Can I Claim Emotional Distress After a Car Accident?

There is no question that many car accidents result in extreme emotional distress and trauma. However, changes in ICBC regulations as of April 1, 2019, now consider any type of mental health issue due to a motor vehicle accident a “minor injury.” That means any claim of emotional distress or psychological problems stemming from an accident is subject to a cap of $5,500 in damages. If your accident occurred prior to April 1, 2019, it falls under the previous regulations.

Disturbingly, that puts emotional distress in the same category as sprains, bruises, and “aches.” Just as worrisome is that concussions, which may cause psychological symptoms, are also considered minor under the new law. The ICBC does make exceptions, however, if emotional distress and related repercussions from the car crash persist for more than four months. At that point, the ICBC may consider them major injuries.

Psychological and emotional distress

Psychological and emotional distress covers a broad range of disorders and symptoms. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Flashbacks
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Insomnia
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Personality changes
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Most physicians agree that mild concussions and similar injuries generally resolve within three months. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury, but not as severely impairing or long-lasting as a standard TBI. If the patient is still symptomatic after four months, conditions may not improve further.  Multiple concussions can cause long-term brain injury, so let your doctor know if you have ever had a concussion before.

Some car accident victims may develop driving phobias, which affect their work and personal lives. Sometimes, a chronic pain issue may occur after an accident, and the individual feels the emotional effects long after the actual injury has healed. The connection between emotional distress and chronic pain exists but can be hard to prove.

Additional options

Even if a person suffers emotional distress over a car accident for less than the four-month limit, there are options available under the new ICBC regulations. Now, the ICBC will pay more money for medical treatment for such injuries, and permit those diagnosed with psychological issues to access services such as acupuncture, kinesiology, and massage therapy, for which the ICBC would previously not pay. Those affected may also avail themselves of counselling per the new rules.


Even if the symptoms are still ongoing four months post-accident, a psychological injury must render the victim incapacitated to qualify as a major. Incapacity might include the inability to go to work or attend school or go about normal daily life. The latter might include the inability to shop, clean the house, prepare meals, or take prescribed medication. Under the ICBC definition, incapacity refers to someone who can barely function, making it difficult for all but the most damaged people to qualify as having a major injury.

Seek prompt medical treatment

Often, a person is not apparently physically hurt in an accident, or at least not seriously so, but emotionally he or she is deeply distressed. If someone is already having difficulty coping psychologically, the car accident, or what they witnessed may prove to be the last straw. While it is vital to always seek prompt medical treatment after a car accident, it is also crucial to tell the doctor about any psychological issues that have developed pertaining to the collision.

If you decide to pursue a major injury claim, medical documentation of your psychological disorder or emotional distress will be necessary. Keep in mind the ICBC will look for any other possible causes of a psychological disorder to avoid paying additional compensation. That is why it is wise to seek legal counsel as soon as possible if serious emotional distress occurs post-accident.

Contact a Vancouver car accident lawyer

If you or a loved one suffered emotional or psychological distress after a car accident, and the symptoms remain long-term, the ICBC law firm at Preszler Injury Lawyers can help. Schedule a free consultation by calling 24/7 or contacting us online. We will review your case and let you know your options. Our lawyers have represented those injured because of another party’s negligence or recklessness since 1959, and our results speak for themselves.

Scroll to Top