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emotional distress

When someone has caused you to suffer emotional distress, the law in virtually all states allows you to sue them for emotional distress. Specifically, civil courts can consider emotional distress a form of non-economic damage, which is compensable through a successful personal injury claim or lawsuit. The specifics of how to sue someone for emotional distress will vary depending on where you live or what happened to inflict that emotional distress on you, but regardless of the specifics of your case, it is always worth consulting an attorney to see if you should start a claim or lawsuit.

What is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is commonly considered psychological harm that is caused by an upsetting, traumatic, or painful incident or event. In legal contexts, emotional distress is most often considered in personal injury claims filed after an accident. After all, suffering a serious or life-changing physical injury is extremely traumatic, so it makes sense that emotional distress often follows physical pain.

Not all incidents of emotional distress are caused by accidents, though. Persistent or severe forms of harassment, discrimination, and belittling can cause some people to suffer emotional distress.

Types of forms and symptoms of emotional distress that may be relevant in an injury claim are:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic attacks
  • Substance abuse
  • Mood swings

What is the Difference Between Emotional Distress & Mental Anguish?

Emotional distress and mental anguish are used interchangeably in most legal contexts. Oftentimes, emotional distress evokes images of someone who is suffering from an emotional disorder or harm, such as depression or mood swings, and mental anguish describes someone who is suffering from a mental health issue, such as PTSD or anxiety. However, there is no clear or necessary legal distinction between the two terms.

Legal Elements of Emotional Distress Claims in Florida

Every state has its own set of rules to determine if a plaintiff can sue for emotional distress. Most follow fairly straightforward questions about how the plaintiff became afflicted by emotional distress, though.

For example, in Florida, emotional distress claims must usually include these four elements:

  1. The defendant acted intentionally or recklessly in a way that inflicted emotional distress or mental anguish on the plaintiff.
  2. The defendant’s conduct is considered “outrageous” or something that a reasonable person would not have done.
  3. A causal link between the defendant’s conduct and the plaintiff’s emotional distress can be shown.
  4. The plaintiff’s emotional distress is considered severe or enough to cause impairment.

If the above elements are met, an injury claim for emotional distress could be justified. Again, emotional distress can occur without an accompanying physical injury, so it is possible to sue only for emotional distress damages and not damages typically associated with physical injuries like hospitalization costs.

How Much Can I Get for Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is a type of non-economic damage, so it can have a value that is recognized by the court. Unlike economic damage that can be easily tallied by reviewing receipts, bills, pay stubs, and other tangible financial records, non-economic damage is based on intangible losses, so it is based more on interpretation and argument. For this reason, how much you can get for your emotional distress through a successful lawsuit will depend entirely on the specifics of your case.

When determining how much your emotional distress is “worth” in a case, you can consider the following and more:

  • How your life has changed because of emotional distress.
  • What treatments you need to recover from emotional distress.
  • What prognosis your psychological doctor has provided about your emotional distress.
  • How emotional distress has impacted your career and income-earning capacities.

You should know that non-economic damage like emotional distress can be capped in certain circumstances. For example, most states set a limit on how much non-economic damage you can be awarded for medical malpractice lawsuits. In many other situations, though, non-economic damages aren’t capped but are instead calculated around the total economic damage owed to the plaintiff.

How Can I Sue for Emotional Distress?

The process of suing someone for emotional distress will usually follow these basic steps:

  1. Hire an injury attorney to get more information about your case and guidance throughout it.
  2. Consult with your attorney, often across several meetings, to discuss evidence, liability, damages, compensation, and more.
  3. Send a demand letter to the defendant/liable party that requests payment for your emotional distress to avoid legal action; at this point in the process, you should have your attorney handle everything on your behalf.
  4. File a claim in court if the demand letter is not accepted, and serve the defendant with notice of the lawsuit for emotional distress.
  5. Enter the discovery process that includes depositions, document requests, and other inquiries.
  6. Attempt to negotiate a settlement to resolve the case without needing a court’s ruling; settlement negotiations can be attempted at any point in this process but usually happen after the discovery process.
  7. Go to trial with your attorney representing you if the settlement negotiation attempt is not successful.
  8. Receive the verdict of the case; if the trial ends in your favor, your attorney can help you understand how and when you will receive compensation from the defendant.

How to Prove Emotional Distress

If you want to sue someone for emotional distress, you will need to be prepared to prove that they caused it. Without convincing evidence and compelling arguments, the defendant could have a lot of room to maneuver around your case and avoid liability in court. A defendant will also be less likely to offer a fair settlement if you do not back your case with proof. Your attorney can help you find and use different forms of evidence that can help build your emotional distress lawsuit.

Two of the most common forms of evidence to prove emotional distress are:

  • Psychological assessment from an expert (psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, etc.) that describes the symptoms of emotional distress you have suffered due to the actions of the defendant.
  • Testimonies from people close to you who have witnessed the changes in your behavior and life due to emotional distress, such as going out with friends less often, struggling at work, losing hours of sleep, and so on.

Talk to an Attorney About Your Emotional Distress Lawsuit

When all the steps and complications of an emotional distress lawsuit are considered, one thing becomes clear: you should only file one with the guidance and help of a professional attorney. By letting a lawyer lead the way in your case, you can focus on your recovery instead of getting lost and frustrated by legal terms and courtroom expectations. Rely on their experience, knowledge, and resources during this trying time, so you can more confidently pursue the justice and compensation you deserve.

Do you live in Northwest Florida and need help filing a lawsuit for emotional distress? Choose Perry & Young, The Injury Firm, to be your legal guide. Since 2008, we have stood up for the wrongfully injured in our communities, including people who have suffered life-changing forms of emotional distress. It would be our honor to stand up for your rights, too, so please schedule a consultation with our firm today.

Perry & Young offices in Panama City, Tallahassee, Panama City Beach, and Marianna. Call (850) 215-7777 to find the one nearest you.