Suing for Emotional Distress

suing emotional distress pain and suffering

For most accident victims, suing for emotional distress can be a very unclear topic.

Typically in personal injury settlements cases the process of calculating physical pain and suffering is pretty straightforward.

However, how do evaluate your emotional pain? How does your emotional turmoil factor into getting your final accident claim amount?
In this article, we’ll help you navigate this part of claims process and ultimately help you maximize your claim.

We will cover…

What is emotional distress?
What are the symptoms of emotional distress?
An example of emotional distress in car accident
How do you prove emotional distress in a personal injury claim?
What is the value of emotional distress in an accident claim?

Let’s get started….

What is Emotional Distress?

We all know what this phrase means at face value, but what is the legal definition?

The widely held legal definition of emotional distress is:

An increasingly common basis for a claim of damages for injury due to the negligence or intentional acts of another. [1]

Showing negligence is relatively easy when you can prove the other party is at fault.

In most accident claims if you want to receive compensation for your emotional pain and suffering you must also demonstrate some form of physical injuries as well. (Although as usual there are quite a few exceptions to this rule.)

In terms auto accidents, emotional distress claims usually only crop up if the accident was serious and substantial injuries occurred.

Many insurance adjusters are dismissive of emotional distress and see it as a ploy.

However for many car accident victims the emotional distress can be all too real.

What Are the Symptoms of Emotional Pain and Suffering?

Every person is wired a little bit differently and as such will respond to trauma differently. Below are listed some common symptoms of emotional distress [2].

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Feeling obsessive, tired or distracted
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Mood swings

Insurance companies tend to think in terms of rigid definition. So if you’re discussing emotional distress with an adjuster be sure to frame things around of one of these categories.

Example of Emotional Distress from a Car Accident

John used to enjoy his morning commute, it was a time to prepare for the busyness of work or reflect on the day’s events — a meditation of sorts.Since he was hit by a drunk driver things have changed. John suffered broken bones in his left leg, had to be hospitalized, and needed to wear a cast for 6 months in order for his bones to heal.

In addition to the physical discomforts John also experienced emotional turmoil. After the accident he started to feel more tense and agitated every time he got behind the wheel.

The feeling of daily tranquility from his routine was now gone. He could still hear the sound of the impact in his mind and although he’s tried to shake it off it sticks with him.

John says this stress has affected his ability to concentrate, sleep and by extension the relationship he has with his wife. He hopes the symptoms dissipate soon and he can return to his old way of life.

As you can see in this example, John experienced both physical and emotional pain and suffering after his car accident.

I’m sure as you read this example you felt some empathy for John. Why?

Because you were able to see the full spectrum of how his accident affected him both physically and emotionally. You get a clearer picture of how John’s quality of life was affected.

At the end of the day, the point of a car accident claim is to somehow compensate you for ALL of your pain and suffering.

If you are able to vividly describe how the injuries have affected you, this increases your chances of getting a fair settlement.

How Do You Sue for Emotional Distress in a Personal Injury Claim?

Emotional pain is probably the hardest type of injury to prove. While the suffering can be as great, if not greater, than typical “physical” injuries, accident victims can have a hard time proving they are entitled to damages.

Here are some ways you can tangibly support your claim:

  1. 1.Doctors note
       — Getting documentation from a licensed doctor counselor or psychologist is a very obvious first step to take. If you have multiple providers, consistency of diagnosis is something you’ll want to strive for as well.

Using the legal dictionary we see that: [1]

Evidentiary problems include the fact that such distress is easily feigned or exaggerated, and professional testimony by a therapist or psychiatrist may be required to validate the existence and depth of the distress and place a dollar value upon it.

So make sure you document and clearly detail your problem thus establishing your case for compensation.

    1. Duration — If you can document that you’ve consistently suffered from symptoms over a longer period of time (such as the case of PTSD) this will give you more credibility. Writing a journal can be one way to demonstrate this, and it’s also a good practice if you’re going through something as challenging as PTSD.
    1. Related physical symptoms — Showing physical pain that is linked with emotional distress can further increase you ability to show your pain is real. If you’ve gotten ulcers or headaches as a result of your emotional suffering will help your case substantially.
    1. The underlying cause — The degree of severity of the accident that caused your symptoms will be taken into account when considering damages. The more extreme the underlying cause the more likely you will be to awarded damages for emotional distress — be sure to highlight this.


What is the Value of Emotional Distress in an Accident Claim?

Claims for emotional injuries do not generally play a huge role in determining the amount an injured person will receive.

Minor claims of anguish or emotional distress simply allow the injured person to be humanized. That is for the insurance company to acknowledge (monetarily) that the injured person is sentient and can suffer “mental” as well as “physical” pain.

If your claim is bigger and the emotional distress more severe, the odds are pretty good there will be an attorney involved. In this case, an attorney can help you place appropriate amount to your demand.


If you’re trying to sue for emotional distress as the result of an accident you’ll want to keep a few things in mind:

-Be wary of symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger and sleep disturbance (among others)

-Know that although difficult, it’s not impossible to prove emotional distress, it all comes down to documentation

-Minor emotional distress claims are usually not worth significant damages, but more serious accidents can be, consult with an attorney if in doubt

Caution About Suing for Emotional Distress

Although I feel this isn’t necessary for the majority of the people, I would like remind you to always remain honest when suing for emotional distress.

Unfortunately, many people abuse the system and use emotional pain as a way to inflate the value of their accident claim. It’s a sad truth that groups all people who actually suffer serious and legitimate emotional trauma with the scam artists.

Some people may misinterpret this article but I wanted to be clear that our goal is to NOT teach you how to scam the insurance company.

It is to help you identify :

a)Does your emotional distress qualify as pain and suffering in accident claims?

b)If so, how can you actually prove it in order to receive fair compensation.

Hopefully, you now have a clearer sense of how to evaluate your own emotional pain and suffering and how it can impact your final settlement amount.



[1] Legal Dictionary

[2] WebMd

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