The mental consequences following accidents is often overlooked in compensation cases.
It's rarely spoken about.
Rarely reported in case studies.
And rarely claimed for.
But mental harm from an accident is so common. It can manifest itself in growing anxiety
Psychological injury (or mental harm) is reported in 30 percent of accidents involving motor vehicles.
In 2016, there were 6,888 claims for compensation following a car accident in Queensland.
No. of people who made a claim
No. of claimants with mental injury
That means, over 2,000 Queenslanders suffered mental harm following an accident. But only 19 percent of these people made a claim for their mental injuries....
Mental harm can manifest itself in many ways. This could include anxiety, depression, fear, difficulty concentrating. The list goes on...
Mental harm can also result in personality change. While a little obscure, it still warranted claim.
This played out in (Winters v Bishop & Anor  QSC 312), where a claim for mental harm following an accident was disputed.
Discover what the Courts decided.
Zoe* was just 27 years old when she was involved in an accident that changed her life forever.
As a successful planning manager with a background in town planning, Zoe and her husband had previously lived a social and financially comfortable life in Brisbane. They both worked hard in their careers, and enjoyed travelling when they had the chance. They both wanted to have a baby shortly.
One day, Zoe was walking into her work when she approached a pedestrian crossing outside. As she walked across it, she was suddenly struck by a vehicle and knocked to the ground.
Zoe suffered head and elbow injuries from the accident. She rushed to the Princess Alexandra Hospital with an acute brain injury. She suffered a seizure on arrival and had post-traumatic amnesia. CT scans confirm significant damage to multiple parts of Zoe’s brain.
The defendants (the driver at fault and his insurer) accepted that Zoe’s physical injuries were caused by the accident.
However, they did not accept that Zoe’s psychiatric injury – or at least the severity of it – was also caused by the accident.
Zoe took the matter to court. Here’s what the court considered.
Zoe's Psychiatric Injury
Zoe spent over 5 weeks in hospital as she received treated for her injuries. Unfortunately, Zoe’s amnesia stopped her from properly understanding her injuries.
In her mind, there was no need to be in hospital for that long. She became aggressive towards her husband, blaming him for keeping her there.
When she came home, she continued to feel “angry, erratic and out of control”. She also felt extremely tired, and had problems with short-term memory and the concept of time.
Zoe was no longer able to help around the house or do the things she used to, which made her frustrated. She started becoming aggressive, and even violent, towards her husband.
When they discussed having children, her husband told her he didn’t think she would be able to care for a baby anymore.
Their relationship continued to suffer, and they divorced just 2 years after the accident. Both agreed they would have still been married if it weren’t for the accident.
When Zoe returned to work (on a reduced basis), her lack of awareness of her injuries caused her to think she was completely ready. She wasn’t.
She was constantly exhausted. She couldn’t remember things. She struggled to comprehend paperwork. She couldn’t think of the words to have a normal conversation.
She had to make many, many lists because she was scared that she would forget something and make a terrible mistake.
Without meaning to, she was rude to her colleagues. She struggled to accept feedback, and interpreted it as criticism.
Less than 3 years after the accident, Zoe resigned.
She told the court she “did not feel like [she] was ever going to get the same type of job responsibility and enjoyment [she] had … before the accident”.
Zoe tried other jobs, but struggled to find anything she could do properly. She continued to perceive other employees as bullying her and being against her, and struggled with her duties required with her roles.
The Defendant's Argument
Zoe was examined by multiple psychiatric specialists. Two of those specialists had conflicting opinions.
One specialist believed that Zoe had suffered a personality change as a result of the brain injury sustained in the accident. The second specialist believed that Zoe’s personality change was actually an exacerbation of personality characteristics that she had before the accident.
The defendants relied on the second specialist’s opinion.
Was her personality change due to pre-existing traits?
Evidence from work
The court took evidence from Zoe’s employers before the accident, who suggested that she was a very intelligent and hard-working person…who could also be argumentative at times. One employer said that Zoe liked to get the last word, and would sometimes get aggressive.
The court compared this type of behaviour to Zoe’s behaviour after the accident. Ultimately, being argumentative and determined on some occasions was not the same as being rude, aggressive, defensive and overly sensitive all the time.
Evidence from home
The court also took evidence from Zoe’s family, and came to the same conclusion.
Ultimately, Zoe has suffered severe and sustained symptoms including poor memory, being angry and erratic, fatigue, aggression and violent behaviour, lack of motivation, impulse control issues, frequent headaches and an altered sense of smell and taste.
Zoe’s behaviour after the accident was far too different from her behaviour beforehand.
The court found that Zoe’s change in personality was a result of the accident.
Zoe received over $1.3 million in compensation. Her compensation included:
Accidents such as Zoe’s often cause psychiatric injuries. Whether the injured person is a driver, passenger, or pedestrian like Zoe; psychiatric conditions are a common consequence.
In fact, as many as 30% of people involved in motor vehicle accidents in some way suffer a psychological injury.
Despite that number, only 19.5% of claims for compensation include a claim for psychological injury.
Zoe’s case shows that psychiatric conditions caused by another person’s wrongdoing can be included in a claim for compensation.
If you find yourself struggling after an accident, physically or mentally, take action and seek the treatment you need.
If you have any questions about how to incorporate your psychological difficulties into a claim for compensation, our team of specialists at McInnes Wilson Lawyers can help.
* The names and narrative have been altered but the facts of the case in regards to payments, liability and the Judge's findings on the evidence are reported as written in the judgement.