Personal injury litigants can seek compensation for more than the physical injuries an accident has caused. In some cases, litigants can also seek damages for the mental anguish they have suffered, such as grief, anxiety, terror and stress. These symptoms are grouped together under the term "emotional distress."
Fans of "Judge Judy" and other courtroom dramas will be familiar with the term "emotional distress." The expression has become implanted in our society, to the extent that many litigants assume they can claim for emotional distress no matter how fleeting their mental anguish. In fact, emotional distress damages are only awarded in three very specific situations.
Emotional Distress Linked to Physical Injury
Emotional distress is often a feature of personal injury claims for physical injuries. If you are involved in an auto collision, for example, you may experience significant mental trauma, such as anxiety and depression, as you recover from your physical injuries.
While claims linked to physical injuries are typically easier to win, they are not guaranteed. To file damages based on the negligent infliction of emotional distress, your St. Louis personal injury lawyer must prove:
- The distress is long-lived and affects life's basic activities.
- The mental anguish is medically significant, that is, linked to a recognized psychiatric condition such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
- The accident directly caused the emotional distress.
- Physical injuries were also sustained.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Harm that is purely emotional is much more difficult to prove. For example, suppose someone wields a hammer in your face and threatens to break all the bones in your body. You may take the threat seriously and suffer flashbacks and nightmares. Another person in the same situation may laugh off the threat and go about their business. Does the hammer-bearer's behavior give rise to a claim?
In some circumstances, it can. Lawsuits in this scenario are for the "intentional infliction of emotional distress." To succeed, your St. Louis personal injury lawyer must show that:
- The defendant's behavior was extreme and outrageous.
- The defendant acted intentionally and recklessly, that is, he or she knew (or should have known) that his or her action could cause mental anguish to the victim.
- The emotional distress was severe.
The first limb of the test is the easiest part of the equation. For example, no one would deny that the actions of the hammer-bearing hoodlum were extreme, outrageous and beyond the scope of normal, civilized behavior. But the threat may have been made in jest, and the incident only caused mental anguish to manifest in the first "victim."
If the court believes that a defendant had no intent to cause harm or if the incident does not result in a significant, medically diagnosable condition, it may not award the victim with damages for emotional distress.
The Case of the Innocent Bystander
Personal injury victims are not the only ones who can file for damages based on emotional distress. Anyone who has unwillingly witnessed an accident or a violent crime may be able to claim for emotional trauma as an innocent bystander.
Not everyone can bring an innocent bystander claim. The accident must have involved an immediate family member, such as a spouse or a child. Additionally, the person witnessing the accident must have been in the "zone of danger." This means that:
- The bystander was present at the scene of the event (for example, he or she did not arrive after the event or watch it on television)
- The bystander was in reasonable fear of sustaining physical injury to his or her own person.
Suing for emotional distress can be difficult from a legal perspective. A St. Louis personal injury lawyer can help you navigate through the complex legal waters to help you receive the maximum compensation award possible.