Mental anguish is a legal term that refers to a high level of psychological trauma that one party inflicts upon another. While there is no lawsuit for mental anguish exclusively, it is a very important part of the torts (civil causes) of both negligent infliction of emotional distress and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which are in turn often linked to other personal injury lawsuits. Here is a short guide to mental anguish in civil law.

How is Mental Anguish Defined?

As opposed to physical pain, mental anguish is characterized as emotional pain that arises through the actions of someone else. To meet the legal threshold, the anguish needs to be more severe than disappointment, embarrassment, or even anger. 

The act needs to invoke in the victim extreme feeling of fear and grief that causes lasting negative side-effects. Conditions like anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder are examples of mental states that can rise to this threshold. 

What Kind of Lawsuit Includes Mental Anguish?

As mentioned above, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress both use mental anguish as an element necessary to collect damages under the law. But in most cases this is not the claim a victim will file against the perpetrator, as emotional distress often walks hand in hand with other torts. 

Torts that often use mental anguish as a factor are battery, assault, and medical malpractice lawsuits. If a person threatens another with serious bodily harm such as point a gun at them the resulting trauma can cause injuries that are psychological as well as physical. In the same vein, a patient can be affected by serious anxiety and depression after a serious medical error.

You can also suffer mental anguish through torts and other crimes that are not directly at your person, such as losing a family member in a car crash that results in a wrongful death suit. After all, emotional distress is often the result when a person witnesses a loved one harmed or injured in some way. 

Many torts allow for a jury to consider emotional distress during the damages phase of a trial to address emotional and psychological injuries that either the victim or their family suffers in the aftermath of the incident. 

How to Calculate Damages for Mental Anguish

Any monetary damages awarded for mental anguish fall under the category of non-economic (as opposed to economic) damages. Economic damages are given for actual financial losses that the victim or their family suffered as a result of the tort and include current and future medical bills, lost wages, and property damages. 

Non-economic damages are given for losses not considered “out-of-pocket” like pain and suffering, loss of companionship, loss of reputation, and mental anguish. There is no specific formula used to come up with a number for these types of losses, and every state approaches the topic in a different way. 

In addition, in recent years many states have implemented tort reform legislation that caps the amount of non-economic damages a plaintiff can receive, so be sure to check your state’s laws or consult an attorney if you are hoping for a specific outcome or a minimum amount.

How to Prove Mental Anguish

In most civil cases, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant committed the offense by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). This is known as the standard of proof. This is not the strict “beyond a reasonable doubt” burden that exists in criminal law, but if the plaintiff cannot meet this burden they may be barred from recovery altogether. This means finding the right evidence to back up your claim is vital. 

To help your claim, emphasize important factors like the traumatic nature of the offense and the intense and severe suffering you experienced because of it. For example, a hostage taken in a bank robbery would be expected to suffer more psychological trauma than someone involved in a fender bender. 

An even better way to establish the nature of your mental anguish is by providing evidence of a diagnosable condition (like depression, PTSD, acute anxiety, and others) backed up by a doctor’s testimony or through paperwork confirming the diagnosis. Certain physical symptoms can help too, such as ulcers caused by stress. 

What is the Difference Between Mental Health vs Mental Anguish?

Courts have consistently drawn a distinction between mental health and mental anguish. Underlying mental health issues cannot be used as evidence by the defendant unless the plaintiff specifically brings it up. 

In other words, the defendant’s side cannot compel a mental health exam and cannot bring it up at trial or in negotiations.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Looking to Recover Damages for Mental Anguish?

Yes. All legal matters can quickly turn into a complicated and confusing process for the victim and their family, especially if you are suffering from emotional and psychological distress. Seeking the services of an experienced personal injury attorney is the best way to improve your chances of recovery during a stressful time.