What Is Emotional Distress?

March 19, 2024 | Ed Bernstein
What Is Emotional Distress?

When individuals behave negligently or carelessly, serious accidents can occur, including motor vehicle crashes, pedestrian accidents, premises accidents, and product malfunctions. In addition to recovering monetary compensation for physical injuries as part of a personal injury claim, accident victims may also receive compensation for their mental suffering. This compensation may include damages for emotional distress and mental anguish.

If you recently suffered injuries in an occurrence that someone else caused, a personal injury attorney can manage every aspect of your case, from filing a claim to successfully litigating your case in court. Your attorney can also answer all your questions, guide you through the legal process, and work diligently to resolve your case efficiently. This includes gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, negotiating with insurance companies, and, if necessary, representing you in court to seek the compensation you deserve for your injuries and damages.


Types of Emotional Distress Following an Accident

Emotional distress resulting from an accident due to someone else's negligence can be a profound and enduring ordeal for the affected individual. When someone experiences emotional distress in the aftermath of such an incident, it encompasses a range of intense emotions like anxiety, fear, and anguish. These feelings often manifest as a direct consequence of the trauma that the accident victim experienced.

The emotional aftermath may involve persistent feelings of unease, replaying the traumatic event mentally, and grappling with the profound disruption resulting from someone else's failure to exercise reasonable care. Victims frequently grapple with a heightened sense of vulnerability as the incident challenges their perception of safety and security.

Moreover, emotional distress can extend beyond the immediate aftermath of the accident, potentially leading to long-term psychological consequences. Individuals may find themselves struggling with symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety disorders. The effect on one's overall well-being can be profound, affecting daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Seeking legal recourse is often an avenue for those experiencing emotional distress due to another's negligence. Through legal action, individuals aim not only to address the physical consequences of the accident but also to obtain compensation for the emotional toll endured. Acknowledging and addressing emotional distress is crucial for holistic recovery, emphasizing the importance of both medical and psychological support in navigating the aftermath of an accident due to another person's negligence.

Types of Occurrences That Lead to Emotional Distress 

Emotional Distress

When someone becomes a victim of an accident stemming from another's negligence, the emotional distress can be profound and multifaceted. Types of occurrences that may lead to emotional distress include the following:

  • Motor Vehicle Collisions — In the context of a motor vehicle collision, the immediate shock and fear during impact often sow the seeds of enduring trauma. Beyond the physical injuries, individuals may grapple with heightened anxiety and fear associated with the road. The once-familiar act of driving transforms into a source of stress, triggering memories of the accident and a pervasive fear of recurrence.
  • Premises Accidents — Premises accidents arising from negligence in maintaining a safe environment introduce a unique set of emotional challenges. The suddenness of a slip and fall or another mishap can create a sense of vulnerability. Victims may find themselves haunted by the incident, experiencing persistent anxiety in public spaces. The emotional toll extends beyond physical recovery, influencing confidence and overall mental well-being. Trust in the safety of everyday surroundings can erode, leaving individuals emotionally burdened.
  • Product MalfunctionsDefective product malfunctions, another avenue for accidents due to negligence, introduce a betrayal of trust that goes beyond physical harm. Discovering that a product, presumed safe and reliable, has caused injury due to design or manufacturing negligence can be emotionally devastating. This breach of trust extends beyond the specific product, affecting an individual's willingness to embrace new technologies or consumer goods. The emotional distress becomes intertwined with a sense of vulnerability in everyday life.

Moreover, the overarching emotional distress resulting from negligence-induced accidents is not limited to specific categories. It permeates various facets of an

individual's psyche. Feelings of helplessness, anger, and a loss of control over one's life become pervasive. The strain on personal relationships often intensifies as victims navigate the complexities of recovery and emotional healing. The ripple effects of the trauma extend to the broader fabric of daily life, affecting an individual's ability to trust, adapt, and engage with the world.

Accidents resulting from someone else's negligence, whether on the road, in public spaces, or through consumer products, evoke a range of emotional distress. The aftermath is complex and far-reaching, affecting the immediate victims and those associated with them. Recognizing and addressing these emotional challenges becomes paramount for holistic recovery and restoring normalcy.

Proving the Elements of an Emotional Distress Claim or Lawsuit

Successfully proving the legal elements of an emotional distress personal injury claim demands a comprehensive approach rooted in tangible evidence and persuasive argumentation.

First, establishing negligence is fundamental. Demonstrating that the at-fault party (the defendant) owed a duty of care, breached that duty through their actions or inactions, and that this breach directly caused the emotional distress are crucial steps in proving liability. Providing concrete evidence of the defendant's negligent behavior, such as witness statements, surveillance footage, or professional testimony, strengthens this crucial aspect of the case.

To substantiate the severity of the emotional distress, meticulous documentation is essential. Medical records, psychiatric evaluations, and testimonies from mental health professionals serve as tangible proof of the psychological repercussions. These documents should explicitly connect the emotional distress to the defendant's negligence, emphasizing causation. Furthermore, detailing how the distress has affected the victim's daily life, relationships, and overall well-being bolsters the claim's credibility.

Credible witnesses play a pivotal role in reinforcing the emotional distress claim. Testimonies from individuals who have observed the victim's changed behavior, mood, or mental state provide external validation. These witnesses should prepare to articulate the noticeable shift in the victim's life since the incident, establishing a link between the defendant's actions and the resulting emotional distress.

Incorporating expert witnesses, such as psychologists or psychiatrists, adds professional authority to the claim. These expert witnesses can offer insights into the specific psychological injuries suffered, their causation, and the potential long-term effects. Their testimony can be instrumental in persuading the court of the legitimacy and severity of the emotional distress.

