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Can You Sue for Emotional Distress?

Victims of employment accidents, slip and fall accidents, and car accidents can suffer not only physically but also emotionally across the United States. But, in the United States, can you sue for emotional distress?

What is Emotional Distress?

People sometimes equate physical injuries with trauma produced by human-made or natural calamities. These victims, on the other hand, may be subjected to trauma that is not visible to the human eye. Emotional distress is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a highly unpleasant emotional reaction (as anguish, humiliation, or fury) which results from another’s conduct and for which damages may be sought.”

If you or a loved one have dealt with emotional distress that resulted from another’s conduct, damages may be sought.

Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Distress

Q: Is it possible for a judge to decline to send an emotional distress claim to the jury?

A: Yes. For instance, the judge may declare the defendant’s conduct wasn’t sufficiently outrageous.

Q: I witnessed an accident involving a close relative. Can I bring a claim for emotional distress?

A: Yes. Being in the "zone of danger" refers to being present when a close relative is injured in an accident.

Q: If someone "flips the bird" at me, can I pursue a claim for mental distress?

A: No. Receiving a "bird" hand gesture does not entitle you to compensation for emotional anguish.

Q: What do I need to show that I'm experiencing emotional distress?

A: The victim must show that the distress is more than fleeing, that the distress is medically substantial, and that the defendant's actions caused the emotional distress.

Q: Do headaches qualify as a form of emotional distress?

A: Headaches do not fall within the category of emotional distress. Emotional distress, on the other hand, includes sentiments like fear, dismay, and humiliation.

Emotional Distress in Its Many Forms

  • Humiliation
  • Loss of marriage partner
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental suffering

Emotional distress is defined as psychological or mental pain caused by another party's illegal or negligent behavior. Suits for emotional distress, like claims for medical expenditures, can often aid in funding therapy or disability caused by wrongfully inflicted pain. Because emotional distress damages can be difficult to measure on their own, emotional distress claims are frequently incorporated in bigger lawsuits.

Intentional and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

In tort law, there are two types of actions that include inflicting emotional pain: deliberate infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

When someone acts with the goal of causing significant emotional pain to another person, this is known as intentional infliction of emotional distress (e.g., threatening future harm to another person). This type of planned behavior can happen in situations like nursing home abuse or sexual abuse.

When someone causes extreme emotional anguish through careless activity, this is known as negligent infliction of emotional distress. Negligent infliction of emotional distress does not require the presence of purpose. In personal injury litigation, this negligent act of inducing mental distress is more widespread, and it might include things like:

  • Accidents in automobiles
  • Accidents involving trucks
  • Accidents involving motorcycles
  • Accidents at work
  • Accidents involving pedestrians

If you've been the victim of intentional or negligent infliction of mental distress, seek medical or psychological help, document your claim, and contact a skilled attorney for assistance.

Risk Factors and Warning Signs

It's not uncommon to experience stress symptoms before or after a crisis. Natural and human-caused disasters can have devastating effects on people's lives since they can result in bodily and mental harm. Anyone who witnesses or is affected by a disaster may be affected in some way. The majority of stress symptoms are temporary and will go away on their own in a short period of time. However, for some Americans, particularly teenagers and small children, stress symptoms can endure for months, affecting their relationships with friends and family. The following are some of the most common warning indicators of emotional distress:

  • Problems with eating
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Putting distance between yourself and others
  • Having little or no energy
  • Experiencing unexplained aches and pains
  • Feeling powerless or ineffective
  • Intoxication or excessive smoking
  • Prescription medicine abuse

Survivors of a previous human-caused or natural disaster are at risk for emotional anguish. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you lost a friend or loved one in a disaster?
  • Have you been the victim of a traumatic event such as abuse or a serious accident?
  • Have you experienced trauma caused by seeing or being exposed to death or near-death situations?

The anniversary of a calamity can rekindle feelings of fear, worry, sadness, and other negative emotions in those who have experienced it. Sound effects such as sirens or gunfire can also trigger emotional anxiety. These feelings can put victims in the same frame of mind as they were at the time of the incident or make them fear it will happen again. These uncontrollable emotions might strike at any time. Mental anguish can be extremely humiliating for some victims, and it can have a significant influence on daily activities like driving or eating. Emotional distress can disturb daily routines, causing stress and, in some cases, provoking aggressive conduct, such as domestic violence.

