After an accident or injury, a person may experience emotional distress. This can be temporary, ongoing, or even a lifelong condition. In California, when a person suffers emotional distress as the result of an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, they may be entitled to compensation for non-economic damages.
What Qualifies as Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress is when a person suffers from negative emotions that prevent them from living their lives as they used to. According to the California Civil Jury Instructions “Emotional distress includes suffering, anguish, fright, horror, nervousness, grief, anxiety, worry, shock, humiliation, and shame. Serious emotional distress exists if an ordinary, reasonable person would be unable to cope with it.”
Emotional distress is a form of non-economic damages, which means it is an intangible loss with no set financial value. Anxiety caused by an accident is considered non-economic damages, whereas the costs of therapy to treat that anxiety are considered economic damages and calculated separately.
There are many ways that a person may develop and exhibit symptoms of emotional distress. When claiming non-economic damages, it is important to have proof such as an official diagnosis and testimony from your doctor.
Can You Sue for Emotional Distress?
When seeking compensation after an accident, there are two categories of damages that a person can claim known as economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are fairly straightforward and have defined financial value such as:
- Lost wages
- Medical bills
- Medical equipment
- Property damage
- Therapy costs
Non-economic damages on the other hand are intangible and harder to determine the value of. These types of damages deserve the help of a qualified personal injury lawyer to help obtain the level of compensation necessary for emotional damage. Emotional distress damages can be recovered in a personal injury lawsuit. In addition to the indications listed above, the following are also different emotional damages that can be recovered:
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Loss of enjoyment
- Panic attacks
- Substance abuse
- Weight changes
What are the 2 Causes of Action That Can Result in Emotional Distress
Ordinarily, emotional distress is included as a part of the pain and suffering damages that are awarded for physical injuries. Other times the emotional distress is the only injury suffered. In these instances, there are two different causes of action for situations where there are emotional distress damages can be awarded with no physical injuries:
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress
- Negative infliction of emotional distress
Both of these instances are torts in which the emotional distress is the injury at hand. There may be physical injuries suffered afterwards because of the emotional distress, but the emotional distress itself is the main issue. Since non-economic damages are intangible, the amount of compensation is dependent on what seems most reasonable. Each tort has specific requirements to be able to proceed as a lawsuit.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
The elements of intentional infliction of emotional distress are:
- Defendant acted outrageously or recklessly
- The intent of that conduct was to cause emotional distress
- Plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress
- That distress was caused by the defendant’s conduct
Intentional infliction of emotional distress can be an independent claim with no physical injury attached, but emotional distress can only be recovered once.
There are many forms of intentional infliction of emotional distress:
- Malicious practical jokes
- Making someone believe they are going to be killed
- Making someone believe someone they love will be killed
- Repeatedly threatening harm
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
Negligent infliction of emotional distress is similar to intentional infliction of emotional distress in many ways, but there are some differences. The primary difference is that negligent infliction of emotional distress does not require intent on the part of the defendant, only negligent fault.
There are two types of victims of negligent infliction of emotional distress:
- The direct victim – Someone who suffered emotional distress due to conduct directed at them.
- The bystander victim – Someone who suffered emotional distress due to conduct directed at someone else.
To be a bystander victim, the plaintiff must have a special relationship to the person the conduct was directed towards. A person who suffers emotional distress as a result of conduct directed at their child, parent, or spouse may be considered a bystander victim, and could have a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. A child as an example would either be a direct victim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, or a victim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, depending on whether or not the defendant had meant to cause harm.
How Do You Prove Emotional Distress?
Non-economic damages like emotional distress are difficult to quantify and measure which makes it difficult to assign a monetary value. The plaintiff has to provide evidence of the psychological impact that the accident had on their life. There are several forms of evidence used to prove emotional distress:
- Daily Journal – After an accident, it is a good idea to write down your thoughts and experiences every day. A personal detailed account of your physical pain, emotional state, and various experiences can help better illustrate the situation.
- Medical Records – Medical records provide detailed accounts of your injuries both physical and mental. Explanations of physical injuries and treatment can provide an understanding of your pain and suffering. Psychological evaluations and notes taken during therapy sessions can help give a clearer depiction of any emotional distress.
- Photos & Videos – Visual evidence of your life before and after the accident can help substantiate your claims. They can provide a more tangible representation of your change in emotional state and quality of life.
- Testimony From Doctors – Doctors and other medical professionals can provide official testimony detailing their observation of your condition and its prognosis. Their professional opinion can be valuable in legitimizing a claim of emotional distress.
