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Can I Sue for Emotional Distress? | What You Need to Know

Following an act of intentional or negligent infliction, it is common knowledge that you can sue someone for physical injuries and non-economic damages. However, a question that fewer people may know the answer to is “Can I sue someone for emotional distress?”
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What is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is a type of mental suffering caused by an incident of either negligent infliction of emotional distress or through intent. The Nevada Supreme Court recognizes emotional distress as a type of damage that can be recovered through a civil lawsuit. This means you can file a lawsuit for trauma or distress, so long as you can provide evidence to support your personal injury claims.

In most cases, emotional distress claims require that you were physically harmed as a result of the incident. However, certain recent cases have allowed for victims to recover damages without evidence of harm. Depending on the claim, the psychological trauma alone, resulting from cases like sexual abuse or defamation, can be grounds for an emotional distress claim.

What Qualifies as Emotional Trauma?

Emotional damages are typically split into 2 different categories: "pain and suffering damages" and "intentional infliction of emotional distress." In a case where the plaintiff received physical harm and wants to pursue financial recovery for damages, this is entitlement stemming from “general damages” or “pain and suffering” in personal injury cases.

In cases where the plaintiff is not injured but receives trauma, he or she may pursue a case for “intentional infliction of emotional distress.” These cases are rare, as few people receive recovery-worthy trauma while witnessing an experience.

Successful emotional damage claims without physical injury are much harder to prove than damages stemming from physical wounds. Physical damages leave a mark, and the correlation between the emotional trauma and the physical trauma is typically apparent to the court; however, purely emotional damages are not as cut and dry, leaving juries and judges to doubt the legitimacy of a claim.

Therefore, to be successful, strictly emotional trauma claims must prove emotional distress by the following:

  • That the plaintiff was within the “zone of danger” when the traumatic experience occurred.

To recover from a traumatic event, the person trying to recover for their mental distress must have been a witness to the action in question. For example, if a father witnesses his son’s death at the hands of someone else’s negligence, he may be a candidate for a successful emotional distress case. However, if the father was not present at the scene of the wrongful death when it occurred, he would likely not qualify for a successful emotional distress case.

  • That the emotional distress was a direct result of observing the incident in question.

To recover from an emotional event, the plaintiff must establish that the emotional distress claims he or she is suing for was a result of the incident in question. For example, someone who has a history of depression may have a hard time winning a case of emotional distress that claims that they were depressed due to the incident in question.

  • That the person in question and the victim of the incident are closely related.

Many decisions on pure emotional distress cases in Pennsylvania civil courts have declared that the two parties (the plaintiff and the victim) must be family members.

Symptoms of Emotional Distress

Severe emotional distress can present in various ways from person to person and emotional injury to injury. This is part of what makes an emotional distress claim so challenging, as there is no set pattern. However, the following symptoms are commonly seen alone or in combination when someone is experiencing emotional suffering:

Anxiety, Fear, Nervousness or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

From being hesitant about situations relating directly to your physical injury, such as driving after being the victim of a serious accident, to a general feeling of unease, anxious thoughts are emotional injuries that can keep you from enjoying a normal life.

Anger, Frustration, or Bitterness

Lashing out at the world around you or the people in it can be a sign of distress. These symptoms can ruin relationships both personally and professionally.

Guilt, Shame, or Humiliation

Even if you were injured through no fault of your own, it’s not uncommon to feel like you should have been able to do something to avoid it. Others may feel embarrassed about being hurt physically or psychologically and the amount of time it takes to recover.

Depression, Insomnia, or Lethargy

When you have suffered emotional distress or have your comfortable life taken away by a physical or psychological injury, you can end up feeling low, missing sleep, or even find yourself struggling to get a grip on your mental health.

How Can I Prove Emotional Distress?

Before you can file an emotional distress claim, you will likely have to prove that it was a direct result of an accident (i.e. car accident caused by a drunk driver). You can prove emotional distress occurs with the following steps:

  • Evaluate the ways that you’ve been emotionally impacted by the accident. Infliction of emotional distress can take many forms including fear, anxiety, crying, lack of sleep, depression and humiliation. You might use your own testimony, witness testimony, physical contact with family and friends, and/or recording your symptoms over time to show the emotional impact of the accident.
  • Supplement your personal evidence with additional evidence about the severity of the accident in general, including the duration and severity of physical injuries.
  • Include damages when you file your legal action claim for financial compensation. Infliction of emotional distress may be part of suing for emotional distress physical injuries and other damages. In other cases, negligent infliction of harm and distress may be a stand-alone legal claim.
  • Suing for emotional distress through the legal system including building additional evidence, preparing your legal strategy, and negotiating fair compensation.

What Kind of Damages are Emotional Distress?

Damages can be a major component of recovery in many kinds of personal injury lawsuits. If you are injured in an accident and you file a successful personal injury claim, you can usually get compensation for your emotional harm (often referred to as "pain and suffering" or "mental anguish"), in addition to recovery for the more straightforward economic losses (medical records and bills, lost wages, etc.) related to your injuries.

The amount and availability of damages varies greatly depending upon the nature of your injuries and the facts in your case. Even if you don't file a lawsuit for your injuries, you may be able to negotiate a personal injury claim with an insurance company that includes compensation for emotional distress.

Damages are designed to compensate you for the psychological impact your injury has had on your daily life. The list of manifestations of emotional distress is long and varied.

Sleep loss, depression, anxiety, humiliation, fear -- all these can be considered forms of emotional distress. These damages constitute a very subjective type of harm, which change from person to person.

There is no hard and fast definition, so if you are experiencing psychological issues after an accident, be sure to make note of them. What is distressing to someone else may not be distressing to you, and vice versa.

Get a Free Emotional Distress Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Lawyers

The law firm of Schmidt & Clark, LLP, is an experienced team of trial lawyers that focus on the representation of plaintiffs in emotional distress lawsuits. We are handling individual litigation nationwide and currently accepting new cases in all 50 states.

If you or a loved one think you may have a claim, you should contact our law firm immediately for legal services. You may be entitled to sue for emotional distress and an experienced personal injury attorney can help with legal advice.

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