Compensating for the Emotional and Psychological Impact of Scar, Burn, and/or Disfigurement Injuries

By Roger Foisy on July 17th, 2014

Scar, burn, and disfigurement injuries are different from other types of injuries that I, as a personal injury lawyer in Ontario, help clients receive compensation for. My clients with these kinds of injuries experience psychological and emotional difficulties that are very distinct and do not materialize in the same was as in other cases.

It is important for the injured person to understand these psychological and emotional impacts, and to know that their feelings are valid and normal.

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How Do Scars, Burns, and Disfigurements Happen?

The causes of these injuries are as widespread as there are ways to be injured. Scars can be caused by dog attacks or following a surgery due to a fracture. Burns can be caused in house fires or air bags deployed in a car accident. Disfigurements can be caused by machine entanglement or crush injuries following a slip and fall.

However, it is rare to see a scar, burn, or disfigurement injury without another type injury accompanying it. I would estimate that in 80-90% of the personal injury cases I handle where clients suffer from burns, scars, or disfigurements, they also have other injuries.

For example, motor vehicle collision victims may suffer from scars or burns, but they will often have fractures, back injuries, or internal injuries (and so on).

In this situation, the healthcare professionals and rehabilitation specialists deal with the person’s immediate injuries first; yet once the other injuries have healed, the person is left with the scar, burn, or disfigurement as a constant reminder of their trauma.

Whether due to a dog bite or a car accident, the ever-present reminder of the incident has a real psychological effect. If the accident was traumatic, the victim may suffer from flashbacks. In cases where others were involved with the accident, the marks can serve as reminders of the loss of loved ones.

What is the Physical Impact?

Initially, scars, burns, and disfigurements will be painful; however, they usually go on to heal without physical complications. That said, the process of healing can lead to extra sensitivity to pain that many people do not expect. Scars, for example, can be itchy, painful, and tender.

What is the Psychological and Emotional Impact?

The real issue of concern is the subjective element – the psychological and emotional injury. The impact will be different for each person.

As mentioned, the marks serve as a constant reminder of the traumatic experience. Some people develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or depression following a serious accident. PTSD is common with scars, burns, and disfigurements. The injury is a reminder of the pain, fear, and suffering every time the person looks in the mirror. Regardless of a person’s internal strength, this wears down emotional defenses over time. Burns in particular seem to have a large emotional response.

If the mark is in a visible location, particularly on the face, many people ask the victim about it. This elicits painful conversation topics and forces the person to repeatedly relive the incident.

Furthermore, it can impact the person’s sense of self-worth, as most of us take pride in our appearance.

Am I Being Vain?

Many of my clients with scars, burns, or disfigurements are deeply bothered by their marks, but are worried about seeming vain. Women tend to be more open about the emotional effect the scars are having on them; men are also impacted, but they can be reluctant to reveal their distress or to break down in front of another person about something “superficial” like a scar.

Scars anywhere on the body, but particularly in visible locations (such as the face or arms) cause emotional distress – not only because they serve as reminders of the accident, but also because the person may feel their body has been marred.

It is normal for us to take pride in our appearance, and understandably, most people want to present themselves attractively.  My clients are often embarrassed to talk about the way they feel the scar makes them look, because in the back of their minds they are concerned that others will think they are vain.

Based on my experience with clients I know that it is not a matter of being vain, although it may be difficult for others to understand the true psychological impact of having a visible scar. I find that even in my first meeting with my clients in this situation, I can easily see the emotional impact that the injury is having on them. It is not trivial.

How Can I Seek Compensation for Burns, Scars, and Disfigurements?

This will depend on how you received the injury.

For motor vehicle accidents, you will automatically pass the threshold under the automobile legislation, allowing you to sue for pain and suffering, if you are able to prove a serious disfigurement. The “serious” component can depend on how the injured person responds to their new situation. This is where the emotional and psychological impact becomes relevant, in motor vehicle collision cases.

In other cases, unlike the Insurance Act for motor vehicle accidents, there is no threshold to be met. In these cases, injured victims will have to demonstrate how their burn, scar, and/or disfigurement has impacted their lives.

Nevertheless, if you have emotional trauma, you can seek compensation for it. Emotional trauma may prevent you from carrying on with the activities of your daily life, including work, housework, maintaining social connections, parenting, properly taking care of yourself, and so on. Clients suffering from PTSD, depression, or other psychological complications as a result of their accident and injuries have a solid case for seeking compensation.

Your inability to return to work or to carry out housekeeping duties are pecuniary (monetary) losses that can be claimed.

You can also claim non-pecuniary losses which consist of losses not quantifiable by money. These can include issues such as difficulties engaging in social interaction, feeling less attractive to your spouse, distraction from the enjoyment of life, and so on.

Furthermore, many people with scar, burn, and disfigurement injuries want to undergo surgical, dermatological procedures to minimize the appearance of their scars. These procedures are typically considered to be cosmetic and therefore are  not covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) or typical benefits plans. They can also be expensive. With the help of a lawyer, you can claim the cosmetic procedure as a general damage, out-of-pocket expense. This can help you afford the correctional surgery.

Scar, burn, and disfigurement injuries can create ongoing psychological and emotional distress which can interfere with your ability to engage in the regular activities of daily living. A lawyer who understands the psychological and emotional impact of the injury on your life will be instrumental in helping you receive a fair settlement.

>> If you have sustained a scar, burn, or disfigurement injury at another party’s fault, please do not hesitate to contact me and my team of experienced Ontario personal injury lawyers for a free consultation.

*Roger R. Foisy is not a medical professional. The advice in this blog is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice.

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