- Testimony From Friends & Family – It can also be helpful to have the people around you give their observations of the ways the accident affected your life. This can often be as important as your personal perspective.
- Testimony From Plaintiff – Providing personal testimony gives you a chance to express in your own words how the accident has affected you and your life. This can be a very powerful and compelling form of evidence in quantifying emotional distress.
A personal injury attorney can help you put together the best evidence to support your case and calculate damages.
Why Tracking Emotional Distress is Critical
Life after an accident can be difficult enough without having to detail and catalogue your own pain and suffering. It can be a daunting task, but it is vital in making others understand your situation. The clearer and more accurate the evidence, the more likely you are to receive fair compensation.
Some people even find documenting their pain to be beneficial to their recovery. If you are suffering from emotional distress, it is important to speak to mental health professionals. Both for your recovery, and to give you professional back up in proving your condition.
How Do You Calculate Emotional Distress Damages?
There are two main techniques used to calculate pain and suffering damages like emotional distress.
- The Multiplier Method – This technique utilizes the economic damages in order to quantify the non-economic damages. The financial costs of the accident are calculated and then multiplied by a number between 1.5 and 5. This number is based on the severity of the suffering with 5 being the most severe and 1.5 being least severe.
- The Per Diem Method – This technique utilizes the length of a person’s recovery. A monetary daily value is calculated and then multiplied by the number of days estimated for recovery. This estimation generally comes from the assessment of medical professionals, while the daily rate can be based on things like the severity of the condition and previous income.
Regardless of what technique is used, it is important to have as much evidence as possible to substantiate your claims. Emotional distress is an intangible thing, and no two experiences are alike.
Factors That Impact Emotional Distress Damages
There are four major factors in quantifying emotional distress. The more you can show, the more you solidify your claim.
- Documentation – If you are suffering from emotional distress, it is a good idea to seek medical attention and retain copies of any records relating to your treatment. Medical records and therapy notes are an important way to present evidence of emotional distress. Diagnosis, prognosis, and the professional opinions of your doctors can help legitimize claims of emotional distress to others. The stronger evidence you can present, the stronger an emotional distress case will be.
- Length of Time – There is a distinction between suffering that lasts for a week, and suffering that lasts for a year, and suffering that never goes away. Emotional distress can be a debilitating ordeal that impacts a person’s ability to live their lives the way they did before. The length of time spent suffering often impacts the amount of damages that person may be awarded.
- Severity of Injury – Sometimes, even minor injuries can cause great emotional distress for some people. However, when the physical injuries are greater, the more other people are to believe claims of great emotional distress. The severity of the emotional distress itself can also affect compensation if it can be well proven.
- Underlying Incident – Like with physical injuries, the emotional distress a person suffers is not always proportionate to the severity of the incident that caused it. However, when an accident is bigger, other people are more likely to accept the idea that the emotional distress is more severe. A traumatic car accident may result in a higher award than a slip and fall.
Contact Mesriani Law Group if You Are Suffering from Emotional Distress
Emotional distress is a common aspect of personal injury lawsuits. Navigating the legal process can be stressful and difficult, and no one should have to go through it alone. Our personal injury lawyers are experienced in handling emotional distress claims and personal injury claims and are dedicated to helping you receive the fair compensation you deserve. If you believe you have a personal injury claim for emotional distress damages, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.
Emotional Distress FAQs
How much can you get out of emotional distress?
Every person is different, and so every case is different. Because of this, there are not many reliable ways to calculate an average estimate of emotional distress settlement amounts without examining the specific claim individually. That said, compensation for emotional distress can often be between two to five times the total of the financial damages such as medical expenses and lost wages.
How can you prove emotional distress in California?
Emotional distress is a personal and intangible experience. In order to prove its existence, you must provide tangible proof that others can understand. This can be done by:
• Keeping a daily journal of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences
• Providing medical records of treatments, medications, and doctors’ professional opinions
• Providing official testimonies from yourself, your loved ones, and medical experts
How is emotional distress calculated in California?
There is no set standard for calculating emotional distress in California. It is however common for a personal injury attorney to utilize one of two popular methods. The multiplier method, which totals the financial damages and multiplies them by a number between one and five, or the per diem method, which assigns a daily monetary value and multiplies that by the length of the recovery.
How do you prove a person is suffering from emotional distress?
Factors that can be utilized in order to prove emotional distress are:
• Documentation of the suffering and its treatment
• Length of time spent suffering
• Severity of the physical and mental injuries
• Underlying incident that caused the injuries