Can you sue for emotional distress?

May 4, 2020

Pain and Suffering

To understand emotional distress and how it fits in to the legal system in Georgia, let us first revisit pain and suffering. Pain and suffering can be defined as, “the legal term for the physical and emotional stress caused from an injury.”

Sounds simple enough, but calculating these terms is difficult to measure, especially when dealing with emotional distress. The experience of pain and suffering is based on opinion. Therefore, there is no set standard of measurement. Attorneys use the following factors to help determine types of pain and suffering:

  • Severity of the injury
  • Type of medical treatment received
  • The length of recovery time
  • Potential long-term consequences of the personal injuries
  • Emotional and psychological trauma

What Is Emotional Distress?

By definition, emotional distress is a highly unpleasant emotional reaction (as anguish, humiliation, or fury), which results from another’s conduct and for which damages may be sought. Similar terms include:

  • Emotional harm
  • Anguish
  • Disturbance
  • Suffering

“Damages may be recoverable for emotional distress that is caused intentionally or negligently. Recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress often requires that the plaintiff suffer a physical injury as well,” according to the dictionary site. The state of Georgia calls this rule the “impact rule.” The impact rule has three elements:

  1. A physical impact to the plaintiff
  2. The physical impact causes physical injury to the plaintiff
  3. The physical injury to the plaintiff causes the plaintiff’s mental suffering or emotional distress.

The impact rule has been challenged in the Supreme Court of Georgia, and exceptions are rarely made. For example, witnessing the injuries sustained by another person involved in an accident does not fall under the impact rule. This rules out many emotional claims. One of the only exceptions to the impact rule is if the behavior was willful or malicious, like above mentioned.

“Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED; sometimes called the tort of outrage) is a common law tort that allows individuals to recover for severe emotional distress caused by another individual who intentionally or recklessly inflicted emotional distress by behaving in an ‘extreme and outrageous’ way. Some courts and commentators have substituted mental for emotional, but the tort is the same.”

Emotional Trauma After a Car Accident

A common example of emotional distress is the aftermath of a serious car accident. For example, emotional trauma can be caused by the accident itself, physical injuries or the impact on the person’s life. Proving the extent of emotional distress and amount you are entitled can be tricky. Therefore, it’s important to document treatment for psychological distress following a car accident. This usually involves therapy or medication. And, according to research, with proper treatment, most people who are suffering from psychological injuries after a car accident will learn to manage their condition.

Emotional distress can include:

  • Sleep loss
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Humiliation resulting from your injuries, such as from scarring or disfigurement
  • Uncontrollable crying

How Is Emotional Distress Calculated?

Depending on the evidence presented in your case, a judge or jury will decide what is a reasonable amount to award for emotional distress. Georgia law uses the multiplier method. This is simply a way to calculate the cost for pain and suffering. According to some sources, “With this mathematical approach, the cost of one’s medical bills is calculated and then multiplied by a value between 1 and 5. The more severe and permanent the injury, the higher the multiplier.”

Contact HS Law

It’s important to contact a personal injury lawyer to discuss emotional distress after a car accident. They have experience documenting pain and suffering, plus emotional trauma, to an insurance company during settlement negotiations and to a jury at trial. HS Law, specifically, can help with the aftermath. They’ve handled thousands of personal injury cases and helped victims recover damages. The consultation calls are absolutely free.


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