Suing for Emotional Distress After a Personal Injury

Suing for Emotional Distress

Getting hurt is almost never a purely physical experience. What happens to your body can affect your mental and emotional state too.

People who find themselves unexpectedly injured because of someone else’s conduct might be left to grapple with feelings of fear, anguish, confusion, depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and beyond. Those experiences can have a profound impact on virtually every aspect of your life.

Emotional injuries are very real. Fortunately, the law in California recognizes that fact and allows victims to recover for their mental anguish or emotional suffering.

So when people ask us, “Can you sue for emotional distress in California?” the answer is yes. There are, however, certain limitations. Moreover, even when emotional distress damages are clearly available under the law, insurance companies typically do all they can to avoid paying them. An experienced Bakersfield personal injury attorney can help.

Let’s take a closer look at the law on emotional distress in California.

When Can You Sue for Emotional Distress?

Claiming Emotional Distress When You Suffer a Physical Injury

When another person’s careless actions (or unreasonable failure to act) results in you getting hurt, you are entitled to seek financial compensation for your damages under California law. Depending on the circumstances, that might include three different kinds of damages:

  • Economic damages: monetary compensation for the financial losses stemming from your injury (e.g. hospital stays, doctor bills, surgeries, medications, lost wages due to time away from work, diminished property value, etc.)
  • Non-economic damages: monetary compensation for your emotional distress (e.g. pain and suffering, mental anguish, depression, PTSD, loss of love and affection, etc.)
  • Punitive damages: money awarded to the plaintiff not as compensation but as punishment for the defendant because of egregious conduct (only available in limited circumstances)

So yes, as a general matter, you can sue for emotional distress in California. In fact, whether you are filing an insurance claim or pursuing a personal injury action in court, your emotional distress damages may account for a significant part of your financial recovery.

Of course, every injury is different, so you’ll want to talk with an experienced California personal injury attorney to learn how much money you might be able to recover for emotional distress in your situation.

Can You Sue for Emotional Distress If You Weren’t Physically Injured?

In most cases, when someone pursues a claim for emotional distress, it is part of a larger personal injury claim arising out of a physical injury. But is it ever possible to sue for emotional distress when no one was physically harmed?

As a general rule, you can’t sue merely for “hurt feelings” in California. There are, however, certain situations in which someone can successfully take legal action based on emotional distress alone, even in the absence of any physical injury. These might include situations where:

  • You are put in imminent fear for your physical safety;
  • You witness someone you have a close relationship with being physically injured or killed; or
  • The defendant has defamed your character; or
  • You develop a disorder as a result of someone else’s conduct, even though there is no physical contact.

These are only a few examples. There may be other situations where, depending on the circumstances, you would be entitled to recover emotional distress damages with or without physical injury.

Two of the most common grounds for suing for emotional distress without a physical injury are Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED) and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED).

There’s a lot to know about these types of claims. The specific facts and details surrounding your emotional distress matter very much, and in general, a successful claim requires evidence of more than just “hurt feelings” or “being upset.”

IIED, for example, requires evidence that the defendant’s actions were outrageous and intended to cause you distress (or that the defendant acted with reckless disregard toward your emotional distress), and that your distress is severe.

NIED, however, does not require proof of intent, recklessness, or severe distress. But it does require evidence that the defendant’s carelessness was a substantial factor in the development of your distress.

Generally speaking, NIED claims are easier to prove than IIED claims. But the laws governing these claims are complex. It is important to discuss your matter carefully with an attorney. An experienced Bakersfield personal injury attorney can help you determine whether you might have a claim for emotional distress and on which grounds.

When Can’t You Sue for Emotional Distress in CA?

California law places certain limitations on emotional distress damages in some cases.

For example, while car accident victims are typically allowed to recover emotional distress damages in California, they cannot do so if:

  • The person making the claim is convicted of a DUI in connection with the accident
  • The person making the claim did not have proper auto insurance for the vehicle they were driving in the crash (though this exception may not apply in situations where the defendant is convicted of a DUI in connection with the accident)

Your ability to sue for emotional distress may be limited in other circumstances as well. Workers’ comp coverage in California does not include pain and suffering benefits, for example. However, there are situations in which injured workers can sue for emotional distress outside of the workers’ comp system.

It’s important to talk about your options with an experienced lawyer before making any assumptions about your rights. An experienced Bakersfield personal injury attorney at The Law Offices of Mickey Fine can help.

Let Us Fight to Get You the Money You Deserve.

Want to learn more about whether you can sue for emotional distress or include pain and suffering damages as part of an insurance claim in California? A Bakersfield personal injury attorney at The Law Offices of Mickey Fine can help you navigate the claims process from beginning to end.

We fight to maximize financial compensation for our clients, including emotional distress compensation whenever it is available.

To learn more about your rights and options, please contact our office and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Time limits do apply to personal injury claims in California, so please don’t delay.

Call 661-333-3333 in Bakersfield to talk with an experienced personal injury lawyer today, or contact us online right away.

We will never charge a fee for our services unless we get you money first. The initial consultation is absolutely free.

Personal Injury
by Mickey Fine Law
Last updated on - Originally published on