Suing for Emotional Damage After a Car Crash

Can a Car Accident Cause Emotional Damage?

There are a wide variety of approaches to car accident lawsuits arising from emotional harm from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Claims for emotional damage after a car crash have historically invited additional evidentiary scrutiny by the courts because, arguably, these claims are easily made but difficult to verify.

In the past, claims for emotional damages have required an accompanying physical “impact” or some other verifiable external stimulus in order to proceed. However, the Missouri Supreme Court has recently allowed the recovery of damages in a car crash under uninsured motorist (UM) policies for emotional distress in cases even in which the insured has sustained no physical injury. The Supreme Court’s decision can be interpreted to allow coverage for only mental injuries following a car crash. See for example, DeRousse v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 298 S.W.3d 891 (Mo. banc 2009).

DeRousse was not physically injured and sought no medical treatment but she did suffer well-documented emotional and mental injuries. Following the car accident, DeRousse sought coverage for her mental injury under her State Farm Uninsured Motorist coverage. State Farm denied her claim and she sued to recover damages for emotional harm.

The trial court granted summary judgment for State Farm, finding UM coverage for “bodily injury” did not contemplate emotional and mental distress. The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, upheld the trial court’s summary judgment for State Farm.

Citing Lanigan v. Snowden, 938 S.W.2d 330 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997), DeRousse argued the trial court’s ruling for State Farm should be reversed because the court’s interpretation of her policy did not comply with the Missouri Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, Section 379.203.1, R.S.Mo. 2000. Section 379.203.1 requires auto liability insurers to provide UM coverage for “bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death” caused by the owners and operators of uninsured motor vehicles.

On appeal, however, the Eastern District ruled again in favor of State Farm and the matter was appealed for the final time to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed with both the trial court and Eastern District, siding with DeRousse.

State Farm conceded its policy language was not in compliance with Section 379.203.1 of the Missouri Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law. The Supreme Court held the statute’s broader language controlled.

Is Emotional Harm From a Car Accident Considered “Bodily Injury” Under the Law?

The Missouri Supreme Court concluded DeRousse’s mental injuries were compensable under the statute’s “sickness” or “disease” prongs. The Supreme Court reached essentially the same result as in Lanigan v. Snowden where the Western District found the policy’s “bodily injury” definition to be ambiguous because it was unclear whether “bodily” also modified “sickness or disease.”

It is yet unclear whether the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision will be limited to cases involving UM benefits or expanded to include third-party claims against the at-fault carrier’s bodily injury coverages. However, as the Missouri Supreme Court has now decided that the word “bodily” does not modify “sickness or disease,” attorneys now anticipate that claimants will now rely on the Court’s decision to seek coverage for mental and emotional harm, in the absence of any actual bodily injury, under other types of insurance policies as well.

What Should I Do If I’ve Suffered Emotional Damage From a Car Accident?

If you’ve been injured in an accident, whether it’s a physical injury or emotional distress, please contact Plaza Injury Law immediately. When an accident happens to you, the results can be devastating. As a Kansas City personal injury attorney, Donovan Dodrill will provide the experienced representation you need to successfully settle your claim.

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Posted October 26, 2020 by Plaza Injury Law
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