Attorneys have the resources, experience, and results to hold the offending party liable, whether the harm is caused by another due to an automobile or trucking crash, an explosion, medical malpractice, or any other method. Attorneys are aware of the emotional turmoil that their clients go through when they or a loved one is hurt due to events beyond their control or owing to the negligence of others. Call an expert attorney as soon as possible if you or a loved one is or may be experiencing psychological or mental distress as a result of another party's unlawful or negligent behavior.

Is it Possible for Me to Sue Someone for Emotional Distress?

Victims in the United States may face long-term emotional pain as a result of another's illegal or negligent behavior. Yet, is it possible to claim emotional distress?

There are times when the answer is yes. Although nothing can undo the harm that has been done, the law provides injured victims with the legal right to seek compensation from those who caused the disaster. The laws governing damages for emotional distress differ from state to state. In Washington, D.C., for example, injury statutes allow a victim to seek compensation for both monetary and non-monetary damages for pain and suffering, including emotional distress. Victims of mental distress in D.C. may be eligible to obtain damages in the following sorts of cases:

  • Experiencing pain and suffering as a result of a personal injury.
  • Death threats, frequent harassment, or stalking are examples of intentional infliction of emotional distress in outrageous and extreme cases.
  • Negligent behavior that is likely to cause emotional distress when the accused person has a legal obligation to protect the victim's well-being.
  • Partners are bringing a lawsuit against those who have caused them to lose emotional enjoyment.
  • Emotional anguish as a result of being near a dangerous accident in which the victim feared they might suffer a major personal injury.

If you believe you have an emotional distress claim, please contact an attorney as soon as possible.

Emotional Distress in Extreme Situations

Filing a lawsuit, in some cases, can be a long and winding journey. However, your lawyer can assist you in obtaining the maximum compensation allowed by law. Who can file a claim for mental distress? The laws in our states differ. The benefit of consulting an attorney is that you can find justice through the law with the help of someone who has done it for years. Take, for example, the Indiana Supreme Court's decision in December 2021 to increase the number of people who can sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress damages. Emotional distress lawsuits in Indiana can usually only be filed if the plaintiff has suffered emotional anguish.

However, an Indiana court said it would enable a guardian or parent to sue a child caretaker for damages if the guardian or parent had substantial evidence that the child caretaker sexually abused the kid and that the abuse had a significant impact on the guardian or parent's emotional well-being. The new rule was prompted by a case involving the sexual assault of a profoundly challenged kid by an assistant responsible for her well-being at an Indianapolis Metropolitan School District school in 2015 and 2016. Two years later, the culprit allegedly confessed and pled guilty to abusing the child, receiving a 13-year sentence.

In 2019, the child's mother filed a lawsuit against the perpetrator, school, and school district, alleging emotional distress as a result of the child's sexual assault. Her anxiety allegedly hampered her capacity to care for her kid at home, requiring her to pay for the child's daycare. The mother's lawsuit was apparently dismissed by the courts because her claims did not fall into any of the categories for which emotional distress damages can be sought, owing to the fact that she did not witness the assault and only learned about it later. An extension was necessary, according to Supreme Court Justice Christopher Goff, because “the extraordinary circumstances here warrant a proper remedy.”

“Justice compels us to fashion a rule permitting a claim for damages limited to circumstances like those presented here,” Goff, along with Justice Steven David and Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote in an opinion. He also noticed that the facts of the case precisely aligned with Indiana's new law, and he arranged for the mother's emotional distress claim to be allowed to advance.

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter disagreed with the decision, arguing that the Legislature, not the courts, should be in charge of expanding emotional distress. The decision, according to Slaughter, opened the door to an overabundance of emotional distress claims.

What Does Pain and Suffering Mean?

Medical bills, inability to work and personal pain and suffering may be incurred as a result of major injuries. This is why personal injury lawyers fight for the highest amount of compensation allowed by law. Attorneys pursue damages that are far greater than what insurance companies generally offer.


The emotional, bodily, and mental losses caused by an injury are referred to as pain and suffering. In the event of injuries such as a vehicle accident, this phrase categorizes general damages as a result of another. The statute of limitations for filing a pain and suffering claim is usually one year. Various factors, for example, may add to a victim's suffering under Tennessee law, such as:

  • Emotional distress
  • Disfigurement
  • Anguish in the mind
  • Depression
  • Emotional anguish
  • Physical discomfort
  • Trauma and apprehension
  • Insomnia
  • Property, income, and a spouse are all lost.

