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 anxiety, terror, depression, and stress. These symptoms are grouped together under the term “emotional distress.”

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 limited 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. In California, you can recover for these emotional injuries.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Harm that is purely emotional is much more difficult to prove. In certain circumstances, however, an individual might intentionally try to cause you emotional distress. For example, suppose someone pointed a gun in your face and threatened to kill you. Even though he never pulled the trigger, he obviously did that to cause you severe emotional distress.  In those cases, you have a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. To succeed, your lawyer would show that the actions taken caused you severe 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. An Orange County personal injury lawyer can help you navigate through the complex legal waters to help you receive the maximum compensation award possible.