Emotional distress falls under pain and suffering damages, but it is not the same as pain and suffering. Emotional distress most often occurs when the victim of an accident witnesses someone else suffer a traumatic injury or death, or they themselves suffer a traumatic injury.
If a doctor has diagnosed emotional distress as part of the injuries you suffered in a car accident, you might be able to recover compensation as part of the pain and suffering damages listed in your personal injury case. A lawyer from our firm can help you file a claim or lawsuit against the negligent driver who caused the crash.
In This Article
- Defining “Emotional Distress”
- Proving Emotional Distress
- Supporting an Emotional Distress Claim
- Calculating the Value of Your Emotional Distress
- Causes of Emotional Distress
- Contact Our Law Firm to Hire a New York Personal Injury Attorney
Defining “Emotional Distress”
For the most part, emotional distress falls under the umbrella of pain and suffering that you wind up suffering from a car accident. Emotional distress, as part of the damages from pain and suffering, occurs when the negligent actions of another person cause you to suffer some form of mental harm.
Mental harm can include:
An emotional distress claim would not, however, typically include headaches.
Negligent vs. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
According to the Legal Information Institute (LII), emotional distress can also factor in the cause behind its infliction, as in, whether another party negligently or intentionally inflicted emotional distress on you.
Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) may occur if another party makes efforts to cause you mental harm, such as through threats, verbal abuse, taunting, or other malicious actions. Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), however, occurs unintentionally. It may be more of an effect of psychological trauma or fear of harmful events repeating again.
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Proving Emotional Distress
When you pursue an emotional distress claim following a car accident in New York, establishing the following factors will play an important part in proving the claim:
- Showing the court that your distress is not fleeting
- Proving that the distress was caused by the actions of the defendant
- Establishing that the distress has some form of significant medical impact on your life
There are five factors you and your attorney need to consider when building a claim for emotional distress. These are:
- The duration of your pain
- The intensity of the distress you are suffering
- Any related harm to your body
- Records from your doctor documenting your psychological symptoms as well as the treatment prescribed (for example, talk therapy, mental health counseling, medications, etc.)
- The underlying cause of the pain
In New York, you will also be required to show that you suffered physical injuries in the car accident that are directly related to your emotional distress.
Other Ways “Emotional Distress” Can Be Labeled
Emotional distress is quite often categorized as pain and suffering, but it can also be labeled as the following when filing a claim:
- Emotional distress inflicted negligently: The negligent actions of another person directly led to your emotional distress.
- Loss of consortium: This occurs when the victim of a car accident loses some or all of the benefits of being married or being a parent because of someone else’s actions.
- “Zone of Danger”: This form of claim can be made for the trauma of witnessing death or serious harm to an immediate family member.
Supporting an Emotional Distress Claim
A great deal of evidential and documented support is needed in order to be successful with an emotional distress claim. The first step in suing for pain and suffering damages for emotional distress is collecting evidence.
Evidence can include:
- Medical records: We may refer to your medical records if you had to be referred to psychiatric care or other specialists to address symptoms of your emotional distress.
- Reports from your treating physician(s): If you sought out medical or psychiatric care for your emotional distress, we may ask for their expert opinion on how your accident has affected you both emotionally and mentally.
- Accident scene photos: Claims about witnessing or experiencing significant trauma can be backed up through photos of the accident. This can show the extent of injury you suffered or witnessed another person suffer.
- Videos: Videos may also be used to showcase your response to the accident, both immediately and days or months after.
Any other document that can help support the merit of your emotional distress lawsuit may also be used as evidence.
Using Witness and Expert Testimony
In addition to documentary evidence, you might be able to strengthen your case with corroborating statements from:
- Eyewitnesses who saw the accident happen, who arrived in the immediate aftermath, or who tried to provide assistance after the fact
- Experts in the medical field who will examine you and confirm that you suffered serious emotional and physical injuries due to the accident
- Experts in the field of economics or vocational training who will explain how your emotional or physical suffering prevents you from going to work
- Experts in accident reconstruction who will confirm that the party you are suing is responsible for the accident and, therefore, the injuries you sustained
Generally, the more unique the sources of evidence you use in your lawsuit, the harder it will be for the at-fault party’s insurance company to deny or downplay your injuries.
Calculating the Value of Your Emotional Distress
Emotional distress, much like the overall category of pain and suffering, is not easy to calculate. It is not a physical or visible injury like a broken bone that can be clearly seen on an X-ray box or a monetary loss that can be calculated, such as loss of income due to a disability.
A few factors play a role in calculating the value of your emotional distress claim. Some of these factors include:
- If your testimony is credible
- If you were a sympathetic witness
- If your diagnosis, injuries, and prognosis are clear to the jury
- If the testimony you provided was consistent
- If your doctor supports the claims of emotional distress
Perhaps most importantly, the substance of your emotional distress claim is the main factor in calculating how much compensation to pursue for its damage—that is, the nature and extent of what you’ve experienced, how it has impacted your life, and how it can be reasonably anticipated that it will impact your life in the future.
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Causes of Emotional Distress
Any traumatic event has the potential to inflict psychological damage both to those who lived through the event as well as anyone who witnessed it or is related to the event’s victims or survivors. For instance, the Mayo Clinic lists “traumatic or stressful events” as one of many potential risk factors for depression.
As such, it is possible for accident victims to recover damages for emotional and physical pain after almost any type of accident. For example, you could be entitled to such damages if you:
- Were hit by a car, truck, or another vehicle
- Were attacked by a vicious dog
- Experienced an adverse medical event, such as complications during childbirth (especially if it resulted in permanent injury to you or your child)
- Had a bad fall on someone else’s property
- Have a loved one who experienced nursing home abuse
- Lost a loved one in any type of preventable accident
All of these situations involve suffering harm at the hands of someone you should have been able to trust: a car driver who should have followed the rules of the road, for instance, or a medical professional who you relied on to take care of you or your loved ones.
Physical Pain Causes Emotional Pain
Even if you do not exhibit psychological symptoms right away, having to live with a painful, disabling injury often leads to mental health problems. As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains, feeling sad or overwhelmed is to be expected after a major change in your physical health.
While this temporary sadness is difficult to deal with, people with chronic pain or other serious conditions are at an increased risk for clinical depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, get a diagnosis from a qualified medical professional and include that diagnosis as part of your lawsuit.
Your mental health challenges are all the more reason to seek financial compensation from the liable party. Getting justice after a negligence-related accident could provide a sense of closure, and you could use the money you receive to pay for mental health treatments that will improve your quality of life.
Contact Our Law Firm to Hire a New York Personal Injury Attorney
While emotional distress is not the same as pain and suffering, it certainly falls into that category. Emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other psychological injuries deserve to be compensated just like your physical injuries after a car accident.
If you or a loved one was injured in a car accident, you can contact our law firm to hire a personal injury attorney at Friedman & Simon, L.L.P. that serves New York and Long Island. Don’t miss out on the chance to file a claim. Speak to one of our team representatives today.