Emotional Distress

Emotional distress, often referred to as “emotional harm” or “mental distress,” is a legal term used to describe a psychological injury or harm experienced by an individual due to the intentional or negligent actions of another party.

Defining Emotional Distress

Emotional distress encompasses a broad range of emotional and psychological symptoms resulting from a distressing incident or traumatic event. These symptoms may include anxiety, depression, insomnia, and other adverse emotional reactions. In the legal context, emotional distress may serve as the basis for a civil lawsuit when it can be attributed to the wrongful actions of another person or entity.

Types of Emotional Distress

Emotional distress can manifest in various forms, including:

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED): This occurs when a person suffers emotional distress as a result of another party’s negligence. For instance, a bystander witnessing a loved one’s injury due to another’s negligence may experience NIED.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED): This form involves intentional actions by a person or entity that cause severe emotional distress to another. To establish IIED, it must be proven that the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous.

Impact Rule: In some jurisdictions, emotional distress claims require a physical impact or injury as a prerequisite. This means that the plaintiff must demonstrate a direct physical injury resulting from the defendant’s actions before pursuing an emotional distress claim.

Zone of Danger: This doctrine allows recovery for emotional distress when a person is in a zone of danger and reasonably fears for their own safety due to the defendant’s negligent actions.

Elements Required for an Emotional Distress Claim

To succeed in an emotional distress claim, specific elements must be present, depending on the type of emotional distress alleged:

For Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED):

  • Duty of Care: The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • Breach of Duty: The defendant breached that duty through negligence.
  • Causation: The defendant’s breach of duty directly caused the plaintiff’s emotional distress.
  • Recognizable Harm: The emotional distress suffered by the plaintiff must be recognized as substantial or significant.

For Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED):

  • Intentional Conduct: The defendant’s actions were intentional or reckless.
  • Extreme and Outrageous Behavior: The defendant’s actions were extreme and outrageous, surpassing the bounds of decency.
  • Causation: The defendant’s actions directly caused the plaintiff’s emotional distress.
  • Severe Emotional Distress: The plaintiff experienced severe emotional distress as a result of the defendant’s actions.

The “Thin Skull” Rule:

In some jurisdictions, the “thin skull” rule applies, which means that the defendant is liable for the full extent of the plaintiff’s emotional distress, even if the plaintiff had a pre-existing emotional vulnerability that exacerbated the distress.

Significance in Tort Law

Emotional distress claims play a significant role in tort law, particularly in cases where physical injuries are not present but psychological harm has occurred. These claims provide a legal avenue for individuals to seek compensation for the emotional suffering they’ve endured due to the wrongful acts of others. Emotional distress cases often arise in various contexts, including:

Personal Injury Cases: Emotional distress is frequently included as part of a personal injury claim when the plaintiff has suffered both physical injuries and psychological harm due to an accident or incident.

Workplace Harassment: Employees may pursue emotional distress claims when they experience harassment, discrimination, or other harmful workplace behaviors that cause severe psychological harm.

Wrongful Death Cases: Surviving family members may seek compensation for the emotional distress resulting from the loss of a loved one due to another party’s negligence or intentional actions.

Medical Malpractice: Patients who experience emotional distress as a result of medical errors or malpractice may pursue legal claims for compensation.

Defenses Against Emotional Distress Claims

Defendants facing emotional distress claims may employ several defenses, including:

Lack of Severity: Arguing that the plaintiff’s emotional distress is not severe enough to warrant compensation.

No Extreme and Outrageous Conduct: Contesting that the defendant’s actions were not extreme and outrageous.

No Causation: Disputing that the defendant’s actions were the direct cause of the plaintiff’s emotional distress.

Assumption of Risk: Asserting that the plaintiff knowingly assumed the risk of emotional distress.

Statute of Limitations: Claiming that the plaintiff’s emotional distress claim is time-barred due to a statute of limitations.


