A woman covering her face and looking sad

Can You Sue for Emotional Distress in a Personal Injury Case?

When most people think of personal injury lawsuits, they think of recovering compensation for physical injuries. However, you often hear about injury victims suing for “pain and suffering” or emotional distress.

Can you actually sue the defendant in a personal injury case for emotional damages? The answer is yes, but the process is trickier than you might think.

The Two Kinds of Emotional Distress Claims

If you’re suffering from anxiety, depression, shame, flashbacks, or other mental and emotional symptoms as a result of someone else’s actions or failure to act, you might have grounds to sue for emotional distress.

The laws around emotional distress lawsuits vary by state, but in California, there are two legally recognized forms of emotional damages — negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED).

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

If you already have a claim against someone for negligence, you might be able to receive compensation for any emotional distress they caused you. 

Notably, in California, you don’t have to be the person who was directly injured to have an NIED claim. In some circumstances, a bystander might have a claim as well. 

If you want to sue the defendant as a direct victim of their actions, these two points must be true:

  • The defendant acted negligently
  • As a direct result of that negligence, you had severe emotional distress

For example, if someone was texting while driving and caused a car accident, you might not be limited to suing for medical bills — if the crash gave you PTSD, you also might be able to sue for emotional distress.

But what if you weren’t the person directly injured? You might have a bystander claim if these things are true:

  • You’re a close relative of the injured person
  • The person was injured because someone else was negligent
  • You were at the scene of the accident and aware the person was being injured
  • You suffered emotional stress more severe than an unrelated bystander would

For example, say you’re in a car accident caused by someone falling asleep at the wheel. You are unhurt, but your spouse suffers serious injuries. Because you saw someone close to you in a life-threatening situation, you suffer greater emotional distress than someone who just happened to witness the accident. As a result, you might have an emotional distress claim.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

If a person has deliberately caused you severe and prolonged emotional distress, you might be able to sue. In California, a case must meet three separate criteria to qualify as an IIED case:

  • The person who inflicted emotional harm on you behaved outrageously
  • The defendant either caused harm deliberately or because they were reckless
  • You suffered from severe emotional distress because of the way they acted

Here’s an example. Let’s say you work for a company that is in violation of several regulations. You report the company to a regulatory authority. Your supervisor wants to pressure you to withdraw your report, so he corners you in an alley and beats you until you’re severely injured. 

In this case, you’d most likely have a case for physical injury. But because the assault was intended to intimidate and silence you, there’s also clear evidence that your supervisor meant to cause you severe emotional distress.

Has your injury caused you significant emotional distress?

In many cases, the emotional fallout from a personal injury is just as bad as — if not worse than — the physical fallout. If you were injured because someone else was negligent and your injury has caused you emotional harm, you might be able to recover compensation. 

Every case is different, so there’s no way to determine whether you’ll be eligible for compensation without discussing your situation. 

At Saeedian Law Group, we’re ready to fight tirelessly for the compensation you deserve. We have conveniently located offices in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, CA. Reach out today to set up a free consultation with a personal injury attorney!