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The Legal Nature Of Mental Anguish

Not every kind of damage in a personal injury lawsuit comes with a solid number attached. It’s easy to put a figure on something like medical bills, funeral costs, and lost wages, but then you have damage claims like “mental anguish.” These are known as non-economic damages, and the numbers involved are arbitrary, at least to some extent.

Damage Development

Mental anguish claims weren’t always as common as they are today (and even now they aren’t as common as some might think). The first recorded instance may come from Roman law: if one party harmed another intentionally and maliciously, the plaintiff could get extra compensation over and above what they’d get if the cause was just negligence.

However, as the Middle Ages began, this bonus slipped from the books. The Catholic Church was there to help with your mental health, after all, and so Earthly laws were all about physical damages. But soon after England broke with the Catholic Church, defamation, libel, and slander showed up as punishable offenses.

Defamation is the root of mental anguish damage, since while defamation can have physical consequences, it also involves a lot of suffering as family members and former friends shun you for something you never did. Defamation grew to include shame and humiliation in general, and these days “mental anguish” also includes depression, anxiety, PTSD, and grief.

Proving The Invisible

There are two main problems with mental anguish:

  •  You can’t quantify an emotion,
  • Different people react in different ways to the same problems.

For instance, if the father of two adult men dies in a car accident, both of them might go to court and demand different mental anguish numbers from the person who caused the accident. Maybe one of the men is more ambitious than the other, or maybe one of them actively disliked their father and wasn’t as affected by his passing.

The biggest hurdle to claiming mental anguish in court is that you need to prove this anguish in some way. Even if you hurt on the inside, you probably won’t get any financial compensation for that hurt unless it’s bad enough to impact your life in some significant way.

The easiest way to provide proof is with a doctor’s note. If you didn’t have clinical depression or anxiety attacks before the incident in question but you do afterward, that’s solid evidence that it caused mental anguish. A list of psychiatric medications also helps and adds some concrete numbers to the damages claim.

Character witnesses and written evidence will also help your case. They can explain in depositions how your personality changed after the incident, and any letters or messages they sent you before you began the lawsuit can carry extra weight. A personal journal can also work as evidence.

Finally, the cause of mental anguish itself plays a role. Anyone would be traumatized if he or she were caught in a car accident that killed his or her spouse, but a fender-bender that gives you a minor case of whiplash probably isn’t going to ruin your life or change your personality.

Mental anguish can be hard to identify, but it’s very real just the same. This trouble is why Florida is one of few remaining states to use the impact rule: plaintiffs can only seek damages like mental anguish and pain and suffering if the incident involved some amount of physical contact. The rule is out of date at this point, but it’s something you’ll have to keep in mind if you want to claim mental anguish damages in the state.

During his time as a public attorney for the State of Florida, Bernard Walsh developed a passion for defending the legal rights of Florida's citizens. Having seen many people being taken advantage of after being injured and the financial harm that can cause for families he committed himself fully to helping injured clients get justice, by fighting to make greedy insurance companies pay what they owe.

The Legal Nature Of Mental Anguish

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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