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How Do I Prove Emotional Distress?

To prove emotional distress, an expert witness may have to testify in court.
A miscarriage is a specific physical condition that can cause emotional distress.
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  • Written By: Christopher John
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 21 November 2014
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Emotional distress can consist of fear, grief, shock, humiliation, or some other type of mental anguish. These forms of distress, however, are not enough to recover money damages in court. Instead, you must prove that the distress was also severe and extreme to a level that a reasonable person could not expect to endure it. Most jurisdictions recognize two types of emotional trauma: negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED). It is necessary conduct sufficient legal research to understand the type of proof your jurisdiction may require for these claims.

To prove emotional distress, begin by researching the laws specific to your jurisdiction. Laws vary and courts make different interpretations of legal principles. A good first step is to look at statutes defining NIED and/or IIED. You should also review the standard jury instructions for these claims in your jurisdiction because they likely provide the specific legal elements that you need to prove in court. Even if you do not have a jury trial, the instructions can provide you with valuable information on what the court specifically expects you to prove.

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The second step is to research the case law in your jurisdiction concerning NIED and IIED. Case law means prior court decisions dealing with emotional distress. These decisions provide information on how courts interpreted the statutes concerning NIED and IIED. These cases establish precedents, which mean they are binding upon trial courts in the relevant jurisdiction. If you understand how courts have ruled on matters concerning emotional pain in the past, it may help you to prove your case in court.

If you base your claim on NIED, for example, your jurisdiction may require medical proof. A physician or a psychiatrist may be able provide expert testimony about your physical and/or mental condition. Such testimony can serve as medical proof of emotional distress. Experts may be able to testify about your specific physical conditions such as depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, nausea, or miscarriage.

If you base your claim on IIED, medical proof of emotional distress may not be necessary. Not all jurisdictions require proof of physical illnesses. Indeed, jurisdictions may not necessarily require a mental examination to prove emotional pain. In some situations, witnesses such as friends, family members, and others may testify about unusual changes in your behavior, which may be sufficient evidence in your jurisdiction.

After conducting appropriate research on emotional distress claims in your jurisdiction, your next step is to prepare your complaint. The complaint contains the claims you are making against the defendant, i.e., the alleged responsible party. You need to list each claim or allegation that you must prove in court. You can obtain sample complaints for your jurisdiction online or through a law library which you can use as a model when drafting your complaint.

It is almost always best to hire a lawyer experienced with emotional distress cases rather than try to handle this on your own. Laws are complex and many unexpected issues can arise for a layperson. Courts also expect you to comply with rules of procedure and rules of evidence. If you lack knowledge in these areas, you could lose your case despite the merits.

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