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When Can You Sue For Emotional Distress?


Perhaps one of the most used and abused legal terms in court over the last 30 years has been the phrase, “emotional distress.” In both actual, fictional, and televised court sessions, these words, “emotional distress,” often come into play as just one more factor that is being thrown into a big mix for a lawsuit against someone else. The problem with the overuse of this word is that it has created a very inaccurate perception of how it works in a court of law. And because it is so frequently cited in lawsuits both real and fictional, many people believe that it is an effective and easy tactic to get even greater compensation in court.

The truth is, despite how self-explanatory the term may seem, there is are very specific conditions under which actual emotional distress is a valid charge in court.

Extreme Psychological Damage

The most harmful effect of the overuse of emotional distress is many people now seem to think that if an incident upset you, you were emotionally distressed and therefore can add that to a list of other grievances for financial compensation. Merely being upset is NOT enough to justify as being emotionally distressed.

The real nature of emotional distress implies long terms impairment of your psychological condition, to the point where it actively interferes with your ability to live a normal life. The easiest way to demonstrate this is often when it is accompanied by some physical injury, since a physical crippling can be seen as an easy source of ongoing, chronic distress. Someone who is involved in an accident that involves the amputation of hands when that person was a formerly a professional musician has clear grounds for emotional distress.

Even if there was no actual physical damage at the time, if it can be proven that the emotional trauma had a significant impact on a person’s life, emotional distress can be included in a lawsuit. A pregnant woman involved in a car accident that killed her husband but left her physically unharmed, only to subsequently miscarry shortly afterwards due to the grief, may have solid grounds for an emotional distress case.

However, if you were in a car accident, suffered no apparent harm, but were visibly upset by the incident, only to be seen in a restaurant mere hours later, laughing and enjoying yourself with friends, then returned to work the very next day and joked about the experience, it would be extremely difficult for any personal injury attorney to tell you that you have an emotional distress case. Simply being upset is just not enough to call it emotional distress. There must be significant, demonstrable, negative impact.

This is the reason why emotional distress is often paired with other factors when it comes to a lawsuit. There are exceptions of course, but these vary one from state court to the next. Marc Christian, for example, the lover of Rock Hudson successfully sued the Rock Hudson estate for emotional distress, claiming that he suffered extreme emotional distress over discovering Rock Hudson had had sexual relations with him while withholding the fact that he suffered from the HIV virus. He was awarded over five million dollars in his lawsuit.

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.

When Can You Sue For Emotional Distress?

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh




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