When Can You Claim Damages for Emotional Distress in a Lawsuit?

Injury & Accident Lawyers Serving Los Angeles, Pasadena, East LA, Southern California, Stockton & Central California

Posted: November 28, 2022
When Can You Claim Damages for Emotional Distress in a Lawsuit?

Can you sue someone for non-economic damages like emotional distress after an accident or personal injury? In California, the answer is yes.

After a personal injury – for example, caused by a car accident or a slip and fall – your claim for damages could include non-economic damages like emotional distress to recover for the mental pain you’ve suffered along with your physical injuries. These 

But because mental injuries are “invisible,” proving that you actually suffered emotional distress can be difficult. How exactly do you identify and quantify emotional harm and pain?

In personal injury cases, the stronger your evidence, the more successful your lawsuit is likely to be. Recovering for emotional distress is no different. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help identify the most convincing evidence to prove your claim so that you can get compensation for your mental suffering and mental health bills.

What Type of Damages is Emotional Distress?

Non-economic damages like emotional distress are a real consequence of accidents and injuries, even if they may not translate directly into financial losses. But just like economic damages (medical bills, lost income, and out-of-pocket costs), pain and mental suffering can have a huge effect on your life. For example, emotional distress may manifest as:

  • A parent who loved to play sports with their child is no longer able to participate in that activity after their injuries because they’re unable to run
  • A hobbyist’s hands suffer nerve damage in a car crash and they’re unable to continue doing the activities that bring them joy, like playing a musical instrument
  • An injury makes it impossible for someone to continue their daily exercise regimen, which negatively affects their physical and mental health
  • The daily discomfort of being unable to walk without pain or an aid
  • Social isolation after an injury limits your mobility or ability to communicate

Emotional distress is deeply personal – someone else may handle distressing situations differently than you. As a result, judges and juries consider the emotional distress that you actually suffered when determining damages for emotional distress.

Can You Claim Damages for Emotional Distress?

In a claim for emotional distress, you do not have to prove that the person who hurt you acted intentionally or recklessly. Most personal injury cases are based on negligence.

In a negligence case, the person who caused the harm may not have intended for it to happen. But they acted in a way that was unreasonable considering the circumstances – and their conduct caused the harm that you suffered. Even if they never intended for you to get hurt, they’re still responsible for the consequences of their actions.

What does negligence look like?

  • A driver who fails to obey traffic laws or drives under the influence and causes a crash.
  • A property owner who fails to secure a dangerous area where a visitor slips and falls.
  • A trucking company that fails to maintain its fleet properly and causes a truck accident.
  • An event promoter who overbooks or fails to follow fire codes, leading to a situation where attendees get crushed or injured or cannot find their way out.
  • A medical office that doesn’t follow industry standards ends up harming its patients.

Even if the person responsible never meant to inflict emotional distress onto anyone else, they still did when they shouldn’t have. A personal injury claim makes up for the harm that was done by compensating the victim for the full extent of their suffering, not just their economic losses.

Emotional distress damages usually come into play in personal injury cases, after an accident causes the victim to suffer serious or life-altering injuries.

What Evidence Do You Need to Prove Emotional Distress?

Stockton is no different than the rest of California when it comes to proving emotional distress claims. Serious or severe emotional distress may look like:

  • Anguish and mental suffering
  • Intense fright, horror, shock, or grief
  • Persistent anxiety, worry, or nervousness
  • Emotional trauma or post-traumatic stress
  • Private or public humiliation or shame

You could recover for emotional distress in a personal injury lawsuit if an ordinary person would have trouble coping with the mental stress and fallout in the same circumstances.

While some people may experience physical symptoms as a result of their emotional distress, they are not necessary to prove your case. Emotional distress may look like:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Falling behind on work or struggling to work at all
  • Experiencing chronic pain, digestive upset, or headaches
  • Withdrawing from your community, hobbies, and loved ones
  • Suffering from depression or feelings of helplessness or hopelessness

Your mental state is deeply personal, but you can prove mental anguish and suffering by:

  • Documenting the changes to your daily routine and state of mind
  • Submitting witness statements from friends, family, and colleagues who knew you before and after the incident and who can testify to its effects on your life
  • Providing medical testimony either by your personal doctor or by an expert
  • Showing proof of any medical treatments you’ve needed since the incident, including sessions with mental health professionals and therapists

Emotional distress may be difficult to prove but it’s far from impossible. A good personal injury attorney can help you gather the evidence you need for a successful case.

How Do You Determine Emotional Distress Damages?

Economic damages are more straightforward because you can show receipts for your losses: medical bills, lost workdays, and other expenses.

Because emotional distress falls under non-economic or “general” damages, they can be harder to calculate but an experienced lawyer will know how. Non-economic damages, including emotional distress, can ultimately add up to 2-5 times more than total economic damages.

California has no rigid formula for calculating mental pain and suffering. Every case is different. The more you can back up your claims with proof, the better chance you have at recovering for your emotional distress. In some cases, you could even get punitive damages, which are meant to punish the defendant for especially bad behavior.

How Can You Sue for Emotional Distress in California?

The first step to getting compensation for emotional distress is to talk to a personal injury lawyer about the facts of your case. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we help clients in Stockton and the Central Valley determine the strength of their emotional distress claims.

Click here to contact our talented team of California attorneys now.

Category: Personal Injury
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