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Can You Sue for Emotional Distress After a Car Accident in Virginia?

Driving is a basic part of daily life for most Virginians and their families. Regardless of how carefully you drive, you still face the prospect of another driver negligently causing an accident. So, can you sue for emotional distress after a car accident in Virginia? Thankfully, Virginia law allows you to collect damages for both physical and psychological trauma.

It is a much easier path when linking pain and suffering to car accidents that result in physical injuries. 

The Car Crash Experts at Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers are here to help you explore your legal rights and options. Call (757) 333-3333 or reach out online to schedule your free consultation.

What Does an Emotional Distress Claim Require in Virginia?

Under Virginia law, you can sue for emotional distress in negligence cases if you have an accompanying physical injury. In extreme cases, you may also be able to sue for emotional distress in accidents without accompanying physical injuries.

Ultimately, many factors will influence whether you sue for emotional distress after a car accident in Virginia, especially the severity and duration of your symptoms. For your claim to succeed, you will need a medical diagnosis verifying your condition and its impact on your life.

What Qualifies as Emotional Distress?

You may experience several types of emotional distress after a car accident. A common diagnosis after a motor vehicle crash is post-traumatic stress disorder. People with PTSD after a car accident may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms that make it difficult to go back to their regular work and social lives.

It is also normal to have driving anxiety after a car crash. You may experience amaxophobia, which is a fear of being in a vehicle. In less severe cases, people with amaxophobia may only be able to travel in a vehicle if someone they trust is driving. People with severe amaxophobia may be unable to get in any type of vehicle without having a panic attack. 

You may also experience other symptoms or conditions related to emotional distress after a car accident, including:

  • Dystychiphobia, which is a fear of any type of accident
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks
  • Detachment from your surroundings and others
  • Trouble focusing
  • Sleep problems
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal thoughts

What Qualifies as Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

“Intentional infliction of emotional distress” is a legal cause of action available when plaintiffs suffer psychological harm due to outrageous behavior on the part of the defendant. Though physical harm is not necessary, its concurrence may strengthen your IIED claim.

For example, you won’t have an IIED claim in most minor car accidents, such as fender benders. However, if an angry driver chased you before a fender bender, you feared for your life or that of others in your car, and you suffered subsequent emotional distress, you may have an IIED claim. Accidents with seriously impaired drivers may also result in IIED claims. 

The Virginia Supreme Court laid out a four-pronged test to determine if you can recover damages for IIED without showing physical injury. The elements include:

  1. The defendant’s conduct was reckless or intentional.
  2. The conduct was outrageous and intolerable, offending the generally accepted standards of morality and decency.
  3. The defendant’s conduct caused emotional distress.
  4. The distress was severe.

Every emotional distress case is unique, and your attorney must prove each of these four elements to win compensation. It can be difficult to prove that the defendant’s conduct was extreme enough to warrant damages without accompanying physical harm, but not impossible. Our knowledgeable and compassionate Virginia car accident lawyers understand the legal and factual complexities in IIED cases and, where possible, how to show that the defendant’s actions caused compensable psychological harm. 

How Do You Prove Emotional Distress?

Always get physical health care immediately following an accident. Do not ignore your mental health needs. You may experience the psychological effects of your crash immediately, or symptoms of emotional distress could show up days, weeks, or even months later. Consult a mental health expert as soon as you experience symptoms to learn how to cope with trauma after a car accident

A Doctor's Role in Proving Emotional Distress

You need evidence from a doctor proving you experienced emotional distress following an accident. That evidence must include a confirmed diagnosis of a condition such as PTSD, amaxophobia, or depressive disorder. Some of the factors contributing to proving emotional distress and affecting your damages include:

  • The intensity of your symptoms – Recurring nightmares, an inability to think about getting in a vehicle without panicking, and other signs of severe stress can help show that you deserve compensation.
  • The duration of your psychological harm – Your doctor can report how long you have experienced the symptoms of emotional distress and how long the effects may last.
  • Related physical injuries – You may also experience physical manifestations of your psychological harm, such as severe headaches or ulcers.
  • The circumstances of your accident – Photos and videos of the scene may shed light on what you experienced during the crash. People are sometimes lucky enough to walk away from horrific accidents without serious injuries but still suffer significant psychological harm.
  • The results on your life – Work records, statements from coworkers and families, and your own testimony can demonstrate how emotional distress caused your damages.

Proving an emotional distress claim can be difficult, especially if you have no accompanying signs of physical harm. You need an attorney with experience evaluating psychological trauma after a car accident and who understands the evidence needed to accurately and compellingly calculate damages for intangible harms.

Why Choose Cooper Hurley To Handle Your Car Accident Case?

We are a leading personal injury law firm in Virginia committed to defending the rights of accident victims throughout the state. We understand that the days, weeks, and months following an accident can be difficult. We offer top-tier service from our main office in Norfolk and multiple meeting locations around Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore of Virginia. If you can’t make it to us, we can schedule a visit at a time and location convenient to you. 

Our founding partner, John M. Cooper, is a native Virginian with over 30 years of experience. Our attorneys have been recognized by numerous respected legal publications and organizations, including:

  • Top Lawyers of Coastal Virginia
  • Top 100 Trial Lawyers
  • Super Lawyers
  • Lawyers of Distinction

Our case results include hundreds of millions of dollars collected for our clients. However, monetary compensation isn’t the only thing people may need after a car accident. You can use an online locator to find mental health treatment or reach out to trusted family and friends for recommendations.

Our Trusted and Empathetic Legal Team Can Help With Your Emotional Distress Case

If you need help pursuing damages for emotional distress after a car accident in Virginia, our award-winning law firm is ready to help. Schedule your free consultation by calling us at (757) 333-3333 or completing our online contact form. We will gather evidence, build the strongest case possible on your behalf, deal with auto insurers, and take your case to court, if necessary. Meanwhile, you can focus on recovering from your accident.

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