Across the world, victims of workplace accidents, car crashes, and slip and fall accidents can suffer not only physically but also emotionally. But can you sue for emotional distress in the United States?

What is Emotional Distress?

It is typical for people to associate trauma resulting from human-caused and natural disasters with physical injuries. However, these victims may also suffer trauma that can not be seen with the naked eye. Emotional distress, or mental anguish, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a highly unpleasant emotional reaction (as anguish, humiliation, or fury) which results from another’s conduct and for which damages may be sought.”

If you or a loved one have dealt with emotional distress that resulted from another’s conduct, damages may be sought. To schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Cochran Firm attorney, please contact us today. We serve the entire country with offices in many prominent United States cities.

Emotional Distress Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can a judge refuse to send a claim for emotional distress to the jury?

A: Yes. For example, the judge may deem the defendant’s conduct was not sufficiently outrageous.

Q: Can I file a claim for emotional distress after witnessing an accident involving a close relative?

A: Yes. The “zone of danger” refers to being in the presence of an accident injuring a close relative.

Q: Can I file a claim for emotional distress if someone “flips the bird” at me?

A: No. Receiving a “bird” hand gesture does not constitute an emotional distress claim.

Q: What do I need to prove emotional distress?

A: The victim must prove that the distress is more than fleeing, the distress is medically significant, and the defendant’s conduct is the cause of emotional distress.

Q: Are headaches considered emotional distress?

A: No, headaches do not fall under emotional distress. However, feelings like fright, dismay and humiliation are considered emotional distress.

Common Forms of Emotional Distress

  • Humiliation
  • Loss of marriage partner
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Low quality of life
  • Mental suffering

In legal terms, emotional distress is psychological or mental pain due to another party’s unlawful or negligent behavior. Much like lawsuits for medical costs, lawsuits for emotional distress can oftentimes help to finance treatment or disabilities attributable to unlawfully inflicted pain. Emotional distress claims are often included in larger lawsuits since emotional pain damages are difficult to assess on their own at times.

Negligent and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In tort law, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress are two causes of action that involve inflicting emotional distress.

Intentional infliction of emotional distress happens when someone acts with the intention to have someone else suffer severe emotional distress (e.g., threatening future harm to another person). This intentional act may occur in cases such as nursing home abuse or sexual abuse

Negligent infliction of emotional distress occurs when someone causes extreme emotional distress through negligent action. The intent is not essential for negligent infliction of emotional distress to transpire. This negligent act of inflicting emotional distress is more common in terms of personal injury lawsuits and applies to occurrences such as: 

  • Automobile accidents
  • Trucking accidents
  • Motorcycle accidents
  • Workplace accidents
  • Pedestrian accidents 

If you’ve experienced negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress, seek medical or psychological attention, document your claim, and contact us today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Cochran Firm attorney.

Emotional Distress: Risk Factors and Warning Signs

It is not unusual to feel symptoms of stress prior to or subsequent to a crisis. Human-caused and natural disasters can have overwhelming impacts on people’s lives because they can cause physical injury as well as emotional distress. Any person who sees or experiences a disaster can be impacted in some way. The majority of stress symptoms are transient and will resolve by themselves in a relatively short amount of time. Yet, for some Americans, particularly teenagers and young children, these symptoms of stress may last for several months and could influence their connections with friends and family. Some common emotional distress warning signs include:

  • Overeating
  • Undereating
  • Sleeping more or less than usual
  • Distancing yourself from others
  • Having a lack of energy or none at all
  • Experiencing inexplicable aches and pains
  • Feeling helpless or useless
  • Excessive smoking or intoxication
  • Abusing prescription medications
  • Feeling an overwhelming sense of worry or guilt
  • Contemplating killing or hurting someone else or yourself

Emotional distress risk factors include those who:

  • Survived a previous human-caused or natural disaster
  • Lost a friend or loved one involved in a disaster
  • Fell victim to traumas such as abuse or severe accidents
  • Trauma from witnessing or being exposed to death or near-death

For anyone who has lived through a disaster, the anniversary of the occurrence can renew fear, anxiety, sadness, and other emotions. Specific sounds like sirens or gunshots can also activate emotional distress. Sensations like these can mentally place victims into the mindset they were in during the event or cause them to worry that it is going to happen again. These overwhelming feelings can happen at any time. For some victims, emotional distress can be incredibly embarrassing and has enough impact to hinder day-to-day activities such as driving or eating. Being emotionally distressed can be highly disruptive to regular routines, which can lead to stress and invites violent behavior in some situations, including domestic violence.

