What Does It Take To Prove Emotional Distress?

If you suffered a particularly traumatic event as part of your personal injury, you may be able to request damages for emotional distress. To qualify, however, you must first prove that the emotional distress you experienced was traumatic enough to merit compensation. Proving emotional distress in a personal injury case can be difficult, which is why it's important to keep the following in mind as you and your attorney develop your claim.

What is the Underlying Cause?

The first aspect of your emotional distress claim to consider is the underlying cause of the emotional distress. Keep in mind that the circumstances leading up to the emotional distress can easily influence the success of your claim. Claims of emotional distress might not hold up in an ordinary slip-and-fall accident. In a slip-and-fall accident that results in being trapped in a well for hours due to someone else's negligence, however, you may have a much stronger claim for emotional distress.

How Long and How Intense Is the Emotional Distress?

The duration and intensity of your emotional distress can also have a significant impact on your claim's success. Consider the slip-and-fall accident scenario above -- being trapped for hours inside of a well can be a lengthy and intense emotional experience. When presented with this information, it's likely that the courts will also agree. The courts may also consider post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other lingering effects of the event when determining the validity of your emotional distress.

Was the Distress Intentional or Negligent?

Another important point to consider is whether the emotional distress was intentionally inflicted or if it resulted from negligence. For instance, you can claim emotional distress damages if the defendant engages in extreme and outrageous conduct against you. For example, if the defendant plays a practical joke that goes too far and results in extreme embarrassment and humiliation, the defendant may be liable for emotional distress damages.

When it comes to claims involving negligent infliction of emotional distress, however, the courts may require that physical symptoms also be involved. This helps prevent unverifiable and subjective claims of emotional distress from making their way through the court system. Each state has its own requirements in regards to physical symptoms. Some states may allow symptoms such as anxiety, sleeplessness and loss of appetite while others require more severe symptoms. A few states, such as California, don't require physical symptoms as a prerequisite for recovering emotional distress damages.

Are You Part of A "Fragile Class?"

Most courts recognize that emotional distress can have a greater impact on certain groups of people than others. Given their greater vulnerability, these people are typically categorized as a "fragile class." Fragile persons normally include young children, pregnant women and the elderly. If you are part of this fragile class of person, you may find it easier to prove your claim of emotional distress.

Will the Court Consider You "Overly Sensitive?"

On the other hand, the courts typically frown upon people who appear to be overly sensitive to emotional distress. For instance, you may not be able to successfully make an emotional distress claim based on normal insults stemming from an ordinary argument or other conduct that is not considered extreme or outrageous. The courts may consider such claims to be frivolous in nature.

There is the "eggshell plaintiff" rule to consider, although it applies more to physical injury than emotional damages. This rule is essentially requires the defendant to "take the victim as he finds him," meaning the defendant should be held responsible for all damages regardless of whether the costs were raised due to the plaintiff's fragile state (such as an existing rare genetic disorder).

If someone who was already in an emotionally fragile state experiences further emotional distress due to an intentional or negligent act, that person may be able to collect damages without regard to whether someone in an emotionally normal state would have had a similar response. Click here to read more about personal injury law.