Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Does Pain and Suffering Include Emotional Distress?

If you experience mental distress or trauma after a car accident, you may be able to recover compensation for emotional distress as part of your pain and suffering damages.

Noneconomic damages, such as emotional distress, can greatly vary from case to case. Emotional distress damages are typically only awarded in cases of severe injuries.

Read on to find out how pain and suffering emotional distress damages work in personal injury cases.

What Is Emotional Distress?

"Pain and suffering" refers to physical pain and emotional distress that you experience from an accident. As a part of pain and suffering damages, emotional distress (also called mental anguish) is when someone's actions cause you to suffer mental harm, such as:

Pain, such as headaches or body aches, is not considered emotional distress.

To have a valid emotional distress claim, you must show:

  • The distress is more than fleeting
  • The defendant's conduct caused the distress
  • The distress is medically significant

Most states also require you to prove physical injuries related to your emotional distress.

While emotional distress can be considered pain and suffering, it can also be brought up in other ways.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

This is a tort action where a person intentionally causes distress of substantial or enduring quality that no reasonable person should be expected to endure. The person must know or suspect that you would be subject to such emotional distress as a result of their conduct.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

This is when you suffer mental or emotional harm due to someone else's negligence. This distress can manifest as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other psychological conditions. Medical documentation or testimony from mental health professionals is often required to substantiate these claims. There may also be requirements around the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant or the nature of the negligent act itself.

The "zone of danger" doctrine is a legal principle that allows individuals who were in immediate risk or danger of physical harm due to the defendant's negligence to seek compensation for the resulting emotional distress. This is so even if they did not suffer any physical injury themselves.

Under the zone of danger doctrine, a plaintiff must typically demonstrate the following elements to pursue a claim successfully:

  • Proximity to the danger: The plaintiff must establish that they were in close proximity to the scene of the accident or directly involved in the incident.
  • Fear for personal safety: The plaintiff must show that they genuinely feared for their own physical safety and that the fear was reasonable under the circumstances.
  • Causation: There must be a direct link between the defendant's negligent conduct and the plaintiff's emotional distress.
  • Objective manifestation of distress: The plaintiff needs to provide objective evidence of the emotional distress, such as medical records or expert testimony.

Loss of Consortium

This is when you suffer from deprivation of the benefits of married life or parenting due to the negligent or intentional acts of another person. These damages aim to compensate for the loss of:

  • Love
  • Companionship
  • Comfort
  • Affection
  • Society
  • Sexual relations
  • The ability to bear children
  • Physical assistance in the operation and maintenance of a home

In the case of a parent-child relationship, it can also include compensation for the loss of guidance, moral upbringing, and certain parental duties.

Supporting Emotional Distress Damages in a Pain and Suffering Claim

As a part of your pain and suffering claim, your emotional distress damages must be supported by relevant documentation and evidence.

First, gather evidence that will support your claim (for example, medical records, photos, doctor's diagnosis, etc.). Then, draft a demand letter that includes details of your injuries. You should wait until your medical condition is stable before sending the demand letter to the insurance company.

How To Prove Emotional Distress

In your car accident claim, you will need to specifically show the extent of the emotional distress you've experienced. Here are five factors to consider when evaluating your emotional distress claim:

  1. The intensity of your distress
  2. The duration of the pain
  3. Any related bodily harm
  4. The underlying cause of your pain
  5. A doctor's diagnosis of your psychological symptoms

Accident victims should gather documents and evidence to show the above factors. Keeping a personal journal about your emotional or mental health condition is a good idea. Sometimes your journal can be used as evidence, as well.

Q: How can medical bills impact a claim for emotional distress in a car accident case?

Medical bills can be important evidence in an emotional distress claim as they can show the extent of physical injuries. They also can show any mental health treatment or counseling you received after the accident.

The medical treatment you receive can also demonstrate that your distress is medically significant. This will greatly impact your odds of settling with the insurer or receiving an award from a jury after a personal injury lawsuit.

Q: How can a personal injury lawyer help in an emotional distress claim?

A personal injury lawyer can help you:

  • Gather evidence
  • Draft a compelling demand letter
  • Negotiate with the insurance company
  • Represent you in court, if necessary

It would be very challenging to recover emotional distress damages without the help of a lawyer. Click here to find one near you.

Q: Can I file a claim for emotional distress if a loved one was involved in a car accident?

In some cases, yes. If you witnessed the accident or the immediate aftermath, or if you suffered a loss of consortium due to a loved one's injuries, you might have a valid claim for emotional distress.

A personal injury attorney can review the facts of your case. They can inform you if you have a valid claim for emotional distress after a motor vehicle accident.

Q: How can post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affect a car accident case?

PTSD is a mental health condition that can result from a traumatic event like a car accident. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

If you have been diagnosed with PTSD following an accident, it can significantly strengthen your claim for emotional distress.

Q: What economic losses can be considered in a car accident injuries case?

Economic losses in a car accident case can include:

  • Medical expenses
  • Loss of income
  • Loss of earning capacity
  • Other out-of-pocket expenses related to the accident and your recovery

Q: Can I sue for severe emotional distress even if I didn't suffer severe physical injuries in a car accident?

While it's generally easier to claim emotional distress if you've suffered significant physical injuries, it's not impossible to claim emotional distress without them. However, it might be more challenging to prove your claim. You may need a mental health professional to testify about your condition.

Q: How can a car accident impact my quality of life and enjoyment of life?

A car accident can lead to physical injuries and emotional trauma that can significantly affect your quality of life. This can include:

  • An inability to participate in activities you once enjoyed
  • Difficulties in your relationships with family members
  • Challenges in performing daily tasks

These impacts on your daily life can be considered in a claim for emotional distress, and you can be reimbursed for them.

Q: Can family members have an emotional distress claim after an auto accident?

Yes. In some cases, family members may have a claim for loss of consortium, which is the deprivation of the benefits of family life due to the accident. Family members might also have their own claims for emotional distress if they witnessed the accident or its immediate aftermath.

Q: What should I do if I experience flashbacks after a car accident?

If you're experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, or other symptoms of PTSD after a car accident, seek help from a mental health professional as soon as possible. Document your symptoms and treatments, as this can be important evidence in your claim for emotional distress.

Q: So, can my psychological injuries be included in a personal injury claim after a car accident?

Yes, your psychological injuries, like depression, anxiety, and PTSD, can be included as a part of your personal injury claim. These mental health issues are often categorized under emotional distress damages, which are considered non-economic losses in a lawsuit. However, you must provide substantial evidence of these injuries. This typically includes medical records and testimony from a mental health professional to convincingly demonstrate the psychological distress you've undergone due to the accident.

Do You Have a Valid Emotional Distress Claim? An Attorney Can Give You Legal Advice

Most people have a hard time proving their emotional distress damages on their own. It can be a somewhat subjective area. If you're suffering emotional distress from a car accident, a legal professional can help produce the evidence needed to prove your claim.

Learn more about recovering damages for emotional trauma after a car crash by contacting a car accident attorney for a case review. Many attorneys offer a free case evaluation.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • A lawyer can help seek fair compensation on your behalf
  • Car accident claims are complex and insurance carriers have lawyers on their side

Get tailored legal advice and ask a lawyer questions about your accident. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options