Can You Recover Financial Compensation for Emotional Distress in California?

As outside observers, we tend to look at victims, searching for signs of bruises, broken bones, and cuts. It is as though some part of us believes that all human injury is physical or surface level. But if you are in the company of an emotional abuse survivor or an accident victim who was left psychologically shaken following their ordeal, you can see the signs of deeper injuries if you know where to look. Sometimes the deepest, longest-lasting scars are not the ones visible on the skin but those invisible scars on our hearts and minds.

Under California law, emotional distress can be considered a personal injury. And so, those who have suffered emotional anguish caused by another party’s negligent or intentional actions of another party have the right to seek financial compensation for that injury.

However, proving the damages of emotional distress on an individual may be more challenging than proving a broken bone or a lost limb. It may be necessary for the victim to undergo psychological evaluations or present other evidence to back up their claims of emotional distress in a personal injury lawsuit.

What Might Cause Emotional Distress?

Unlike an accident that may always cause a certain type of injury in most people, emotional distress and mental anguish do not always present in the same types of incidents. It depends largely upon the person, the relationship with the other party, the severity of the incident, and the victim’s tolerance for trauma.

Some emotional trauma is the result of an accident. Car accidents, dangerous falls, defective products, fires, medical malpractice, and dog bites can all cause emotional distress. These are cases of ‘negligent infliction.’ However, as stated, some victims may not be psychologically traumatized by such accidents and not have suffered the effects of emotional distress.

A lesser-known example of negligent infliction is a bystander lawsuit. In these cases, you may sue another party if, as a bystander, you witnessed them seriously harm or fatally injure someone close to you. While you suffered no physical harm yourself, few would argue that, as a witness to the accident, you were directly affected by it. Bystander lawsuits are usually restricted to seeing the loss or injury of a close family member.

Intentional acts are more commonly linked to emotional distress than accidents caused by negligent parties. These acts can conjure thoughts of betrayal, shame, and violation.

Examples of intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) include:

  • Animal cruelty, especially as a means of ‘sending a message,’ can be viewed as abuse.
  • Assault and battery.
  • Emotional abuse and manipulation.
  • Excessive use of force.
  • Retaliation against a victim, witness, or whistleblower.
  • Sexual assault, rape, incest, and abuse.
  • Threats made against a person or a member of their family. These threats can be of a violent, sexual, emotional, or financial nature.
  • Verbal abuse and constant bullying.

What Are Various Examples of Emotional Distress and How Do The Symptoms Affect Victims?

Emotional distress can come in many forms, from the alarmingly obvious to the quiet and sinister.

Mental anguish and psychological distress can present themselves through the following symptoms:

  • A worrying amount of weight loss or weight gain.
  • Constant worry.
  • Depression.
  • Easily angered and irritated.
  • Eating too much or not at all.
  • Extreme levels of fatigue.
  • Faulty memory.
  • Feelings of intense shame and humiliation.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.
  • Flashbacks to the traumatic scene.
  • Inability to focus at work or school.
  • Migraine headaches.
  • Nervousness and anxiety.
  • Nightmares and night terrors.
  • Overwhelmed feelings.
  • Relationship troubles.
  • Severe mood swings.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Suicidal thoughts and ideation.
  • Terror and feelings of horror.
  • Thoughts about how they might be better off dead.
  • Uncontrollable sobbing.
  • Unexplainable feelings of physical pain, like muscle aches.

How Can a Lawyer Prove Emotional Distress Damages?

In addition to pursuing financial damages for the injuries and property damage you suffered from your accident, your personal injury lawyers can also attempt to recover non-economic and punitive damages for any emotional distress you incurred. As stated, however, it may be difficult to prove emotional distress in some cases. It will be up to the attorney, the victim, and any witnesses to establish the facts in the case and provide evidence supporting the claim that the victim suffers from mental anguish post-accident.

Attempts to show the direct link between bodily harm, if any, and emotional distress is a good place to start. For example, if an accident resulted in physical disfigurement or a new disability, then many would agree that such injuries would take an emotional toll on the victim. The more extreme the underlying cause of the emotional anguish, the easier it will be to establish a link between that root cause and the resulting emotional trauma.

If a victim is suffering from symptoms caused by emotional distress, it may be possible to establish a timeline. If the arrival of those symptoms matches up with the date of the accident, then that may prove that the accident caused the distress.

All emotional distress claims should include notes and testimony from doctors and mental health professionals.

Contact Deng Law Center to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation

If you suffered physical injuries and/or emotional pain and suffering as the result of someone else’s actions, you may be entitled to seek financial damages. For an improved chance of financial recovery, hire the legal team of Deng Law Center as your legal representation. We have years of experience helping clients like you recover from injuries and trauma by taking legal action.

Schedule your free consultation by calling our Rosemead law office at 626-280-6000.