Is it possible to pursue litigation in personal injury court without the presence of physical injuries? This article addresses the complex legal concept of emotional distress as it relates to personal injury law. Read on for a basic understanding of this process.
Non-Physical Personal Injuries and Recovering Compensation
An accident victim may be able to recover compensation for mental pain and suffering when the root cause of that pain and suffering is related to a physical personal injury the plaintiff suffered due to the defendant’s negligence. In these cases, the related emotional distress caused by the physical injury can be assessed and compensated as damages.
It can be much more difficult for accident victims to recover compensation for purely emotional distress in the absence of any physical pain or injury after an accident. However, if a plaintiff and their legal team can prove that the infliction of emotional distress was intentional and extreme in nature, then there may be a case for pursuing compensation for damages resulting from the emotional distress.
The plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant’s conduct is considered unacceptable by the norms of civilized society. A common example of this type of behavior is repeated death threats. If these threats of harm cause emotional distress to manifest into physical symptoms associated with conditions such as anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then the plaintiff may be able to prove to the court that they are owed compensation from the plaintiff to help pay for the treatment needed to address these symptoms.
Understanding “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress”
The key concept a personal injury court will consider in cases where there is no evidence of physical pain is the intentional infliction of emotional distress. This type of case often involves some kind of conduct by the defendant that is severe and outrageous enough to cause severe emotional trauma to the plaintiff.
Not all types of behavior qualify as severe and outrageous enough to qualify for litigation. In general society, people must be prepared to deal with a certain degree of rude or offensive behavior from others. However, when this type of conduct becomes pervasive and severe, it may warrant taking the offender to court.
Severe Emotional Distress Defined
Although no formal definition of severe emotional distress exists, there are some guidelines courts can use to answer the question, “How severe is severe enough?” Judges will often look at the conduct in question and the suffering of the victim and ask themselves if any reasonable person should be expected to endure it. If not, emotional distress is likely severe enough to warrant compensation.
Additionally, the duration and intensity of the emotional distress is also an important contribution to its severity. The longer the emotional distress carries on for, the more likely it will be to constitute severe emotional distress.
The amount of evidence a plaintiff must present to a court will vary from case to case. Sometimes, the plaintiff will need to show that their persistent anxiety or paranoia was a result of the defendant’s behavior. The victim’s physician or psychiatrist may be called upon to speak to the severity of their distress. In other cases, the conduct of the defendant is clearly severe enough that relatively little further exploration or presentation of evidence is needed.