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Can I Sue For Emotional Distress?

September 30, 2021 By Flora Templeton Stuart

Emotional distress is recognized by courts as a type of damage, which can include depression, insomnia, anxiety, and even anger. A physical injury is generally required to sue for damages caused by the negligence of another in a car accident or other accident. At Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers, we understand the pain and suffering of our clients, which can include loss of a loved one in a consortium claim.

What’s In This Guide

What is Emotional Distress

Emotional distress in this context is mental suffering that results from your emotional response to an experience. It can be either intentional or negligent, but what holds true is that the distress can be traced to the specific incident (such as a car accident) causing it.

Symptoms of Emotional Distress

Emotional distress is a very broad term. It can refer to a wide range of symptoms from a wide variety of causes. It may or may not be associated with an actual mental health disorder.

In the case of emotional distress caused by an accident, it can happen to any affected person, but the phrase might also be used to refer to worsening or aggravation of symptoms from an existing issue.

Emotional distress is not considered to be a psychological disorder and does not necessarily mean you fit any criteria. For example, it is very normal to experience emotional distress after the death of a family member. However, untreated emotional distress can sometimes turn into a disorder.

emotional distress

Symptoms tend to fall into two groups:

Anxiety, Fear, or Nervousness

Anxiety and fear are a normal reaction to having been in an accident or incident. You might experience worry about, or fear of, being in the same situation again. For example, if you were in a car accident, it can take some time to be willing to get in a car again, and even then you might avoid (consciously or otherwise) that stretch of road.

Anxiety can be an early sign of the development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which requires treatment. In addition to the obvious fears listed above, anxiety can lead to other symptoms, which can include increased respiration and heart rate, fatigue, a sense of impending danger, etc. Anxiety is normal after an accident, but can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. Some people may even experience panic attacks, especially if forced back into a similar situation.

Anger, Frustration, or Bitterness

It’s natural to be angry with the person who caused the incident. You might also be angry with yourself (for real or perceived contribution), or with third parties. This can easily turn into bitterness.

Anger typically fades fairly quickly, but if it lingers and starts to interfere with your life, it can start to become a real problem. Bouts of anger are particularly common if you have been physically injured, although they may center around other things. The issue is that the anger becomes uncontrolled or disproportionate.

Remember it’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to be ruled by anger, which can result in longer term problems.

Guilt, Shame, or Humiliation

Many people will blame themselves for an accident, even if it wasn’t their fault, especially if somebody they care about was hurt. It’s normal to feel a certain amount of guilt, especially if you escaped uninjured or relatively uninjured.

Shame or humiliation might happen if you feel that if anyone finds out about the incident they will think less of you. Victims of violence (especially sexual violence) often feel high levels of shame or humiliation, which can sometimes lead people not to report a crime.

Or you might simply be really, really embarrassed about an accident you fear others might view as stupid. These feelings can become very set and can interfere with your life and your ability to function.

Depression, Insomnia, or Lethargy

Depression is a common reaction to trauma, and goes beyond being “a little bit sad.” Feelings of depression can be overwhelming and can literally prevent you from getting on with your life. Depression can cause physical and mental symptoms including fatigue, trouble concentrating, overall crankiness, and loss of interest in things generally considered pleasurable. It can also make you eat too much or too little.

Depression can also cause insomnia (not being able to sleep) or lethargy (sleeping too much). While it’s normal to be depressed after an accident, if it starts to interfere with your life you may have depression.

In all of these cases, you potentially have a case for emotional distress.

How to Sue for Emotional Distress

First of all, you need to document your distress. Keep a diary that records how your mood affects your ability to work and do daily activities. Talk to your psychologist or psychiatrist and get them to take notes that might support your case. Keep receipts for therapy or other treatment, including any medication you might be recommended.

Make sure that you know what the law says in your state. For example, in Kentucky, you can recover noneconomic damages for emotional distress as well as pain and suffering. You may also be able to sue for economic damages if you lose income as a result, and for your therapy bills.

At Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers, we have 45 years of experience dealing with emotional distress cases. Typically, emotional distress is asked for alongside other damages. However, some states, including Kentucky, do acknowledge that intentional emotional distress can happen without physical damage. For example, you might be able to sue if you are a victim of emotional abuse. In injury claims such as car accidents you will need a physical injury to recover.

We will help you put together a case and take you through the process. Make sure to start this quickly, as there are deadlines for filing a claim, which can be as tight as one year in some places.

The Emotional Distress Claims Process

The process is both simple and very complicated. You need to:

  1. Document your emotional distress, including keeping a diary, getting notes from your therapist, etc. Make sure you have all the evidence you need to demonstrate that you are in sufficient distress for it to affect your life.
  2. Make sure to include a claim for emotional distress with your injury claim. Our attorneys consider this an integral part of your claim as, even though it is a little harder to prove, it can help get you more damages.
  3. Determine what a reasonable amount to sue for is. We consult personally with our injured clients to make a reasonable demand for your claim.
  4. Send in a demand letter. Many claims are settled out of court, as insurance companies in particular don’t like to actually deal with a court case and the time and expense involved. However, you should be prepared to go to court if they decide to be stubborn. The settlement is likely to be a bit lower than what you asked for, but in many cases your lawyer will advise you to accept it.

Again, typically it will be processed with any claim for physical injury or property damage. At Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers, we take great pride in our demand to explain our clients suffering, medical treatment, and damages for lost income and medical bills.

Emotional Distress Evidence

Proving emotional distress can be hard. For example, if there is damage to your car, you can take photos of the damage, get a statement from your mechanic, and provide the bill.

It can be a bit harder to prove that an accident upset you to the degree where you deserve compensation. Here are some things you might use as evidence:

  • Your own testimony as to your symptoms. This is why you should keep a diary.
  • Document changes to your daily routines that started after the accident. For example, if the road on which it happened used to be your regular commute, and you are now taking a different route, which is longer.
  • Documentation and testimony about physical symptoms. To have a valid claim, you must have an expert physician care for your physical and mental damages, including counselors and psychologists. Make sure to record each visit. You can also ask friends or housemates to testify to your issues.
  • Medical documentation from your psychologist and/or psychiatrist as to your symptoms, any diagnosis (such as post-traumatic stress disorder) is vital for significant claims.
  • Medical bills for prescriptions, therapy sessions, doctor’s visits, diagnostics, surgery, etc.

Our attorneys will refer you to reputable mental health providers who specializes in care after an accident. In addition to treatment, they can also advise on proper documentation. Consortium claims involve mainly emotional distress and the loss of companionship. Minors can sue for loss of parents and spouses for loss of husband/wife.

Why Hire Our Emotional Distress Lawyers?

Attorney flora stuart meeting with injured car accident clientSuing for emotional distress can be challenging. But with the right lawyer, it is also very possible to get damages for emotional distress, especially if it is severe enough to have affected your work or relationships. You should speak with our experienced personal injury lawyers as soon as possible after the accident.

Suing for emotional distress is often worth it in terms of the damages you can get and the validation you might feel from knowing it is not, in fact, your fault. If you have been seriously injured or lost a loved one in an accident, contact Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers today. We have over 45 years of experience helping accident victims and their families get the compensation they deserve. Our team will travel to our clients and take calls 24/7. We offer a free case evaluation, so there is never any risk in speaking with an attorney today. Call 888-782-9090 or submit your free case evaluation below.

Author Photo

Flora Templeton Stuart

Flora Templeton Stuart is the lead attorney and founder of the law firm Flora Templeton Stuart Accident Injury Lawyers, established in 1976. She is a nationally recognized personal injury lawyer with over 40 years of experience. Her story has been featured on Fox, The New York Times, ABC, Time, and NBC.