Many general commercial liability policies specifically exclude "mental anguish" claims on the grounds that they do not constitute "bodily injury." The liability coverage in automobile insurance policies usually includes "pain and suffering," whether physical or mental, but claims agents may view certain kinds of claims more favorably than others.
Mental Suffering After Injury
If your mental state is the consequence of injuries incurred in the auto accident, it's generally covered by auto insurance, according to "Making a Pain and Suffering Claim After a Car Accident," a Nolo Press website article. These claims are particularly compelling when the mental suffering is severe enough to have physical manifestations: crying bouts, intense mood swings, anger, sleep loss, appetite loss and sexual dysfunction.
Mental Suffering Without Injury
Sometimes, those who have not been physically injured in an auto accident will have mental problems afterward. Some symptoms of mental suffering without physical injury noted in the Nolo article include "mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, fear, anger, humiliation, anxiety, shock or embarrassment." In some cases, this kind of mental suffering may rise to the level of post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of PTSD often experience intense feelings of "fear, helplessness or horror" and can even have other physical symptoms triggered by stress, such as high blood pressure and asthma.
Trivial vs. Serious Accidents
Another Nolo Press article, "Mental and Emotional Injuries From a Car Wreck," notes that juries and insurance companies tend to accept claims of mental anguish provided that the claims are proportional to the accident. If, for instance, you claim severe mental distress following a minor fender-bender, insurance companies aren't "going to accept those claims (or compensate them)." On the other hand, if you were an uninjured passenger in a car that was totaled and the driver killed, insurance companies, although they may not agree that the amount you ask for is reasonable, will usually accept the claim of mental suffering.
Proving Mental Suffering
When your claim is for moderate mental suffering, your account of that suffering in front of a jury may be sufficient without further proof. However, your chances of winning a favorable settlement or court decision improve when you have evidence to back it up: documentation, witnesses -- such as friends or colleagues -- or opinions from mental health professionals. When you claim extreme suffering that falls under the category of medical diagnosis -- such as acute depression or PTSD -- your account alone will not be sufficient proof that you have a mental condition because, as a lay person, you're not legally qualified to provide medical opinions. You'll need a mental health professional to document or testify to your mental disorder.
Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.