Can You Sue for Emotional Distress?

Regardless of their severity, accidents may cause not just physical injury but mental anguish as well. In personal injury cases, victims or their family members often seek compensation for both they endured during the incident. However, feeling sad or distressed for a little while does not necessarily equate to mental anguish or emotional distress. 

Under personal injury laws, emotional distress results from victims’ grief, fright, humiliation, and stress after an injury-inducing accident. The condition must meet specific criteria to qualify as emotional distress, like being of medical significance and affecting basic activities. In most cases, there must also be an accompanying physical injury. 

However, emotional distress can be challenging to prove and quantify, unlike tangible physical injuries. As such, suing for emotional distress can be frustrating at best and confusing at worst. 

When successful, claimants for emotional distress have various compensation options, depending on several factors. Among these are the cause of mental anguish, the insurance company, and sometimes the location of the incident. Finding an experienced personal injury lawyer to walk you through the intricacies of an emotional distress claim is imperative.

Key Takeaways
  • A traumatic accident can cause long-term emotional distress.
  • While suing for emotional distress is possible, the process is more complex since it’s much harder to quantify.
  • A personal injury lawyer helps victims recover fair compensation for emotional distress claims.

Understanding Emotional Distress

Emotional distress, in essence, is mental suffering. Its legal connotations vary, especially the language used from state to state. But generally, it is defined as mental anguish brought about by someone else’s actions – either on purpose or accidentally.

Victims of car accidents may experience mental distress that manifests in various ways. The symptoms of emotional distress include the following:

  • Inconsistent eating or sleeping habits
  • Reduced energy
  • High levels of stress and anxiety
  • Suicidal ideations

Two Types of Emotional Distress Claims

You have legal options if you believe you are suffering emotional distress due to a negligent accident. Some states require claimants to tie emotional pain to physical injuries, but not all.

Seeking emotional distress damages despite the lack of physical pain is possible. Take California courts, for instance. They have allowed anyone directly affected but not physically injured in a negligent cause of action to sue the at-fault party for emotional distress. However, depending on your state’s personal injury laws, it is often more challenging.

The courts recognize two main types of emotional distress claims. The basis may be intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) or negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). NIED has a higher threshold of proof in court. Each type has distinct elements, explained in more detail below.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED)

IIED happens when a person intentionally or recklessly inflicts severe emotional harm, mental trauma, or physical injury to another. A victim may recover damages for emotional and physical harm caused by the act. 

However, the tort does not require the establishment of bodily injury, making IIED easier to prove in court. Victims can establish IIED cases with the following: 

  • Reckless disregard: The defendant was intentional and reckless in their actions.
  • Outrageous conduct: The defendant exhibited extreme and outrageous behavior.
  • Severe emotional stress: The defendant’s actions caused the plaintiff severe emotional distress.

Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED)

On the other hand, NIED occurs when a person suffers emotional distress because of another’s negligent behavior. More often than not, the court acknowledges that emotional trauma in NIED cases is secondary to physical harm. The plaintiff must prove their injuries are related to their trauma to be awarded compensation for damages. 

Exceptions to the rule apply, especially those in the “zone of danger” but escaped imminent physical harm. Those who witnessed a loved one suffer a traumatic event would also be exempt from presenting proof of physical injuries.

The claimant must establish the following elements in an NIED lawsuit:

  • Negligence: There was no intention to cause emotional distress, but it occurred due to the negligence of the perpetrator.
  • Psychological Trauma: The victim suffered severe psychological trauma.
  • Foreseeability: The act committed had a high probability of causing emotional distress for the victim.
  • Zone of danger: The victim was “in the zone” of imminent danger.
  • Impact rule: The claimant suffered physical harm caused by the emotional trauma sustained in the incident.

How can you file an emotional distress claim?

Suing someone for emotional distress lawsuits requires numerous stages. Ultimately, knowing how the process works can help you get the best chances of recovering damages for emotional distress.

Document emotional distress

Unlike physical injury claims, emotional harm is challenging to prove in personal injury cases. That is why claimants need to document what they are going through each day properly.

Keeping a journal, listing what is occurring daily, and extensively describing one’s emotions, concerns, and unusual behavior may be helpful documentation. Presenting relevant medical records and workplace performance evaluations can also be substantial evidence to prove a personal injury claim for emotional distress.