When someone is injured due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another, The Cochran Firm is here to help with 24/7 specialists to address your needs or questions. If an injury is caused by another due to an automobile or trucking collision, explosion, defective product, dangerous drug, medical procedures, or any other means, the attorneys at The Cochran Firm have the resources, experience, and results to hold the offending party accountable. We understand the emotional distress that our clients experience when they or a loved one are injured due to circumstances out of their control or negligence of another. The Cochran Firm attorneys are committed to treating all of our clients with the empathy, understanding, and respect that they deserve. If you or a loved one is or may be experiencing psychological or mental pain due to another party’s unlawful or negligent behavior, call The Cochran Firm at 1-800-The-Firm or contact us online for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Can I Sue Someone for Emotional Distress?

The emotional distress due to another’s unlawful or negligent behavior that victims across the United States experience can have prolonged effects. So, can you sue for emotional distress?

In some circumstances, the answer is yes. Although nothing can withdraw the harm that has been done, the law gives victims of injury the legal right to secure compensation from those responsible for the accident. In each state, the statutes on damages for emotional distress vary. For example, in Washington, D.C., injury laws allow a victim to recover compensation for both financial and non-monetary damages for pain and suffering, such as emotional distress. D.C. courts have also outlined types of emotional distress cases where victims may be able to recover damages:

  • Pain and suffering originating from personal injuries
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress in outrageous and extreme situations, such as death threats, repeated harassment, or stalking
  • Negligent conduct liable to cause emotional distress where the accused party has a legal duty to look after the victim’s wellbeing
  • Partners filing suit against negligent persons for the loss of emotional enjoyment
  • Emotional distress from being close to a hazardous accident where the victim believed they would sustain a serious personal injury

If you believe you have an emotional distress claim, please contact us today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with one of our Cochran Firm attorneys.

Extreme Circumstances of Emotional Distress

In some circumstances, filing a lawsuit can be a tiresome and winding road to drive on. Yet, there are ways in which your attorney can help to seek the maximum compensation allowed by law. So, who is eligible for an emotional distress claim? Our states have varying laws. The good thing about consulting an attorney is that you can discover justice through the law with experience on your side. One example of how the law can be ever-changing is to look back to December of 2021 when the Indiana Supreme Court ruled to expand the limit to the number of people who are eligible to secure damages in negligent infliction of emotional distress lawsuits. Lawsuits in Indiana seeking emotional distress damages normally can only be pursued by someone who sustains a direct physical injury, sustains an injury that kills or injures someone else, or observes a relative’s death or serious injury right after it occurs.

However, Indiana’s court said it is now allowing a guardian or parent to request damages from a child caretaker when the guardian or parent has hard evidence that the caretaker sexually abused the child and that abuse severely affected the guardian or parent’s emotional wellbeing. The new rule appeared as a result of a case that involved the sexual assault of a profoundly disabled child in 2015 and 2016 by an assistant responsible for her wellbeing at a Metropolitan School District school in Indianapolis. The perpetrator reportedly confessed two years later and pleaded guilty to molesting the child, ultimately leading to a 13-year sentence.

The mother of the child sued the perpetrator, school, and school district in 2019 with claims of emotional distress as a result of the child’s sexual assault. Her distress allegedly compromised her ability to look after her daughter at home, forcing her to incur costs for the child’s care facility. The mother’s suit was reportedly turned aside by courts due to her claims not fitting any of the classes for which emotional distress damages can be pursued, largely considering she did not see the abuse happen and learned of it later in time. Supreme Court Justice Christopher Goff found that an extension was imperative because “the extraordinary circumstances here warrant a proper remedy.”

“Justice compels us to fashion a rule permitting a claim for damages limited to circumstances like those presented here,” Goff noted in an opinion coupled with Justice Steven David and Chief Justice Loretta Rush. He also noted that the facts of the case perfectly aligned with Indiana’s new rule and arranged that the mother be allowed to proceed with her emotional distress claim.

Justice Geoffrey Slaughter disagreed with the ruling, suggesting that expansion of emotional distress should be left to the Legislature instead of the courts. Slaughter noted that the decision opens the door to an excess of emotional distress claims.

What is Pain and Suffering?

When you bear serious injuries, you may come up against medical expenses, the inability to work, and personal pain and suffering. This is why our personal injury attorneys fight for the maximum compensation the law allows. The Cochran Firm seeks damages well beyond the insignificant offerings that insurance companies typically make.

