Mental Anguish and Emotional Distress

Mental anguish and emotional distress is generally defined as a type of psychological response that often accompany the trauma of a physical injury or accident.


Symptoms of Mental Anguish

  •   Anxiety
  •   Apprehension
  •   Confusion
  •   Humiliation
  •   Shock
  •   Sorrow
  •   Terror
  •   Isolation
  •   Loss of self-confidence
  •   Dropping out of your usual activities because of loss of self-confidence

Example: Mental Anguish and Emotional Distress Due to a Car Accident

For years, Sally has been driving her children to school, soccer games, and other extra-curricular activities. The drives were an enjoyable time, spent laughing with her children and talking about how their days went.

Since her car accident, however, Sally is tense and nervous behind the wheel. She scolds her children when they laugh or otherwise distract her from driving. She feels terrible, but ever since the accident she can’t help it.

Sally is bitter and now resents having to drive. She feels guilty for being mean to her children. She’s frustrated because she doesn’t want to feel this way, but she can’t help it. Sally also now has difficulty sleeping, and can’t enjoy her husband’s companionship.

Sally is anxious because she doesn’t know when her symptoms of emotional distress will end. She hopes it will get better as the days and weeks go by, and it probably will. But in the meantime, her life as she knew it before the accident has completely changed.

Sally is suffering from a variety of psychological symptoms due to the trauma of her auto accident. These symptoms have a serious adverse effect on her quality of life and provide the necessary grounds for seeking mental anguish and emotional distress damages.


Ways To Prove Mental Anguish and Emotional Distress

  •   Intensity. The more intense the mental anguish, the better chance you have of proving that your emotional distress was severe enough to deserve compensation. Cases alleging negligent, rather than intentional, infliction of emotional distress may require some sort of physical injury as well.
  •   Duration. Persistent and recurring pain that remains with you for a long period of time, like post traumatic stress, may also help prove severe emotional distress.
  •   Related Bodily Harm. While it may be difficult to point out evidence of the emotional distress, you may more easily provide evidence of related bodily injury like ulcers, headaches, and other physical signs of distress.
  •   Underlying Cause. The more extreme the underlying cause of the emotional distress, the more likely a court will find emotional distress. For example, surviving a bombing may be more likely to support a claim than being the victim of an ordinary read-end car accident that resulted in no physical injuries.
  •   Doctor’s Note. A note by a doctor or psychologist should be provided to support every claim.
  •   Letters. Get letters from your loved ones confirming in their own words how they’ve observed your emotional condition since the accident. Objective sources will carry more weight.
  •   Journals. Keep a journal of how you feel during your recovery. Records of your day-to-day thoughts and feelings can in some cases be used as evidence of emotional distress in a trial.
  •   Prescriptions. Compile a list of your prescription medications, particularly those for depression, anxiety, or other psychological symptoms.

Compensation for Mental Anguish and Emotional Distress

With mental anguish or emotional distress, victims suffer from non-economic damages - injuries that are not out-of-pocket and are relatively hard to quantify. Placing a value on your non-economic damages, therefore, requires the plaintiff to first revert to the value of his or her special damages, which is the sum of one’s lost wages, medical expenses, and out-of-pocket expenses.

For minor to moderate injuries, multiply the total of your special damages by 1 to 5. The number depends on the seriousness of your injuries, and whether they were soft tissue or hard injuries. The more serious the injuries, the higher the multiple.
Once you’ve determined your multiple, multiply your total costs by that number to get the amount you feel accurately represents your suffering. The result is the total amount you will demand for a final settlement.
Many states have compensation caps for non-economic damages, however. California, for example, has a compensation cap of $250,000 under the state’s Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act of 1975 (MICRA).