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Can You Sue a Doctor for Emotional Distress?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 20, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When a doctor makes a mistake, the ramifications aren't always physical. A misdiagnosis can emotionally traumatic, and mistreatment can be psychologically damaging. Injurious acts by doctors, whether negligent or intentional can cause patients mental stress and anguish, but do patients have any legal recourse?

Here's a look:

Suing for Emotional Distress

Emotional distress claims can be tricky. Lawsuits based on emotional distress are generally split into two different types:

  1. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress: Where someone suffers some mental or emotional harm such as shock or trauma because of another's negligence; and
  2. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress: Where someone's extreme or outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes someone else severe emotional distress.

In some states, emotional distress claims based on negligence may be barred, depending on the presence, or lack thereof, of physical injury: some states bar emotional distress claims in cases where the distress is a direct result of physical injury, others require some demonstration of a physical injury or illness as a result of the emotional distress. And other states limit NIED claims to emotional distress experienced directly or as a bystander within a zone of physical danger.

When it comes to emotional distress claims based on intentional conduct, it comes down to the definition of terms. Was the conduct extreme or outrageous? Did the plaintiff act intentionally or recklessly? Is the emotional distress severe?

Proving Emotional Distress Claims

In the context of the doctor-patient relationship, proving the necessary elements of an emotional distress claim can be difficult. Plaintiffs may need medical evidence, from psychologists or orthopedists, of emotional or physical injuries -- the more intense the mental anguish and the longer the suffering, the more likely you'll be able to prove emotional distress. And the more extreme or outrageous the underlying conduct, the more likely you'll be able to link your distress to that conduct.

Recovering for emotional distress due to a doctor's malpractice may be more appropriate with a pain and suffering claim. To get more information about suing a doctor for emotional distress, contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

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