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Can You Sue For Emotional Abuse?
Everything You Need to Know

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Emotional abuse may not leave physical damages in the way a car accident does, but words can also cause real harm.  You have the right to seek justice from an abuser through the court system.

To sue for emotional and verbal abuse, you’ll need help from a lawyer.

Schmidt & Clark lawyers are experienced in helping emotional or verbal abuse victims get damages. Here’s everything you should know about suing for emotional abuse.

Summary of the Key Findings

  • The legal definition of emotional abuse is mental suffering experienced because of an accident, negligence, or another person’s intent.
  • To sue for abuse or an experienced traumatic event, you should find legal representation and collect necessary evidence.
  • Damages for emotional abuse can be civil (money) or criminal (restraining order).

What is Emotional Abuse?

Argument between two coupleEmotional distress, also known as psychological or mental abuse, is a form of abuse that refers to mental suffering a person experiences because of an accident, negligence, or intent.

There are many different types of emotional distress. Usually, one person is attacked by verbal harassment, which can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. 

“Mental suffering is an emotional response to an experience that arises from the effect or memory of a particular event, occurrence, pattern of events, or condition.

Emotional distress can usually be discerned from its symptoms (ex. Anxiety, depression, loss of ability to perform tasks or physical illness).” Cornell Legal Information Institute

 

Emotional distress can be followed by physical injury because of violence, violent threats, and sexual assault. It usually lasts over a long period and results in psychological trauma for the victim. It has other consequences as well, such as depression, fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, and more.

The most common forms of emotional abuse include:

  • Spousal abuse
  • Child abuse
  • Elder abuse
  • Stalking
  • Domestic violence
  • Nursing home abuse

The US law system recognizes emotional distress as a kind of damage, and you can file an emotional distress lawsuit. Moreover, according to some domestic violence laws, it’s obligatory to report emotional abuse.

The Process of Suing for Emotional Abuse

Gavel with family cutouts

Here’s what you should do when suing for severe emotional distress:

  • Document your emotional trauma — Collect anything that could back up your case, such as medical and work records, personal journal entries, and more. The more evidence you obtain, the higher your chance of winning the case.
  • Consult an attorney — A personal injury attorney will review all of your documents and advise you on the next steps. An attorney will also know the statute of limitations in your state for personal injury claims.
  • Build the case — A family law attorney will help you consult with an expert to assess the extent of emotional damages, collect statements from eyewitnesses, family members, doctors, and more.
  • File a personal injury claim — An attorney will file emotional distress lawsuits on your behalf.
  • Discovery process — Both sides will exchange information and try to agree on a settlement.
  • Go to trial — If you don’t agree on a settlement, the case goes to trial, where a judge and jury decide on the outcome.

Two Types of Emotional Distress Claims

Close up image couple crying

Emotional distress claims come in two forms. What kind of emotional distress claim you can file depends on the emotional abuse you experienced:

  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) — This type of distress happens when the other person causes you mental anguish unintentionally. For this kind of claim, you don’t necessarily need to experience physical harm or emotional pain. As long as you were in the zone of danger, you have cause for a claim. This includes drunk driving, medical malpractice, car accidents, and more.
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) — It occurs when the other person intentionally inflicts physical and emotional pain. For example, this can include workplace harassment, sexual abuse, employer discrimination, and more.

Related Article: What is Corporal Injury?

How to Prove Emotional Distress 

Medical history of a womanMost lawsuits are filed on the basis that the defendant acted intentionally to cause you mental pain.  Emotional distress cases are often difficult to prove, especially if there aren’t any physical symptoms. 

Working with an attorney can help you prove emotional abuse and obtain evidence.

Some things that can be used as evidence for emotional suffering include:

  • Documents detailing your relationship with the defendant
  • Eyewitness reports — family, friends, co-workers
  • Medical records
  • Medical bills or therapy bills
  • Lists of prescriptions
  • Testimonies from medical professionals
  • Video, audio, and photos
  • Police records in case of physical abuse
  • Entries from your journal
  • Physical injuries — ulcers, headaches, mental anguish, and impairment are all signs of emotional trauma

Damages in an Emotional Abuse Lawsuit 

Stethoscope on top of dollar bills Emotional distress can have physical manifestations. It can cause physical or mental disorders for which you’ll need medical help. 

But, to recover damages, you don’t necessarily need physical injuries.

If there are measurable costs to the emotional harm you experienced, you can get emotional distress damages, such as:

  • Lost wages
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Medical expenses

In the case of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED), you can even ask for punitive damages from the defendant. Punitive damages are seen as punishment when the defendant’s behavior is seen as especially harmful [1].

The monetary settlement you can get from punitive damages is separate from the actually caused harm. Apart from these civil damages, there are also criminal ones, which usually include a restraining order against the abuser. This happens when the court orders the defendant to stay a specifically determined distance away from you [2]. 

Note: Restraining orders are most commonly issued when there’s also physical violence.

Criminal damages can also include a no-contact provision, which means the defendant can’t contact you by any means of communication.

FAQ

Can Emotional Abuse Be Proven in Court?

No, emotional abuse can’t be proven in court, but you can show evidence to support your case. In some states, you can even record threats when you sue someone for emotional abuse.

Can You Get Compensation for Emotional Abuse?

Yes, you can get compensation for emotional abuse. These damages are intended to compensate for your loss, such as therapy sessions, medical expenses, lost income, and more.

Can You Sue for Emotional Trauma Suffered?

If you’ve been emotionally abused, you can sue the abuser and get emotional distress damages. Gather as much evidence as you can when you decide to take legal action. You should also consult a law firm that has experience dealing with emotional abuse cases. 

Experienced attorneys will help you collect evidence, advise you on available options, answer all your questions, and help you build a strong case.

Schmidt & Clark attorneys are experienced in all kinds of civil lawsuits, including emotional abuse. Contact us for a free consultation and get professional legal help.


References:

1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/punitive_damages

2. https://www.womenslaw.org/laws/general/restraining-orders 

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