of between £1000 and £4200.
    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a whole different issue in its own right. PTSD can be brought on by many different traumatic events and compensation could range from just a couple of thousand pounds into the tens of thousands of pounds.

Assessing Your Psychological Injury Claim

It is vitally important to recognise that a psychological injury can impact a person’s life as much as, and on occasion more than, a physical injury. The mind is an extremely powerful part of the human body and exposure to traumatic events can sometimes create long lasting damage. If you believe you have a valid claim for psychological injury brought on as a consequence of negligence by a third party you should approach a claims management company/adviser as soon as possible. They will look into your claim in more detail, gather evidence and advise you accordingly.

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