Emotional distress following a car accident can manifest in many ways. Some people experience a fear of vehicles, recurring nightmares about the accident that prohibit normal sleep, constant anxiety stemming from the accident, or depression as a result of injuries sustained.

If you have been injured in a car accident in South Dakota, then you may qualify to be compensated for emotional distress as part of the overall damages resulting from the incident. Read more to learn what emotional distress is, how to prove it in a personal injury case, and how compensation is determined.

Types of damages you can seek

If you have been in a car accident that was not your fault, you will want to receive monetary compensation, also known as “damages,” for any loss you suffered as a result. Some of those losses are easy to calculate, since as damage to your car, medical bills, or wages lost while you recovered from an injury.  Other problems caused by your car accident, though, may be harder to assign a dollar amount, like mental anguish, anxiety, or insomnia.

Since not all losses can be easily quantified, compensatory damages fall into two categories. Economic damages, which are also called “special damages,” are usually easier to calculate: they include things like medical care and property damage, the cost of which can be determined with bills and receipts. The other type of damages are non-economic or “general damages.” Pain and suffering falls into this category, as does emotional distress. The losses that are reflected in general damages are no less real; however, they are harder to quantify without an experienced car accident attorney.

What is emotional distress legally?

Damages for emotional distress are meant to compensate you for the mental suffering caused by the negligence of another person. A car accident can have significant psychological effects, and emotional distress may include anxiety, humiliation, torment, depression, and/or insomnia. What qualifies as emotional distress is subjective, since people may respond to very similar events in different ways. Mental anguish caused by an accident, including mental anguish that is likely to continue in the future, falls under the category of emotional distress.  

How do you prove emotional distress?

Providing evidence is an important part of demonstrating emotional distress. This includes relevant documentation and supporting evidence like medical records, doctor’s notes, and photographs. A medical professional may also be asked to testify regarding the psychological effects of your accident. A number of factors will be considered by a jury, including the intensity of your emotional distress, its duration, the underlying cause, and any relevant bodily injury that you have suffered.  

You will want to discuss any psychological symptoms that you are experiencing following your car accident with your lawyer, as well as how those symptoms are affecting your life. Your lawyer can help you determine if a claim for emotional distress would be appropriate in your situation, and how much you may be entitled to for your claim.  

How compensation for emotional distress is determined

There is no hard-and-fast rule for determining the value of general damages, including damages for emotional distress. The value will be determined by the facts of your specific case. Some people can shake off certain emotional disturbances, while others may experience mental anguish for years after an accident. The law also allows compensation for “loss of enjoyment of life,” so a person’s lifestyle before and after the sustained injury can help determine the amount of general damages.

General damages in South Dakota may be calculated using a “per diem” method. With this method, it is determined how many days, months, or years you suffered as a result of your accident, a dollar figure is assigned per day, and the two numbers are multiplied to arrive at a total.  An experienced car accident lawyer can provide you with an idea of how cases similar to yours have been decided, and estimate what value might be placed on your losses.

The amount of damages for emotional distress that you receive can also be affected depending on whether the accident was partially your fault.  Under South Dakota’s “comparative negligence” laws, as long as you are not more than slightly at fault, you can file a claim for damages; however, your overall compensation will be reduced in proportion to your degree of fault for the accident. For example, if it were determined that you sustained $10,000 worth of injuries, but you were 10% at fault for the accident, you would be entitled to recover $9,000.

Stand Alone Emotional Distress Claims

South Dakota also allows for claims of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED), which are stand alone claims for damages caused by another party intentionally, recklessly, or negligently.  

In order to prevail in a claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, you must show that the defendant engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct and the defendant intended to cause you severe emotional distress OR the defendant recklessly caused you severe emotional distress and you suffered an extreme disabling emotional response to the defendant’s conduct.  In cases of Intentional or Reckless Emotional Distress, there is no requirement that you suffer a physical manifestation.

To prevail on a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, you must show the defendant engaged in negligent acts, you suffered emotional distress, and that the defendant’s conduct was the cause of your distress.  Lastly, unlike Intentional and Reckless claims, you must that you suffered a physical manifestation of the distress.

These claims are related to, but distinct from pain and suffering, mental anguish, and damages resulting from the frustration related to car accidents, and similar personal injury claims.

For more information

Emotional distress can be a real part of a personal injury case, so you should take it seriously as a compensable part of your injury claim. For more information, contact Turbak Law Office at (866) 231-0914 to schedule an appointment with a lawyer.