Emotional distress, in the legal context, refers to the psychological harm experienced by individuals due to the intentional or negligent actions of others. This harm can take various forms, and emotional distress claims are crucial in allowing individuals to seek compensation for their suffering. Establishing a valid emotional distress claim requires meeting specific elements, depending on the type of claim. These claims have significant importance in tort law, ensuring that emotional harm is recognized and compensated, even when physical injuries are absent. Defendants may raise defenses to emotional distress claims, making legal expertise essential in navigating these complex cases.

If you need a Personal Injury, or Auto Accident Lawyer, contact us today. For more legal terms and information related to personal injury, visit our Glossary.



Get the compensation
you deserve $$$

Local Auto Accidents

  • Atlanta
  • Conyers
  • Decatur
  • Kennesaw
  • Lawrenceville
  • Morrow
  • Watkinsville

Interstate 85 south shut down at Boggs Road because of crash  Gwinnettdailypost.com [...]

One dead after crash in Atlanta, police say  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

Memorial Day weekend Georgia drownings, car accidents  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

Community stunned after 4 dead, 6 injured in I-75 crash in Bartow County  Atlanta News First [...]

Victims of Sunday's multi-vehicle crash on I-75 in Bartow County identified  FOX 5 Atlanta [...]

Best Cheap Car Insurance Rates in Georgia (as low as $42/mo)  ValuePenguin [...]

Crash at notorious Decatur intersection sends three to the hospital  Decaturish.com [...]

Deadly Miller Rd/Covington Hwy crash: DeKalb Police  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

1 dead in overnight Decatur car crash, police say  Atlanta News First [...]

16-year-old student dies in crash, marking Lakeside High's fifth traffic fatality this school year  Decaturish.com [...]

Construction accident claims life of Watkinsville company employee  Online Athens [...]

Two pickups crash killing woman and injuring four other people  Online Athens [...]

Truck driver killed, 3 others injured in related traffic accidents, Athens police say  Atlanta News First [...]

Watkinsville man killed following truck crash on Commerce Road  Online Athens [...]

Daniel Thomas “Danny” Roland  Now Habersham [...]

3 dead after driver flees from GA police, crashes vehicle as car goes up in flames  WSB Atlanta [...]

Clayton County: Stolen ambulance chase leads to crash near Tara Boulevard, Dixon Road  FOX 5 Atlanta [...]

GDOT: I75 crash in Clayton County; lanes blocked  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

Four killed in Ohio highway wrong-way crash  NBC4 WCMH-TV [...]

Teenage car break-in suspect in Gwinnett County struck by vehicle  FOX 5 Atlanta [...]

Community stunned after 4 dead, 6 injured in I-75 crash in Bartow County  Atlanta News First [...]

5 killed in Bartow County I-75 crash identified: coroner  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

Bartow County crash: Kennesaw State University student killed  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

Pedestrian killed in overnight crash at Kennesaw intersection  Yahoo! Voices [...]

Family shaken but unhurt after car crashes into Cobb County home  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

One dead after crash in Atlanta, police say  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

Woman killed in Henry wreck that shut down I-75 South for hours   The Atlanta Journal Constitution [...]

Driver in deadly Peachtree Corners high-speed crash charged with murder  FOX 5 Atlanta [...]

4 Dead, At Least 3 Injured In 2 Gwinnett Co. Crashes  Patch [...]

Lawmakers consider banning speed cameras in Ga., one metro Atlanta county fights to keep them  WSB Atlanta [...]

Russell Jacoby Obituary - PA  The Morning Call [...]

2 killed in motorcycle crash on I-20 in Rockdale County  WSB Atlanta [...]

2 killed in Rockdale County multi-vehicle crash, sheriff’s office says  Atlanta News First [...]

Greenville: 3 women killed in crash on I-85  WYFF4 Greenville [...]

Rockdale County storm damage near Sigman Road  11Alive.com WXIA [...]

Free Case Review
Weinstein law firm logo
Let's get started with your FREE consultation
Weinstein law firm logo
Injured in an Accident? You Want the Best!

When it comes to personal injury cases, time isn't always on your side. Contact us today and see why all of our clients say Weinstein Wins!

Let us fight for your rights and get you the maximum compensation you deserve!