An expert personal injury lawyer will consider not just the current emotional, mental, and physical agony but also damages that will persist for months or years to come when calculating the pain and suffering of a victim's injuries. A single injury has the potential to drastically change your life, as well as the lives of your family and friends. Compensation can assist in alleviating the financial and emotional strain on you and your loved ones.

Injuries Sustained Frequently in the U.S.

Injuries that are commonly encountered in the United States include:

  • Emotional anguish
  • Expenses for medical and rehabilitation
  • Modifications to the home and in-home care
  • Technology that adapts
  • Wages lost now and in the future
  • Adjustments to one's quality of life
  • Suffering and physical pain
  • Damage to property

Without the assistance of a personal injury lawyer, victims are at the whim of insurance companies, which, unfortunately, prioritize profits over the victim's recuperation. Victims who hire an attorney are backed up by a legal team that has the resources and skills to handle their case as efficiently as possible in order to obtain the maximum compensation allowed by law.

Common Personal Injury Claims Examples

The following are some examples of personal injury claims:

Damages for injuries and the consequences of those injuries are one of the most prominent reasons for lawsuits involving someone else's negligence. Damages may be sought if you or a loved one has suffered emotional anguish as a result of another's actions.

What Is the Process for Filing an Emotional Distress Claim?

When dealing with emotional anguish, finding a road to compensation might be difficult. Fortunately, there are attorneys who are skilled and supportive of victims. To litigate for emotional damages and mental pain, a claim for emotional distress can be broken down into four steps. These stages are as follows:

  • Documenting the victim's emotional anguish: Take meticulous notes on anything related to the victim's distress. It is always preferable to present more evidence than to present none. Documentation will aid in the recovery of your losses. Keep track of stuff like:
  • Records of medical care
  • Records of work
  • Sessions with a therapist
  • Emotional condition on a daily basis
  • Electronic heart rate monitors
  • Tracking devices for sleeping patterns
  • The severity and duration of your pain, as well as any other relevant factors that may be related to your mental distress

Expert witnesses could testify regarding your case, potentially increasing the trial's costs and length. With the quantity of legal study required, establishing a link between negligence and losses can be difficult and exhausting. It's a lengthy procedure, but if your suffering has had a detrimental impact on your life, you may be eligible for compensation.

  • Consulting with a lawyer: For your emotional distress claim, an attorney will go over everything you documented. They will use this information to assist you in preparing for the emotional distress claim.
  • Filing the lawsuit: You can now suit the defendant, thanks to your preparation and the assistance of your attorney.
  • Preparing for trial: After the accused party has been served, the discovery process begins, during which both sides' information is exchanged. During this time, an offer to settle the case could be made in order to prevent a trial. Fortunately, you will have your attorney by your side to guide you through any option you make.

If the settlement proves insufficient to compensate the victim for his or her mental pain, the case will be taken to trial. Courts will hear both sides' evidence and arguments before making a final judgment. This can be a time-consuming and challenging process, especially for victims who are experiencing such strong emotions. We strongly advise speaking with your attorney about your various choices in order to give yourself the best chance of recovering your damages.

*Emotional Distress and Personal Injury law may undergo changes. The following material is offered to assist you in better understanding generalized law. It is not intended to be legal advice in any specific situation or to be a substitute for legal counsel.


WORKS CITED

“Compensation for Emotional Distress in DC.” The Cochran Firm Washington D.C., https://cochranfirm.com/washington-dc/emotional-distress-compensation-dc/

“Emotional Distress Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/emotional%20distress

“How Are Pain and Suffering Damages Calculated?” The Cochran Firm Memphis, https://cochranfirm.com/memphis/how-are-pain-and-suffering-damages-calculated/

“Indiana Court Expands Who Can Get Emotional Distress Damages.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 27 Dec. 2021, https://apnews.com/article/crime-lawsuits-indiana-indianapolis-1efa062540fbdbe54ffcfc46fb691e6b

“Justices Limit Discrimination Claims for Emotional Distress.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 28 Apr. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/stephen-breyer-us-supreme-court-health-business-john-roberts-bcf8cbb583f145818b88e886c64c2070

“Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/negligent_infliction_of_emotional_distress 

“Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Emotional Distress.” SAMHSA, https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/warning-signs-risk-factors 

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