Pain and suffering refers to the emotional, physical, or mental losses attributable to an injury. This term categorizes general damages as a result of another in the event of injuries such as a car crash. In most cases, the statute of limitations to file a pain and suffering claim is one year. Under Tennessee law, for example, various elements may contribute to a victim’s suffering, such as:

  • Emotional pain
  • Disfigurement
  • Mental anguish
  • Depression
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical pain
  • Trauma and fear
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of property, income, spouse

When assessing pain and suffering for a victim’s injuries, an experienced personal injury lawyer will look at not only the existing emotional, mental and physical pain but also damages that will continue for months or years to come. One injury has the possibility to completely impact your life and the lives of your family members and friends. Compensation can help ease the burden imposed upon you and your loved one’s livelihood and overall happiness. To schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Cochran Firm attorney, please contact us today.

Frequently Sustained Injuries in the U.S.

The type of injuries frequently sustained in the United States can include:

  • Emotional distress
  • Medical and rehabilitation expenses
  • Home care and retrofit modifications
  • Adaptive technology
  • Current and future lost wages
  • Quality of life adjustments
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Property damage

Without a personal injury attorney, victims are at the mercy of insurance companies that, unfortunately, place their profits over the victim’s recovery. With a Cochran Firm attorney, victims are supported by a legal team with the resources and experience to handle their case in the best possible manner in order to secure the maximum compensation allowed by law.

Examples of Common Personal Injury Claims

Some common examples of personal injury claims include:

One of the most common reasons for lawsuits that involve someone else’s negligence is damages for injuries and the impact of those injuries. If you or a loved one have dealt with emotional distress that resulted from another’s conduct, damages may be sought. To schedule your free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced Cochran Firm attorney, please contact us today. We serve the entire country with offices in many major United States cities.

How Do I File an Emotional Distress Claim?

When dealing with emotional distress, the pathway to compensation can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, The Cochran Firm’s experienced, supportive attorneys are there for victims. Filing an emotional distress claim can be simplified into four stages in order to sue for emotional damages and mental anguish. These stages include:

  • Documenting the victim’s emotional distress: Document everything in relation to the distress, and do it to the best of your ability. More evidence presented is always better than the lack thereof. Documentation will help to recover your damages. Document things such as:
  • Medical records
  • Work records
  • Therapy sessions
  • Daily emotional state
  • Electronic heart trackers
  • Sleeping pattern trackers
  • Intensity and duration of pain
  • And other pertinent elements that could relate to your emotional distress

Expert witnesses could testify about your situation, which could raise the costs and duration of the trial. Establishing a relationship between negligence and losses can be tough and fatiguing with the amount of legal research that is required. It is a prolonged process, but if your suffering has affected your life in a negative way, there are possibilities to review for compensation.

  • Consulting with an attorney: An attorney will review all of the things you documented for your emotional distress claim. With this information, they will help you prepare for the emotional distress claim. 
  • Filing the lawsuit: With preparation and your attorney by your side, you can now sue the defendant.
  • Preparing for trial: Once the accused party is served, you enter into the discovery process, where information is exchanged from both parties. During the process, the lawsuit could be resolved by an offer to settle in order to avoid a trial. Thankfully, you will have your attorney there to assist you in whatever decision you make.

If the settlement turns out to be an inadequate amount of compensation for the victim’s emotional distress, then the suit will be pushed to trial. Courts will hear the evidence and arguments from both parties and form their final decision. This process can be time-consuming and difficult, especially for victims dealing with such heightened emotions. To give yourself the strongest chance of securing your damages, we strongly suggest consulting your different options with your attorney.

If you’re interested in a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, please call 1-800-The-Firm or contact us online today. Founded over 50 years ago, The Cochran Firm is one of the nation's premier plaintiffs' litigation, personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, civil rights, product liability, and criminal defense law firms. With regional offices throughout the United States, The Cochran Firm is a diverse group of highly esteemed and experienced men and women dedicated to bringing quality representation to injured people and their families. Through our work, we will promote respect, compassion, and understanding for all people, no matter their race, religion, or political beliefs. Whether you are dealing with emotional distress, environmental or toxic exposure, or tragic human death, The Cochran Firm will always fight for justice.

*Changes may occur in Emotional Distress and Personal Injury law. The information provided is intended to help you better understand generalized law. It’s not intended to be legal advice regarding a particular circumstance or to substitute for the advice of an attorney.


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“Emotional Distress Definition & Meaning.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 

“How Are Pain and Suffering Damages Calculated?” The Cochran Firm Memphis,

“Indiana Court Expands Who Can Get Emotional Distress Damages.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 27 Dec. 2021, 

“Justices Limit Discrimination Claims for Emotional Distress.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 28 Apr. 2022, 

“Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 

“Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Emotional Distress.” SAMHSA,