Litigation Stress

Even More Stress: The Psychological Impact of Litigation

After getting injured in an accident – of any kind – it is a certainty that the injured person will experience stress. There is the stress that comes with getting appropriate medical care and treatment. If you are not able to return to work, there is the stress that is associated with being on a leave of absence, getting forms filled out by your doctor. If in a car accident, there is the added stress of dealing with your insurance company to repair or replace your vehicle, set up an accident benefits claim, and yet more paperwork.

If the accident-related injuries were caused by the negligence of another person, and you pursue legal action, then you will have the added stresses that come with being involved in litigation. Research has shown that involvement in legal proceedings can result in emotional and psychological harm to the litigant.[1] 

Specific terminology is used to describe the psychological impact of litigation. “Critogenic (law-caused) harm” is used to address the “intrinsic and often inescapable harms caused by the litigation process itself, even when the process is working exactly as it should”.[2] The term “litigation-response syndrome” is comprised of “complaints that arise solely from the experience of being personally involved in a lawsuit, rather than the events that precipitated the litigation”.[3] Researchers have noted that it is difficult to distinguish between the emotional impact caused by the original injury (or loss), and that caused by the litigation process, though a correlation has been documented between litigation, stress, injury and symptomatic complaints. The management of worker compensation and motor vehicle accident cases is often influenced by concerns of “litigation neurosis”, or the term often seen in insurer examination and defence medical legal reports, “malingering”.[4]

There are many aspects of the litigation process that cause an injured person increased stress, and often anxiety such as the need to have to repeat and relive the details of the accident, undergoing an examination under oath, and participate in assessments with numerous health care professionals. In addition, the delays in the process often add stress to the psychological burden litigants carry (personal injury claims often taken several years to resolve). The anxiety that is caused by participating in litigation can often impact a person’s daily mental, emotional and physical life, and can have a negative impact on their relationships with family and friends.[5]

The psychological impact of litigation is an unfortunate consequence of seeking the compensation deserved by the injured person. Knowledge of the psychological impact that litigation will have is an important factor to take into consideration when selecting a lawyer to represent you in the process. You want to retain a lawyer that you feel comfortable with – you will be sharing private and personal information with them. You also want to make sure that you have open and timely communication with your lawyer – they should be discussing the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and providing realistic and informed assessments of its outcome. Your lawyer should be one of the people that can assist in alleviating the stress and emotional impact that stems from involvement in litigation. 


[1] M Keet, H Heavin and S Sparrow, “Anticipating and Managing the Psychological Cost of Civil Litigation” (2017) 34 Windsor Y B Access Just 73-98.

[2] Ibid at 77.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid at 77-78.

[5] Ibid at 83-85.

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