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Suing for Emotional Distress in an Accident Case | Emotional Distress Lawsuit

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 5 minutes

Suing for Emotional Distress in an Accident Case | Emotional Distress Lawsuit

What isn’t always obvious when you’ve been involved in an accident or personal injury is the mental trauma and emotional distress that accompanies physical injury. Mental suffering is often hidden from view, and it is often harder to quantify and prove in a court of law, or to an insurance company.  That being said, mental trauma and distress can just as severely impact a victim’s life as a “physical” injury. 

So, can you sue for emotional distress? What does it mean to sue for emotional distressHow is emotional distress defined? And what are the steps for filing a lawsuit? Let’s explore these issues in brief.

Can You Sue For Emotional Distress?

The short answer is that suing for distress is possible. In most states, your emotional distress lawsuit must be accompanied by physical harm or physical injury component. Within some courts, as it relates to sexual harassment or assault, distress is one of the first claimed damages. 

Suing for Emotional Distress  

There are two primary types available:

  1. Intentional infliction
  2. Negligent infliction

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Deliberate actions taken by the defendant to inflict harm or cause suffering to the victim can be filed under an intentional infliction claim. For example, emotional or mental trauma caused by abuse, reckless behavior, and bullying at school or in the workplace fall under this category. 

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Unintentional actions by the defendant that in the end cause distress emotionally to the victim or the victim’s family would be filed under negligent infliction. For example, in a car accident, if the driver is under the influence and kills a child or an adult, the family members of that person would suffer emotional distress which would be part of the lawsuit. 

What Does It Mean to Sue for Emotional Distress?

Understanding Emotional Damages in an Accident Case

Emotional distress damages can manifest in many different ways. They can be long-term or short-term in effect, for example, and range in severity.  Common indicators of emotional distress include loss of sleep, depression, anxiety, fear, humiliation, psychological issues, mental instability, and panic attacks among other things. These consequences lead to damages, assuming that your life is negatively impacted.  As such, the more severe the distress, and the longer lasting, the higher your damages claim is likely to be. 

What may be distressing, or harmful, for one person may not be the same thing for someone else. In order to build a case, it is useful to assess the internal and external pressures that may not have existed before the accident.  


Don’t focus only on your physical injuries. Be comprehensive. You’ll want to tell your doctor about the emotional, mental, and psychological symptoms you are experiencing as a result of your accident.  

Medical documentation is a core part of any successful personal injury lawsuit case. We encourage you to keep a journal to record how you’re feeling, and to record changes whenever they occur. Document all the ways that your injury affects your life and emotional wellbeing. Doing so can help “sell” the idea that you have truly suffered mental trauma, and help you and your accident lawyer form a stronger case.

What Is Emotional Distress?

Emotional Distress Definition

According to the Legal Information Institute, distress that occurs emotionally is: “mental suffering as an emotional response to an experience that arises from the effect or memory of a particular event, occurrence, pattern of events or condition. Emotional distress can usually be discerned from its symptoms (ex. Anxiety, depression, loss of ability to perform tasks, or physical illness).”  

Distress, and its consequences, can vary quite a bit depending on the type and severity of injury. For example, if you get into a car accident where you lose the ability to walk, then you likely have suffered a significant amount emotionally, due to your new limitations. 

In many cases involving severe injury, you’ll be able to negotiate a settlement, or secure a court award, that includes compensation for distress and mental suffering.

Emotional Distress Lawsuit

Steps for Filing a Lawsuit for Emotional Distress

If you are suffering from emotional or mental distress due to a physical incident, you can file a lawsuit for damages. Here are the steps to take: 

  1. Document your emotional state. Distress cases are tricky. As a result, you will need to prove emotional damages. Document how you feel and ensure your medical records reflect the same.   
  1. Obtain an attorney. Contact an attorney who specializes in U.S. civil law to help you sort out answers to questions and build a case that can be won. 
  1. File a lawsuit. Once you and your lawyer have a game plan and all the evidence, you can file the lawsuit against the defendant. 
  1. Prepare for what is next. If the defendant chooses to settle out of court, it is easy from there. If the defendant chooses to fight the lawsuit, you will likely go to trial in court. Your lawyer should be able to walk you through this process. 

Find a Lawyer Near You Today

Accidents happen every day. If you have suffered a physical injury and believe that you have also suffered distress and trauma as a result, we encourage you to consult a qualified accident lawyer. 

Get in touch with an experienced injury accident attorney who can advocate on your behalf. Contact 1-800-THE-LAW2 today for a free and confidential consultation

Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we can assist you no matter when your accident occurs.

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