Consult with an attorney

A crucial step to pursuing challenging cases like emotional distress is reaching out to a personal injury lawyer. A lawyer with the right expertise can guide the plaintiff through filing an emotional distress claim.

The Personal Injury Center has a comprehensive list of lawyers you can contact for legal advice. Request a free consultation to find a lawyer to discuss the essential facts of the case as soon as possible. The lawyer can go over the different approaches to seeking emotional distress damages.

File the emotional distress lawsuit

After selecting a lawyer according to your preferences, you can file an emotional distress lawsuit. In most cases, a statute of limitations restricts the time allowed to take legal action. 

Your lawyer will ensure that you stay within the timeframe for your case, which varies from state to state. Most states allow victims two years to file personal injury claims. Still, it would be best to check state legislation.

Prepare for pre-trial

After serving the other party with the lawsuit, the pre-trial process begins with sharing information with the other party. This includes exchanging eyewitness statements and expert witnesses, relevant documentation, and other evidence to help your court case. It is also possible for the defendant to make an offer to settle the case to prevent a trial.

Accept a settlement or go to trial

Suppose the other party has made an offer to settle. In that case, you can accept the settlement unless you get a lowball offer. If the settlement amount is insufficient for the mental anguish that you went through, you can opt to proceed with a trial.

Consult your lawyer when choosing between the two options. They have the expertise to determine the most rewarding approach for your case. Their goal is to fight for fair compensation for your emotional distress claim.

Essential Evidence for an Emotional Distress Lawsuit

Proving emotional distress in a legal environment is more complicated than simply saying the other party hurt your feelings. You must understand the documentation you can present to the court and the jury to get the best possible outcome. The critical evidence you need to obtain damages for emotional distress includes the following:

  • Physical injuries: Identify physical injuries and provide relevant documentation that proves a direct relationship between the incident and the injuries.
  • Length of time: The length of time you have been experiencing pain and suffering plays a significant role in the case’s outcome. Courts may find your claim more credible if you have experienced emotional distress for an extended time.
  • Medical reports: Seeing a doctor or therapist that can help outline what you have been going through and relate it to the incident will be instrumental evidence for the court.

Testimonials: Statements from third parties, including family, friends, and work colleagues, will help the court analyze how the incident directly impacted your life.

Pro Tip

Working with a doctor specializing in assisting trauma victims can provide valuable evidence for your claim. They are in a unique position to document your emotional pain effectively.

Connect with the Right Personal Injury Lawyer for Your Emotional Distress

Knowing the basics of an emotional distress lawsuit is the first step in recovering mental anguish and trauma damages. Understanding the stages of filing a claim and the evidence needed to support your case is critical.

The next step is to seek qualified legal guidance for compensation for mental anguish caused by a third party’s actions.

Helping you find the best lawyer suited to your needs is what we do best. The Personal Injury Center has the resources to help accident victims achieve the best possible outcome and fair compensation for an emotional distress case.

Get the best legal advice for your emotional distress. Reach out to The Personal Injury Center to find the lawyer for your case.

FAQs on Can You Sue for Emotional Distress?

In most cases, you can sue for damages two to five times the economic damages of your injuries. For example, if your medical treatment costs you $1,000, you can ask the court for $2,000 to $5,000 for non-economic damages. 

The jury may decide to award what you ask, or they may choose to give less or more. However, most states have a cap on the amount a personal injury victim can recover from pain and suffering. California, for instance, has a cap of $250,000. Even if a jury decides your pain and suffering warrants a $1 million award, you will only get $250,000.

Yes, you can if your employer causes emotional distress or does nothing to alleviate it despite repeated requests for help. In that case, you can file a personal injury lawsuit.

Federal and state regulations typically require employers to provide workers with a safe work environment. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission directs employers to ensure reasonable accommodations for employees with mental conditions. These accommodations may include changing a worker's shift around scheduled therapy.

Victims can sue someone for emotional distress in various situations. These include the following:

  • Medical malpractice: A physician can be held liable for performing treatments or procedures that are not appropriate for the situation.
  • Witnessing a wrongful death: Suffering emotional trauma after watching a family member lose their life because of someone's negligent or reckless behavior can be considered grounds for emotional distress.
  • Nursing home abuse: A victim can recover compensation if they directly experienced or witnessed someone suffering from emotional trauma or physical abuse
  • Wrongful arrest: Victims can file a personal injury lawsuit for experiencing trauma from a violent experience involving the police in an illegal arrest.