Personal injury lawsuits make up the majority of tort cases in the United States. A report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that in 2005 personal injury claims account for 60% of the almost 27,000 real property, contract, and tort trials.
The U.S. Justice Department also estimates that around 56% of the personal injury trials resulted in a successful verdict for the plaintiff.
A personal injury may occur anywhere at any time and often results in mental anguish. Even witnessing a traumatic event can cause emotional distress that interferes with your daily life. If someone else’s behavior caused you to suffer severe mental distress, you may be able to sue for compensation.
Keep reading to determine if your mental suffering qualifies for a lawsuit and everything else you need to know when suing for emotional distress.
What is Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress is an abnormal mental state in which someone experiences extreme emotional suffering caused by someone else’s actions. This mental suffering includes emotional reactions like anguish, fury, humiliation, panic, anxiety, depression, self-guilt, and suicidal thoughts.
It is also known as mental distress, mental disturbance, emotional harm, or mental anguish.
Emotional distress does not necessarily come from physical harm only. Not all injuries appear the outside. Dealing with constant harassment at work can take a toll on your brain and body as much as breaking your leg. If physical harm did occur alongside the emotional distress, it makes it much easier to prove in a court of law.
A lawyer should decide if you qualify for an emotional distress suit since so much depends on the laws in your state. However, you can get a good idea about whether your experience would qualify by learning about the different types of emotional distress lawsuits and what you need to prove your case.
Types of Emotional Distress Lawsuits
Considering suing for emotional distress after a traumatic event or injury? You must be able to prove it falls into one of the two main categories of emotional distress lawsuits below.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Also known as the “tort of outrage,” intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) includes outrageous and extreme behavior that is intentionally performed. It can be difficult to prove IIED claims since no clear guidelines exist for defining outrageous and extreme behavior.
Generally, you must prove the following four facts to qualify as an IIED case:
- The person, employer, or the employer’s agent purposefully or intentionally acted recklessly
- The person, employer, or the employer’s agent behaved in an outrageous and extreme manner
- The person, employer, or the employer’s agent caused you mental distress
- The emotional or mental distress was severe and affected your daily life
Outrageous behavior does not refer to indignities, annoyances, insults, or even threats. One example of emotional distress at home would be if your neighbor started a fire in your garage with the intent to harm you. If you then suffer panic attacks that lead to fainting, you may have an emotional distress case.
An example of emotional distress at work would be your employer showing your coworkers pictures of an old mugshot or sharing your arrest record to embarrass you.
Other emotions that may qualify as emotional distress include fear and shame. You do not necessarily need to have an over-the-top response or reaction either.
Most courts identify emotional distress as any circumstance that a competent and reasonable individual would find mentally distressing.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) refers to emotional distress caused by the negligent actions of another person. The offending party could be a stranger, friend, or an employer. In order to prove NIED, you must show evidence of the following events:
- The person, employer, or the employer’s agent engaged in a willful violation of a statutory duty or negligent conduct
- This action caused you serious emotional distress
- The negligent conduct or violation directly caused the serious mental distress
The person who suffered physical harm during the negligent act may file a NIED claim. Any bystanders who witnessed the incident, but did not suffer any physical harm may also file if they suffered mental distress.
An example of NIED at home would be if you witnessed someone run over your loved one in front of you with a car. An example at work would be if a piece of poorly maintained equipment almost crushes you.
If you witnessed a coworker get almost crushed and you were not located in the surrounding “danger zone,” you would face greater challenges when suing for emotional distress.
Gathering Evidence When Suing for Emotional Distress
When deciding to file an emotional distress lawsuit, you need to have enough evidence gathered for it to move forward. Start collecting and documenting now if you have not already. Read on for a few more tips on the information you need to prove your emotional distress claim.
1. Identify Your Emotions
Proving your emotional distress can be difficult if you cannot describe the emotions you feel. Mental anguish takes many forms and there’s not a single definition of what it entails. Things like fear, anxiety, depression, humiliation, fright, and loss of sleep all count as forms of emotional distress.
2. Get Copies of Your Medical Records
If you suffered physical harm, getting copies of your medical records should be your very first step after deciding to pursue an emotional distress lawsuit.
Contact any and all doctors or facilities where you received treatment or evaluations after the event. Request both paper and digital copies of all your medical records.
Inform the doctor’s office or hospital why you need the records so they can prepare on their end as well. Remember, a doctor can testify during your trial to your state of emotional distress.
If the hospital’s medical personnel saw your mental anguish, they can provide witness testimony.
3. Keep a Journal
Some people keep a daily journal and this works great to prove your mental health state before, during, and after the incident. If you do not already have a journal, start one now. Use the journal to document your feelings every single day.
Try to include how your feelings of emotional distress have interfered with your life in any large or small way.
Be sure that you do not exaggerate your feelings while journaling. Stick to the facts and be as explicit as possible. If you could only sleep a couple of hours, do not write, “I could not sleep at all last night.”
Instead, put down the exact hours when you know you were awake and when you believe you fell asleep.
4. Document Your Prescription Drug Use
If your doctor prescribes medication to help you handle your emotional distress, document everything. Record the emotions you shared with your doctor that caused them to suggest the medication. Document how much medication you took, how often, and the effects on your mental state.
Hold onto all your prescription pill bottles even after they run out of medicine. The bottles prove your emotional struggles and your attempts to deal with them. Pulling out a clear bag filled with all the bottles can be a very dramatic statement during trial.
5. Create a Log of the Defendant’s Behavior
When suing for emotional distress, you must prove that someone did something to cause your mental anguish.
It is not enough to simply have the emotional distress and a soft connection between two events. You need well-documented evidence of the defendant’s conduct.
Write down your memories of the incident, or multiple incidents, as soon as possible after they occurred. Include relevant information like where the event happened as well as the date and time.
You need to be your own witness. An example of a behavior to record for an IIED claim would be if someone lied to you and told you your child died after getting hit by a car, but they had not actually died.
6. Find Other Witnesses
Did someone see or overhear the incident occur? Talk to them right away afterward. Your lawyer can call witnesses to testify at your trial about how they saw the accused behave.
If you did not speak to them immediately after the event, track them down as soon as possible.
Get the witness’s contact information including their email address or phone number. You can also ask them to make their own personal recording of the event sooner rather than later so they do not forget anything.
If you cannot find the witnesses, check the police report. It should contain the names of any witness that came forward during the incident.
Hire a Lawyer for Emotional Distress Damages
The very last step to consider when suing for emotional distress is hiring a lawyer.
Have you collected all the evidence you can find and continue to document your mental state every day? Now you need to find a reliable lawyer who can successfully present your case.
Contact us today for a free case evaluation to see if you are entitled to emotional distress damages after a traumatic event.