Can I Get Compensation for Emotional Harm After a Car Accident?

Most people who are injured in an automobile accident know they’re entitled to recover compensation from a negligent driver their physical injuries. However, anyone who has suffered serious personal injury in an automobile accident understands that emotional damage and loss of enjoyment of life can be just as traumatic as their physical injury, and sometimes can last much longer. Fortunately, over time society has become more accepting of damages for emotional and other “noneconomic” forms of loss. This is only fair, given that our laws intend to hold wrongdoers responsible for all consequences resulting from their actions to make victims “whole.” Oregon law recognizes these important noneconomic damages, and individuals through their lawyers can pursue and recover compensation for them.

Recoverable Damages in Oregon

Oregon law categorizes damages as “economic” and “noneconomic.” Economic damages are monetary losses that can be objectively verified. Medical bills, hospital bills, nursing bills, rehabilitative services costs, lost wages, and past and future impairment of earning capacity are some typical types of economic damages. Economic damages are sometimes easier to recover because they’re easier to understand and prove. A jury or an insurance adjuster can look at a hospital bill or a doctor’s bill and easily quantify the loss. An x-ray of a broken bone is simple to present and easy for a jury to understand.

Noneconomic damages, on the other hand, are subjective in nature. While not an exhaustive list, noneconomic damages can include: mental suffering, pain, loss of consortium, emotional distress, loss of companionship, and inconvenience and interference with normal and usual activities. However, proving non-economic damages can be more challenging. For example, what is a fair recovery for a person who is badly injured in an accident and suffers excruciating pain on a daily basis? Or how do you quantify the emotional harm to a person who re-lives an accident over and over through nightmares?

Similarly, injury victims often suffer changes to their lifestyles as a result of their injuries. Perhaps an individual who played golf or tennis weekly can no longer play. Or maybe a parent or grandparent can no longer lift a young child or grandchild due to their injuries. It is difficult to measure such a fundamental loss of enjoyment in life.

Because these types of damages are subjective by definition, a jury often must determine how much to award. Even in a jury trial the jurors are not provided with a fixed standard to measure the damages. The law simply requires that the jurors use their “considered judgment” and that any damages awarded must be reasonable and compensation the individual for their entire loss.

Pursuing and Proving Emotional Damages and Loss of Enjoyment

Anyone that has been harmed or injured in an automobile accident as the result of another driver’s negligence, has a right under Oregon law to be compensated for the harm caused.  This includes all noneconomic damages someone may have suffered.

Here are some steps you can take to help prove the extent of your noneconomic damages:

  • First and foremost, talk to an attorney as soon as possible. Any experienced personal injury lawyers will have evaluated thousands of cases containing noneconomic damages.  Lawyers focused in this area of law can give you advice, help you assess the situation, and discuss the best way to document your damages;
  • Inform your attorney or insurance adjuster of any psychological counseling or other mental treatment you have received as a result of the accident;
  • Keep a list of all the things you enjoyed doing before the accident, which you can no longer do, or for which you now have limitations;
  • Keep a diary that will allow you to later review and recall your difficult emotional feelings and experiences related to the accident and injuries arising from the accident.

When deciding how to express your feelings in a journal, remember that anything you write down may be disclosed to the opposing party and eventually a jury.   As a result, it’s best to keep your personal diary separate from the diary meant to record your experiences and struggles from the collision.  In some instances, if a lawyer asks you to write things down, the document may be protected by the attorney-client privilege. It’s important to discuss this issue with your lawyer. 

Limitations on Recovering Noneconomic Damages Arising from a Motor Vehicle Accident

A plaintiff may not recover noneconomic damages in a personal injury action arising from a motor vehicle accident in the following circumstances:

  • The plaintiff was driving under the influence of alcohol as defined by Oregon law; or
  • The plaintiff was an uninsured driver as defined by Oregon law.

However, even if you believe that you are subject to these limitations on liability, there are exceptions. For example, if the other driver was uninsured or driving under the influence, the limitation on liability wouldn’t apply. There are other exceptions recognized by the law. Therefore, consult with an attorney before drawing any final conclusions. Our lawyers are well-versed in the complexities of these laws and can help you evaluate your claim.

Contact an Attorney

The attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield specialize in personal injury law. We help individuals recover the full value of their insurance claims, including compensation for emotional damage and loss of enjoyment, by holding responsible the wrongdoer who caused the harm. We are a selective law firm and evaluate many factors when deciding to take a case, such as: the nature of the accident and injuries, medical records, psychological records, disability, pain, disfigurement, permanence of injury, credibility of witnesses, and changes to or interference with someone’s daily life.  If you have questions, or would like to consult with an attorney who specializes in automobile accident cases, please call or fill out a form for a free consultation. 


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