- If you feel ongoing emotional stresses and disorder, it could be a psychological injury
- It is different to an upsetting event, it must be a persistent disorder
- Employers have a duty of care to every employee
What does psychological injury mean?
A psychological injury, also called a psychiatric injury, doesn’t mean having a distressing emotional reaction to an accident at work. You can’t claim personal injury just because an event upset you, or an accident was frightening at the time. If emotional distress persists however, and you start to be unduly affected by anxiety, low mood, or the like as a direct result of another party’s negligence then you will have the right to make a PI claim. Psychological injury in PI law is basically tantamount to developing a mental health problem of any severity as a result of another party’s action or inaction.
What’s the definition of psychological injury?
The definition of personal injury extends to psychological and emotional injury as well as physical injury and this means you can make a personal injury claim if you suffer emotional or mental injury as a direct result of another party’s negligence. Since a mental health problem is a very different thing from a broken arm, it’s appropriate to clarify exactly what constitutes psychological injury, and what common contexts individuals have the right to make a personal injury claim relating to psychological harm in.
What are examples of psychological injury conditions?
Common conditions that can count as psychological injury include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Other anxiety disorders
- Other mood disorders such as fear/phobia or adjustment
In many cases, a physical trauma such as a traumatic brain injury can have a knock-on effect resulting in harm to psychological functions and processes.
It’s entirely possible to suffer a psychological injury without a physical injury, too.
What are the symptoms of psychological injury?
Since there are several types of conditions that may be interpreted as a psychological injury, there is no single list of symptoms. However, it’s useful to consider some of the common conditions that we see, and recap their symptoms:
- Common PTSD symptoms
- Reliving the event through nightmares and flashbacks
- Emotional avoidance of memory triggers concerning the events, including people and places
- Avoidance of talking about the event
- Feelings of acute anxiety and not being able to relax
- Anxiety disorder symptoms
- Sleeping difficulties
- Feelings of worry or restlessness
- Physical sensations like heart palpitations or dizziness
- Depression symptoms
- Feeling persistently low in mood
- Having no motivation or interest in anything
- Feeling tearful or irritable
- Disturbed sleep
What can cause psychological injury?
Any kind of traumatic event can cause a psychological injury – given that everyone’s situation and emotional responses are different, it’s quite hard to rule out any given scenario from causing a psychological injury.
However, common causes are often road traffic accidents – whether this is in a car or in a mass accident on public transport. Slips and falls, accidents at work, a psychological response to chronic physical pain or body scarring can also result in life-changing emotional or mental harm.
Road traffic accidents and workplace accidents are, by their nature, sudden and shocking one-off events – so they can cause more dramatic mental harm, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
How is psychological injury diagnosed?
Usually by a trained psychiatrist performing a clinical assessment and a range of psychometric tests to reach a diagnosis of psychiatric disorder. However, a disorder does not necessarily constitute a psychological injury in itself: just because you have been diagnosed with a mental condition, this does not mean you have suffered an injury. All a psychiatrist can really assess is whether or not someone has a mental disorder – it is then up to the court to decide whether this disorder constitutes an injury, and then whether it was caused by another party’s negligence or inaction.
How is psychological injury proven?
For the purposes of personal injury claims, the courts decide that a psychiatric injury has occurred when a particular set of psychological symptoms constitute a recognised diagnosis, as set out in two specific medical classification/diagnostic tools. These are:
- the DSM-IV-TR: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, of the American Psychiatric Association
- the International Classification of Diseases (ICD10) of the World Health Organization.
For psychological injury to be proven, there are several factors that need to be considered:
- The integrity of the standard clinical psychiatric assessment, including the quality of the medical notes and the report concerning the interview with the patient, whether the medical records support the account provided by the patient, and how co-operative the patient is while being assessed.
- The patient’s credibility, including any discrepancies and inconsistencies.
Credibility is a key principle here. One of the greatest problems with diagnosing psychological injury is the issue of ‘malingering’ – which means a patient faking or exaggerating symptoms that they know make up the ‘checklist’ for a particular psychological diagnosis. For this reason, qualified and highly trained psychiatrists and psychologists need to make a stringent clinical assessment and in many cases, perform ‘validity testing’ on both the symptoms and the ‘effort’ put into the tests, to see whether someone’s responses are genuine.
Who can claim for psychological injury?
To have a case for a claim, generally your involvement in an incident would have to fall into one of two categories:
1. Primary victim:
You were directly involved in the incident and suffered harm (mental and/or physical) as a result of someone else’s breach of duty.
2. Secondary victim:
You unwillingly witnessed a serious injury to someone else (or their death) and suffered psychological injury as a result, and you satisfy these criteria:
- You have a close tie of love and affection with the person who was injured (usually this must be as a parent, child, spouse or fiancé)
- You were physically present at the time and location of the accident
- You developed nervous shock as a result of seeing or hearing the incident – not from being told about it at a later date or seeing it on TV
What is the psychological injury risk indicator scale?
The psychological injury risk indicator (PIRI) scale is a measure used to identify the existence and level of a psychological injury.
What about pre-existing mental conditions?
Where you already have a current psychological condition (such as depression or anxiety), in order to claim compensation for a psychological injury it must be proven that this existing condition has worsened as a direct result of the incident concerned, or that you have developed new conditions that would not have naturally occurred without the incident.
What’s a typical scenario where making a PI claim would be appropriate?
Psychological injury is a genuine problem and if you think you might be suffering from any form a psychological injury which might be caused by another’s negligence then get in contact with us today for a free home visit to talk about your case.
Other useful resources:
- A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Personal Injury Claim
- How Personal Injury Compensation is Calculated
- Serious Injury FAQs
- Accidents at Work FAQs
- Road Traffic Accidents FAQs
- Fatal Accidents: Who Can Claim and What Can Be Claimed?
- The Role Of Personal Injury Lawyers In Psychological Effects From RTAs
- Your Complete Guide to Accidents in the Workplace
- Responsibilities of Employers to Protect People in the Workplace