What Are the Kinds of Emotional Distress One Can Sue for in a Lawsuit?

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When someone suffers emotional injuries because of another person’s intentional, reckless or negligent actions, she can experience psychological damage that can negatively impact her life and health. Under certain circumstances, victims can pursue financial compensation for losses related to emotional damage through a lawsuit.

Types of Emotional Damage

There are different types of emotional distress a victim can suffer, including:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobia
  • Grief

When a victim sues for emotional damages, he is pursuing financial compensation for the emotional injury he experienced as a direct result of the distress. For example, a victim who suffered severe injuries in a car accident might develop anxiety about driving, which can lead to lowered productivity from having to rely on coworkers to get to work, as well as result in a reduced quality of life. The compensation the victim recovers through the lawsuit may be used to cover the cost of receiving appropriate mental health care to recover from anxiety. When a full recovery is not possible, the compensation can be seen as “filling in” the quality of life the victim lost permanently because of the psychological trauma.

Grounds for Suing for Emotional Distress

Suing for emotional damages is not an option for every person who has been damaged by someone else's actions. You must have grounds to sue for emotional distress to recover financial compensation for the related losses you suffer.

Grounds for emotional distress are quantifiable losses the victim can prove to the court. A few examples include:

  • Worsened physical health.
  • Reduced productivity or a complete inability to work.
  • An inability to complete everyday tasks.
  • Ruined social or professional reputation.

Many different types of incidents can lead to emotional distress. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Robberies
  • Car accidents
  • Dog bites
  • Assaults
  • Slander and libel
  • Confidentiality breaches
  • Cyberbullying

In some cases, it is the incident itself that causes the victim’s emotional distress. In others, like car accidents and dog bites, the physical injury the victim suffers is the primary cause of emotional trauma.

Read More: How Do I Sue My Landlord for Emotional Distress Due to Poor Living Conditions?

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

A victim can suffer emotional distress as the direct result of another person's negligent behavior. When this happens, the victim may pursue compensation through a negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claim. This is a type of legal claim through which a victim may pursue financial compensation for emotional damage even if she did not suffer a physical injury.

The rules for NIEDs vary from state to state. In some states, if the defendant's negligent actions caused the plaintiff to suffer an impact, the plaintiff might have an NIED claim. In other states, the plaintiff being close enough to the defendant's actions to potentially suffer harm is enough to render a claim valid. In most states, the defendant must have been able to reasonably predict that his actions could harm another person in order for an emotional distress claim to lead to compensation for the victim. In every state, the defendant must be shown to have acted negligently, that is, without exercising the care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise in that situation.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

An intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claim is a bit different than an NIED. With this type of claim, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant intended to cause him emotional trauma through outlandish, violent or otherwise irrational behavior, and that he did, in fact, cause such trauma.

Suing for Emotional Damage

When a victim pursues financial compensation for the damages he suffered because of another party’s actions, he is pursuing a civil claim. Civil lawsuits are not the same as criminal proceedings, and even if the victim’s emotional distress resulted from a criminal action, the claim for compensation is a civil one. With a civil claim, the burden of proof for determining whether an action actually did happen is lower than it is in a criminal case. In a civil case, the victim must successfully prove by a preponderance of evidence that the defendant’s actions caused him to suffer emotional damage – that the action was more likely than not to have caused harm.

A victim who is suing for emotional distress must provide a sufficient evidence to prove that her emotional distress and resulting losses were directly caused by the defendant’s actions. This evidence includes:

  • Expert testimony from the victim’s mental health care provider.
  • Expert testimony from the victim’s doctors.
  • Documentation of missed work days and leaves of absence.
  • Testimony from the victim’s coworkers and loved ones.
  • Photographs of the victim’s injuries.
  • The victim’s own testimony about her psychological condition.

In any emotional distress damages claim, the onus is on the claimant to prove that she suffered quantifiable emotional harm because of the defendant's actions. Successfully demonstrating this can be difficult. Any legal consultation about how to sue for emotional distress should involve discussion of the evidence the claimant must provide to be successful and the likelihood of recovering compensation based on her case's strength.

How to sue for emotional damage is not always as straightforward or easy to understand as suing for other damages. Many victims are unsure of how to sue for emotional distress. The most effective way to determine whether you have grounds for an emotional distress claim is to discuss your case in detail with an experienced lawyer.

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About the Author

Lindsay Kramer is a freelance writer and editor who has been working in the legal niche since 2012. Her primary focus areas within this niche are family law and personal injury law. Lindsay works closely with a few legal marketing agencies, providing blog posts, website content and marketing materials to law firms across the United States.