It can be difficult to recover damages for injuries which result in emotional distress. Unlike broken bones or other physical injuries, it is often difficult to definitively prove an individual’s injuries.
Therefore, it is important to understand the different types of emotional distress claims which an individual can make prior to attempting to file a lawsuit based on emotional distress. Emotional distress is also known as mental anguish. It is a non-physical and mainly psychological injury which may be asserted in civil lawsuits.
The law recognizes emotional distress as a state of mental suffering which occurs due to an experience that is caused by the negligent acts or intentional acts of another individual, usually of a physical nature. A bystander or an individual who personally experienced the emotional trauma, along with their relatives, may be able to file a civil lawsuit alleging emotional distress.
Emotional distress may be exhibited by feelings of:
- Humiliation or shame;
- Self-destructive thoughts;
- Stress; or
- Other emotional responses resulting from the traumatic event.
It is important to note that, in most cases, the individual may only be able to sue for emotional damages if the incident actually resulted in physical harm. As of June 2019, however, some courts have recognized the right to award monetary damages for emotional distress claims without a showing of actual physical harm in cases of sexual harassment or defamation.
In these types of cases, expert witness testimony from a psychiatrist or a therapist may be used to prove an individual’s case for emotional distress as well as to evaluate the range of monetary damages which should be awarded in association with the injury.
What Do I Need to Prove in Order to Sue for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress by My Employer?
In general, an employee lawsuit for negligent infliction of emotional distress against their employer will only be successful if they have witnessed or been involved in a dangerous accident where they actually suffered a physical injury and that injury was the cause of the employee’s severe emotional distress.
In order to bring an action for a negligent infliction of emotional distress case against an employer, an employee will need to prove the following elements:
- That the employer or a co-worker acted negligently in such a way that caused the individual emotional distress;
- That there is a connection between that individual’s actions and the employee’s emotional distress; and
- The likelihood of a successful lawsuit for negligent infliction of emotional distress is much higher if the employee can prove that they have suffered a physical injury as a result of another’s actions.
The majority of jurisdictions require that an individual who is making a claim for emotional distress be within the zone of danger. In legal terms, the zone of danger is the area within which an individual is in actual physical peril from the negligent conduct of another person.
This means that, in order to recover for emotional distress, an individual must either be injured themselves or they were also in danger of physical injury. For example, if an individual is in a car wreck with their family due to the negligent driving of a drunk person, they may be able to recover for the emotional distress they suffered from both their physical injuries and the injuries to their family.
If an individual has a valid claim for severe emotional distress, a personal injury attorney may take on their case on a contingency fee basis, which will save them from having to pay a high case fee themselves. It is important to note that there is a time limit in which a claim may be brought, called the statute of limitations. Typically, the statute of limitations for most claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress is two years from the date of the injury.
What Does Negligent Conduct Mean?
Negligent actions, as opposed to intentional actions, are things which another individual does that cause harm, even if the individual doing the action may not have wanted to or tried to harm the other individual. When an individual acts negligently, they act recklessly or carelessly in such a manner that might reasonably harm or cause injury to someone else.
An individual will often be found by a court to have acted negligently when the harm caused was foreseeable.
Is it Possible to Recover for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress When I Have Suffered a Physical Injury?
In cases where an individual is trying to recover for emotional distress, they are much more likely to succeed when they have sustained a physical injury due to the negligent conduct of their employee or co-worker.
Examples of physical injuries or symptoms that a court will look for when assessing damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress include:
- High blood pressure;
- Disturbance to the nervous systems;
- General physical illness;
- Depression; and
These types of physical symptoms demonstrate to the court that emotional distress they have suffered is, in fact, severe.
Is it Possible to Recover for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress When I Have not Suffered a Physical Injury?
As noted above, it may be much more difficult to recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress when an individual has not suffered some sort of actual physical injury as a result of their employer’s negligence. The general rule is that an individual who acted negligently is not liable if the plaintiff has only suffered emotional distress and has not suffered a physical injury.
It is important to note that a successful action for negligent infliction of emotional distress is possible when an individual has not been physically injured, it is much less likely to succeed. Relief is typically only granted to individuals not suffering an injury in cases where they are a bystander to a serious injury to a loved one, which is not likely to occur at an individual’s place of employment.
When is the Employer Responsible for a Co-Worker’s Conduct?
There are typically three situations in which an employer may be responsible for a co-worker’s conduct, including:
- When the co-worker acted within the course and scope of their employment and in furtherance of the employer’s business;
- The employer failed to address the complaint which were filed by the injured employee against a co-worker’s conduct; and
- The co-worker held a very important position in the employer’s business so that their actions may be attributable to the employer.
The determination of an employer’s responsibility is a factual issue which depends on the facts and circumstances of each individual case.
Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney to Sue for Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress?
Yes, it is extremely important to have the assistance of a personal injury lawyer if you wish to sue your employer for negligent infliction of emotional distress. If you have been injured by a negligent act of your employer, it is important to speak to an attorney as soon as possible in order to preserve your rights and seek possible remedies for your injury.
Your attorney can evaluate your likelihood of success, assist you in filing your lawsuit, and represent you any time you are required to appear in court. As noted above, there is a statute of limitations on these claims, so seek an attorney as soon as possible.