Finally, a compelling narrative is crucial for presenting emotional distress relatable and persuasively. Crafting a cohesive story around the incident, the resulting emotional effects, and their ongoing repercussions helps humanize the victim's experience. This narrative should seamlessly weave together the legal elements, creating a clear, convincing storyline that resonates with the judge and jury alike.

Successfully proving the legal elements of an emotional distress personal injury claim requires a meticulous and multifaceted approach. From establishing negligence to presenting compelling evidence, leveraging credible witnesses, incorporating professional opinions, and weaving a persuasive narrative, each element plays a crucial role in building a robust case that stands up in court.

Recoverable Monetary Damages for Mental Anguish and Emotional Distress

When seeking monetary damages for emotional distress and mental anguish resulting from someone else's negligence, accident victims can pursue various avenues for compensation. One primary form is compensatory damages, which seek to reimburse the victim for actual financial losses incurred due to the emotional distress. This may encompass medical expenses related to mental health treatment, therapy sessions, and psychiatric evaluations. Establishing a direct link between these costs and the emotional distress that the defendant's negligence caused is crucial for a successful claim.

Moreover, victims may seek compensation for loss of income or earning capacity resulting from their emotional distress. If the psychological injuries impede the victim's ability to work or lead to a diminished earning capacity, the damages should encompass the financial repercussions of these setbacks. Providing evidence of the connection between the emotional distress and the subsequent economic losses strengthens this claim.

Non-economic damages, another avenue for compensation, are less tangible but equally significant. Pain and suffering, an integral component of non-economic damages, encapsulates the physical and emotional distress the victim experiences. Courts often consider the severity and duration of the emotional distress, as well as the repercussions on the victim's daily life and relationships, when determining an appropriate award for pain and suffering.

Loss of consortium is another facet of non-economic damages. This refers to the adverse effects the emotional distress has on the victim's relationships, including those with a spouse or family members. The claimant may pursue compensation for the strain and disruption to these relationships due to the defendant's negligence.

In some cases, the victim may seek punitive damages to punish the defendant for particularly egregious conduct, acting as a deterrent to prevent similar actions in the future. However, punitive damages are typically available in skilled circumstances where the defendant's actions were negligent and demonstrated a willful disregard for the victim's well-being.

The types of monetary damages available to accident victims for emotional distress and mental anguish resulting from negligence encompass both compensatory and non-economic categories. From reimbursing tangible financial losses to acknowledging the intangible aspects of pain and suffering and loss of consortium, seeking a comprehensive understanding of the available avenues ensures a fair and just compensation for the victim's emotional injuries.

Litigating an Emotional Distress Claim in the Court System

Emotional Distress Lawsuit

Successfully litigating an emotional distress claim involves navigating a comprehensive legal process. Commencing with filing a lawsuit, the initial step requires a meticulously crafted complaint that outlines the defendant's negligent actions, the resulting emotional distress, and the specific damages sought. The complaint serves as the foundation for the legal proceedings, setting the stage for subsequent phases.

Moving forward, the discovery process plays a pivotal role in gathering evidence to support the emotional distress claim. Interrogatories, document requests, and depositions allow both parties to uncover crucial information. The plaintiff must proactively provide evidence of the defendant's negligence, the direct link to the emotional distress, and the resulting damages. This phase is integral in building a robust case and anticipating the defendant's potential counterarguments.

Engaging in settlement negotiations follows the discovery process, offering an opportunity for resolution before trial. Skillful negotiation is key during this phase, as it requires a nuanced understanding of the emotional distress, its effects, and a persuasive presentation of the damages sought. Negotiating a fair settlement demands a balance between the plaintiff's need for compensation and the defendant's willingness to resolve the matter without going through a lengthy trial.

However, if settlement negotiations prove unsuccessful, the case proceeds to a jury trial or alternative dispute resolution (ADR) proceeding. A jury trial involves presenting the case before a judge and a panel of jurors who will determine the outcome based on the evidence presented. The plaintiff's legal team must effectively convey the emotional distress, establish the defendant's negligence, and illustrate the extent of the damages to secure a favorable verdict.

On the other hand, ADR mechanisms like mediation or arbitration provide alternative routes for resolution. During these proceedings, a neutral third party facilitates discussions, aiming to reach a mutually agreeable settlement. Success in ADR hinges on the plaintiff's ability to articulate the emotional distress persuasively and negotiate effectively.

Successfully litigating an emotional distress claim necessitates a strategic and well-executed approach. From filing a lawsuit and navigating the discovery process to engaging in settlement negotiations or taking the case to a jury trial or ADR proceeding, each phase requires meticulous preparation, persuasive advocacy, and a nuanced understanding of the emotional distress and its legal implications.

Talk with a Personal Injury Lawyer Near You Today

If you sustained physical injuries and emotional anguish as a result of someone else's negligence, you may have legal options available to you. A knowledgeable personal injury attorney can explore the available legal options in your case and file a personal injury claim with the appropriate insurance company on your behalf. Your lawyer can fight for your legal rights and aggressively negotiate for fair settlement compensation during your case. If the insurance company refuses to resolve your case fairly, your attorney may file a lawsuit and litigate your case to a successful resolution in the state court system.


Ed Bernstein

Edward M. Bernstein, Esq. is the owner and founding partner of Edward M. Bernstein & Associates, and one of the most recognizable figures in Nevada. Ed is one of state’s premier personal injury attorneys and has hosted The Ed Bernstein Show for over 31 years. He has served the Las Vegas community for decades with dozens of community appointments and terms of service. In the year 2000, he was Nevada’s Democratic nominee for the United States Senate.

Ed received his B.A. from Long Island University in 1971 and his J.D. from Widener University in 1975. Since then, Ed’s professional accolades include numerous publications, honors and awards, court appointments, and has been named one of America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.