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Suing for Emotional Distress in Your Tennessee Personal Injury Case

Accident injuries aren’t only physical, so it’s important to know how to document and claim emotional distress damages

After a car accident or other personal injury, victims often suffer damages that go beyond their physical injuries. Tennessee law recognizes a cause of action called "negligent infliction of emotional distress." An experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer at Gilreath & Associates can explain how emotional distress damages may apply to your case.

What is emotional distress?

Emotional distress can encompass physical symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and nightmares as well as psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression and PTSD. A fact finder (usually a jury) will consider how the symptoms have affected you in your daily life when making decisions regarding damages. They will likely consider whether not these symptoms began after your car accident.

It’s a good idea to explain to your treatment providers and your attorney how you feel that an accident has changed your daily life. Many people who were already suffering from anxiety or depression notice that their symptoms are much worse after an accident.

Proving emotional distress in your personal injury case

Emotional distress claims can be difficult to prove because similar to pain levels, emotions can seem subjective. If you have suffered emotional or psychological distress as a result of a car accident, it’s a good idea to seek treatment for your condition just as you would for a physical problem. A judge or jury can consider proof in the form of medical records and testimony from the plaintiff and their treating physicians. Testimony from a doctor who has treated you can help explain your diagnosis and symptoms to a jury.

Testimony from your primary care physician can also demonstrate how the accident affected you because your doctor can explain your condition before and after the accident. If you had never had psychological symptoms like those you have suffered due to the accident, expert testimony from a medical professional can clearly show how the psychological symptoms are connected to the incident.

Your attorney may offer testimony from close family members who can explain how the accident has affected you emotionally by discussing how you were before compared to after the accident. Tennessee allows spouses of accident victims to file a cause of action known as “loss of consortium,” which is for the loss of companionship of the spouse who was injured or killed. This type of claim can be filed by the spouse on their own, but it’s often filed in the accident victim's lawsuit which may name the spouse as a co-plaintiff.

Emotional distress is often related to physical injuries. A person who has experienced permanent disfigurement from facial scarring or the loss of a limb may experience emotional distress related to the physical injury. Severe pain can cause depression for many people. It’s a good idea to keep track of the mental and emotional symptoms you experience after an accident as well as your pain levels in case you need to testify about them later in front of a jury.

What damages can be recouped in an emotional distress claim?

Claims for damages in a lawsuit can encompass claims for future damages. If your doctors believe that a future treatment plan will be necessary to help you live with your condition and resolve symptoms, you can claim damages for future losses as well as medical bills which have already been incurred.

Sometimes emotional conditions affect your ability to work. If you have suffered nightmares, panic attacks or debilitating depression as a result of an accident, you may be able to file a claim for damages for emotional distress for lost wages as well as future lost wages.

Emotional distress claims in Tennessee courts

Emotional distress claims cannot be filed on the basis of property damage alone. Tennessee courts have rejected claims for emotional damages even where the plaintiff was involved in a serious car accident that caused substantial damage to his vehicle where there was no claim for damages based on injuries.

Tennessee tort reform laws have put a cap on the amount a plaintiff can claim for pain and suffering, including emotional damages. A plaintiff may only claim up to $750,000 for pain and suffering and up to $1,000,000 in cases of catastrophic loss or injury.

Plaintiffs also cannot recover damages if they are 50 percent or more liable for damages. Many states once barred recovery for plaintiffs who were found liable at all for their damages under a doctrine known as comparative fault. Current law does not bar recovery but allows a court to reduce a plaintiff's damages award by the percentage that he or she is found at fault for the incident.

If you have recently suffered emotional distress due to a personal injury, the experienced Tennessee accident attorneys at Gilreath & Associates are ready to help. Contact our Knoxville, Nashville or Memphis office for a free consultation today.

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