How Does An Emotional Distress Lawsuit Work?

Emotional distress is a term typically used as a basis for a lawsuit. In this type of lawsuit, the plaintiff sues for damages due to intentional acts or the negligence of another. Damages were originally awarded only if the plaintiff received damages for real physical harm.

However, many courts have allowed money damages to be awarded in emotional distress cases without actual physical injury. Things that you can experience that may be regarded as emotional distress include shock, fear, and indignity.

For example, in a sexual harassment case, emotional distress may be the only harmful result. Unfortunately, such distress may be faked, so a psychiatrist may be needed to validate that the distress actually exists. Let’s take a closer look at suing for emotional distress.

What Are The 2 Types of Emotional Distress?

By now many of you are asking can I sue for emotional distress damages. The answer is yes, but you probably really want to know if you can win such a lawsuit. First you need to make sure that your situation fits into one of the two categories for an emotional distress lawsuit.

The categories are based on the intent of the company or person responsible for inflicting harm. Two kinds of emotional distress are recognized in the law: negligent infliction of emotional distress, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Let’s look at these in more detail.

1. Emotional Distress from Negligence

Negligent infliction of emotional distress is usually caused by a physical injury because of the negligent action of the plaintiff. Here the victim ought to be able to prove that the liable party’s negligent actions resulted in emotional grief.

As an example, suppose Alice is negligently driving her car in a residential area down a steep hill. Barb and her child Carl are in the path of the oncoming car. Alice swerves and misses Barb, but she runs over Carl. Barb was in the zone of danger but suffered no physical harm.

However, Barb did suffer mental distress along with the physical ailment of shock from witnessing the injury to Carl. In this case recovery is available to Barb.

2. Emotional Distress from Intentional Infliction

This intentional infliction of emotional distress is the result of reckless actions. The victim needs to prove that a relationship exists between the actions of the perpetrator and the emotional grief. Furthermore, this distress ought to be extreme or severe.

A real life case analysis is Rothwell v. Nine Mile Falls School District (2009). Ms. Rothwell was a custodian for this high school in Washington State. The principal asked her to clean the primary entrance area. Any other time this would be a normal task. However, on this day, a student shot himself in this area.

Rothwell knew the student which made things worse. Cleaning this crime scene included cleaning up blood, bone fragments and brain matter. She was distraught over this and went home for a few hours. She came back to continue cleaning when the principal said to make it look as if nothing happened.

There was also a makeshift memorial to commemorate the student’s death that she was told to remove and dump. She began exhibiting post-traumatic stress syndrome which can be caused by living through something terrifying.

She sued her employer, and the court decided that the orders from the principal were extreme, outrageous and intentional, resulting in emotional distress and a lawsuit for emotional distress.

What Constitutes Emotional Distress?

If you have suffered from emotional distrust at the hands of another, you will want to know how to sue for emotional distress. You should keep in mind that certain stressors are a part of life, such as losing a perfect parking space to another driver or getting cut off on the freeway.

Neither of these constitutes emotional distress in the courtroom. Since emotional distress lawsuits can be tricky, you should have a complete understanding of what it means and whether or not your case falls within the parameters of the emotional distress definition.

If you believe that you have the grounds to sue, you will want to hire a smart lawyer who can get you the damages you desire.

Are There Connected Symptoms?

By now you should know about the two types of emotional distress and if your case fits into one of those types.

These lawsuits are often related to a physical injury, so you should have experienced physical harm or at least threatened with physical harm. This means that you have to sort out how your emotional distress relates to physical symptoms.

As an example, suppose you are having lunch in a local diner. If the diner serves you a hamburger with a human toe in the bun, you will probably become physically ill.

You can only sue for emotional distress if you can prove that the incident caused you such anguish that your physical symptoms lasted a long time. So you need proof that your physical symptoms and emotional distress are connected.

2 thoughts on “How Does An Emotional Distress Lawsuit Work?

  1. Arvin

    Hi, Im 21 years old, and was wondering, if i could file a case for a lawsuit against teachers from an elementary school i attended when i was 11, it all happened during a big move i had in the middle of the year, they were emotionally and verbally abusive, and i had nightmares and fears of the school for nearly 9 years of my life. I was diagnosed with PTSD and OCD from the entire experience, I did contact the teachers last year, and i recently discovered how much damage it really did, I am now in therapy from the whole incident and was wondering if i could file a claim for emotional distress, any feedback would be appreciated! Thank you


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