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When Cruelty Causes Harm: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims

Injury & Accident Attorney Serving Los Angeles, Pasadena, East Los Angeles & Nearby California

Posted: November 28, 2022
When Cruelty Causes Harm: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims

Can you sue someone for hurting you emotionally? In California, the answer is yes. You can file a negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuit to recover for the harm caused by someone else’s actions, even if you’ve suffered no physical injuries.

Emotional distress counts as a personal injury under California law. But because you suffer no physical injuries, proving infliction of emotional distress cases can be more 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. Intentional infliction of emotional distress cases are no different. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help identify the most convincing evidence to prove your claims. If you win your case, you can recover damages to cover your mental health bills and other losses.

What Are the Most Common Elements of a Claim for Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Not all emotional distress you suffer qualifies for a lawsuit. In order to successfully sue someone for intentional infliction of emotional distress, you must be able to show that:

  • The person who hurt you acted in an outrageous way and
  • With intent to cause harm or with reckless disregard to the possibility of harm.

You must also prove that you actually suffered emotional distress because of their actions.

So when does conduct become “outrageous”? You and I might have our own definitions. But the definition that matters is what the state of California thinks is outrageous – conduct that’s “so extreme that it goes beyond all possible bounds of decency.”

An outrageous act must go above and beyond a minor annoyance or bad manners. If you poll a group of average people on the street, they should agree that the action was unacceptable.

Like other personal injury cases, the outcome of an infliction of emotional distress lawsuit depends heavily on the facts involved in your unique situation. Certain factors might add to the outrageousness of someone’s conduct – for example, if someone:

  • Abuses their power in a position of authority over you,
  • Knew that you were vulnerable to emotional distress when they acted, or
  • Knew that their actions would cause you emotional distress.

Even if someone doesn’t intend to cause you emotional harm, you can still hold them responsible if they acted with reckless disregard. In other words, they either:

  • Knew that emotional distress would result from their actions and acted anyway, or
  • Did not actually think through the likely consequences of their actions.

You can file an emotional distress claim for damages if you were the direct victim of an action or a bystander who witnessed a close relative getting injured. Even if you’re a bystander, you can file an intentional infliction of emotional distress lawsuit on its own – it does not have to be attached to another personal injury claim to be valid.

What Is an Example of Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress?

California also has a legal action for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Unlike intentional infliction of emotional distress, for a claim based on negligence, you must prove that the person who harmed you had a legal duty of care that they failed to meet.

For example, in a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, you do not have to prove that the person who hurt you acted intentionally or recklessly. 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.

Your lawyer can help determine which type of emotional distress claim you may have.

What Evidence Do You Need to Prove Emotional Distress?

Stockton is no different than the rest of California when it comes to intentional infliction of 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

Emotional distress can give rise to a 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

While your mental state is deeply personal, 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 Quantify Emotional Distress Damages?

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

Emotional distress falls under non-economic or “general” damages, which are harder to quantify into numbers but can still be done by an experienced lawyer. Non-economic damages 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 filing an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim is to talk to a personal injury lawyer about the facts of your case. At Sepulveda Sanchez Law, we help clients all around Stockton and the Central Valley determine the strength of their claims.

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

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