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How Much Can I Sue for Emotional Distress?

Posted in Personal Injury on April 25, 2019

When one party causes injuries and economic damages to another party, the injured party typically has the option of taking legal action against the responsible party. In most injury claims, the damages are tangible, physical injuries. These injuries may result in emotional distress, and the plaintiff would likely receive compensation for non-physical damages like emotional distress and mental anguish. However, it is possible for a plaintiff to take legal action with the help of a personal injury lawyer for emotional damages and/or mental anguish without having suffered any physical injuries.

Emotional Damages in Personal Injury Claims

The justice system recognizes that the experience of enduring a serious injury or dangerous illness comes with a degree of emotional and psychological distress. Plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits generally have the option to claim compensation for noneconomic damages like physical pain, emotional suffering, and psychological anguish, but they must offer proof of these experiences. This is less difficult for some cases than others. For example, if a plaintiff suffered a compound leg fracture in a car accident and lost the ability to walk for several months, this would be an understandable reason to allege emotional damages.

The amount a plaintiff can possibly obtain in emotional distress damages in cases like these typically hinges on the number of medical expenses the plaintiff incurred, the seriousness of his or her injuries and ongoing medical issues resulting from the incident in question, and unique details of the case. If a plaintiff can prove he or she went to therapy or counseling, the plaintiff can not only recover the economic cost of these treatments but also compensation for the distressful experience in general.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

In some cases, an individual may have grounds for a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress. Each state has different laws pertaining to these kinds of claims. Some states follow an “impact” rule that requires a plaintiff to have sustained some sort of physical contact from the defendant while other states use a “danger zone” benchmark; if the plaintiff was in the immediate vicinity and zone of danger around a defendant’s negligent act, the plaintiff likely has grounds for a claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, even if the defendant did not physically contact the plaintiff.

Most states follow a “foreseeability” rule, meaning the defendant’s action must have been foreseeably able to cause emotional distress to the plaintiff. Some states have specific statutes for cases involving bystanders or loved ones of a victim of a physical injury from negligence, allowing these individuals to secure compensation for emotional distress even though they did not personally suffer physical injuries. For example, if a child witnesses his or her parent severely injured by a negligent driver while crossing the street, but the child was not hit, the child would technically have grounds for an emotional distress claim under foreseeability, danger zone, and bystander statutes.

Potential Compensation for Emotional Distress

There is no hard and fast rule for calculating emotional distress compensation in any injury case. State laws may place limits on some types of damages, and plaintiffs may face some tax implications for different types of damages, but the amount in question typically hinges on the facts of the case, the discretion of the jury, and the judge’s ruling. Emotional distress claims typically fare better in court and secure more compensation if a plaintiff can provide evidence of the emotional distress causing physical symptoms or leading to economic damages like medical expenses for psychiatric treatments and prescription medications.

Many personal injury attorneys offer free consultations to potential new clients. Consider taking advantage of a free consultation offer from a local attorney if you have specific questions about a potential claim for emotional distress, or a personal injury claim involving emotional damages.

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