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How to Sue for Emotional Distress

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What Is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is a state of mental suffering caused by an extreme experience. The mental suffering may include issues such as anxiety, panic, self-guilt, suicidal thoughts, and depression. Emotional distress us typically given to a person who has suffered physical or mental harm resulted from a intentional or accidental injury.

When the emotional distress has caused physical harm, the case would be easier to win because of the obvious evidence. However, when the emotional distress is only emotional, recovery in those situations are harder to prove unless the plaintiff proves that the defendant's conduct was very outrageous and extreme.

Read more information here: Emotional Distress

When Can I Bring a Emotional Distress Claim?

Whether you can recover damages for emotional distress in a lawsuit will depend upon state laws and the facts of the case. An emotional distress claim is usually brought by plaintiffs who have suffered extreme emotional suffering and trauma resulted from an intentional or accidental injury.

In several states, a physical injury must actually cause the emotional distress. In a minority of states, no physical injury is required if the emotional distress was caused by negligence.

In general, you can sue for emotional distress when:

  • You witness the death or injury of a family member.
  • You are a bystander to an event that causes fear of death or injury and you are actually in the "zone of danger."
  • The deceased body of a family member is mishandled.

Note that persons in a "fragile class" are more likely to recover for suffering emotional distress (i.e., children, elderly persons, and pregnant women). However, individuals who are unusually sensitive or delicate (known as "eggshell plaintiffs") may not be entitled to emotional distress.

How Do I Prove an Emotional Distress Claim?

To prove that you suffered emotional distress, you should provide supporting evaluations from a doctor or a psychologist. You should show that your suffering is ongoing and that it is serious (e.g. a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder). In some cases, it is also necessary for you to show a serious accompanying bodily injury.

If the defendant's conduct was intentional, a plaintiff may claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. In this situation the plaintiff must prove:

  • Defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous
  • Defendant's conduct caused you to suffer some kind of emotional harm

In order to prove that the defendant's conduct was extreme and outrageous, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant's behavior was unacceptable and uncivilized behavior that a reasonable person in the plaintiff's position would believe the conduct was extreme and outrageous. Plaintiff's sensitivity is irrelevant since the standard is viewed objectively.

What Are the Different Types of Emotional Distress Claims?

There are several ways in which emotional distress issue may be brought up in the court of law:

  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • Parasitic emotional distress (accompanying bodily injury)
  • Using emotional distress to get damages for "pain and suffering"
  • Using emotional distress to recover damages for "loss of consortium"

Seeking Legal Help

Since the laws concerning emotional distress are complex and vary from state to state, you should speak with a qualified personal injury lawyer. There are several different ways a plaintiff can recover for emotional distress and an experienced personal injury lawyer would be beneficial.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 09-25-2017 02:19 AM PDT

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