Emotional Distress

Emotional Distress Definition

Legal Definition of Emotional Distress

Emotional distress in legal terms refers to a type of mental suffering or anguish induced by an incident of either negligence or through intent. It is a highly subjective claim but can form the basis of a lawsuit when it is severe enough to constitute a tort, which is a civil wrong that results in harm. Emotional distress is often a component of lawsuits involving personal injury, harassment, defamation, and medical malpractice, among others.

The challenge in proving emotional distress lies in its intangible nature. Unlike physical injuries, there are no X-rays or scars that clearly demonstrate the extent of suffering. Legal recognition of emotional distress typically requires demonstrating that the distress is significant and enduring. Evidence might include the testimony of a psychiatrist or psychologist, medical and pharmacy records, and sometimes testimony from the plaintiff or other witnesses familiar with the plaintiff’s suffering.

There are two main types of emotional distress claims:

  • Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED): This claim applies when a person’s negligent act causes distress to another. It is necessary to prove that the defendant’s actions were negligent, that the emotional distress was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions, and that the distress was substantial and long-lasting.
  • Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED): This more severe form involves cases where a defendant’s outrageous and intentional acts have caused significant emotional distress. The behavior in question must be extreme and beyond the bounds of decency accepted by society.

In cases of NIED, the plaintiff may be required to show a physical manifestation of the emotional distress, such as ulcers, headaches, or other physical symptoms caused by the stress. However, this requirement varies by jurisdiction. In cases of IIED, the standard is typically higher, and the conduct must be more extreme than in cases of NIED.

Compensation for emotional distress can be sought as part of a broader personal injury claim. The amount of damages awarded for emotional distress depends on several factors, including the severity of the distress, the duration of the distress, the underlying circumstances that caused the distress, and the impact of the distress on the plaintiff’s life. Damages awarded are intended to compensate the plaintiff for their suffering and to restore them to the position they were in before the incident occurred.

It is important to note that the laws surrounding emotional distress claims vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and the standards for what constitutes emotional distress can differ significantly. Legal claims for emotional distress are often complex, requiring thorough documentation and expert testimony.

In summary, emotional distress is a legal term used to describe significant mental suffering caused by another’s negligent or intentional actions. It is a subjective claim but can be an important component of personal injury lawsuits, with compensation intended to address the non-physical consequences of a defendant’s actions.


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