What is Involved in Suing for Emotional Distress?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2020
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In a legal sense, emotional distress refers to mental or psychological pain caused by the unlawful or negligent behavior of another party. Just like suing for medical costs, suing for emotional distress can help pay for treatment or disabilities caused by unlawfully inflicted damage. Often, an emotional distress claim is folded into a larger lawsuit, since damages for emotional pain are sometimes difficult to assess on their own.

Before suing for emotional distress, it is important to understand the type of situations in which this charge may be appropriate. Causing emotional distress is not technically illegal, otherwise a great many break-ups and sibling arguments would end up in court. In most cases, in order for an emotional distress claim to reach court, the damage must be caused through extreme negligence of a duty of care, or through the intentional infliction of distress. In both situations, the emotional distress needs to be causally connected to the inciting unlawful incident, and may require some proof of financial damages, such as money spent on therapy to manage the distress.


In a case of negligence, it is important to show that the defendant had a duty to protect or serve the plaintiff. Consumer product lawsuits often involve negligence, as the manufacturer can be seen as having a duty to protect the customer and fulfill its advertised promises. Legal and medical malpractice suits are also situations in which extreme negligence can lead to a lawsuit that includes a claim of emotional distress. In almost all negligence-related emotional distress suits, the damages must also include physical or property damage as well.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress may result from situations such as severe bullying or psychological torture. The standards for what exactly constitutes “intentional infliction” are extremely vague, with different jurisdictions having varying definitions. In short, suing for emotional distress under this heading requires proof that the defendant acted in an outrageous, wholly unacceptable way in order to specifically cause emotional harm. As with lawsuits for emotional distress caused by negligence, a case may be greatly aided if there are physical injuries or measurable costs associated with the case.

In order to decide whether suing for emotional distress is viable, it may be wise to seek consultations with several local personal injury attorneys. Seeing more than one attorney can create a more comprehensive point of view on the issue; since some disreputable lawyers may be out for the fees generated by a case rather than seeking justice, a second or third opinion can help protect the claimant. It may also be useful to read regional laws on tort procedure, and local case histories of emotional distress claims.


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Post 1

Even if one can prove he or she has suffered emotional distress at the hands of a negligent defendant, calculating damages is a lot harder. How can one put a price, say, on the pain a husband endures when he loses a wife because of the bad acts of a defendant? Courts have struggled with that question for years.

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