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Can You Sue Over Mental Stress, Trauma?

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

If someone causes you mental stress and trauma — such as anxiety or paranoia — you can sue him or her for damages under the legal theory of emotional distress. But in reality, securing damages for stress and trauma is pretty challenging. Damages are awarded only when certain circumstances are present.

Here are five questions to ask yourself when considering a lawsuit over mental stress or trauma:

  1. How long ago was your injury? Under the statute of limitations, you must file your lawsuit within a certain period of time. For example, a plaintiff in California has two years from the date of injury to file a lawsuit for negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress.
  2. Physical manifestation of your stress/trauma? While it may be difficult to point out evidence of emotional distress, you may more easily provide evidence of related bodily injury like ulcers, headaches, and other physical signs of distress.
  3. Medical diagnosis? Seeking medical treatment is important for a personal injury claim in general, but it's critical for emotional distress claims because it's often difficult to assess emotional injuries. Tell your doctor about any psychological symptoms you've experienced since the accident that caused your injuries. Medically documented emotional distress is a powerful evidentiary tool in both lawsuits and claims with an insurance company.
  4. Causal connection? Damages may be recoverable for emotional distress that is caused intentionally or negligently. But recovery for negligent infliction of emotional distress often requires that the plaintiff suffer a physical injury as well. In general, the more extreme the underlying cause of the emotional distress, the more likely a court will find emotional distress.
  5. Is it worth filing a lawsuit? One of the biggest questions you'll ask yourself is how much your case is worth. If the amount of potential recovery is underwhelming, it may be more difficult to justify the "pain and suffering" that comes with pursuing a lawsuit. Remember, lawsuits require significant time, energy, and expenses, so make sure your injury is worth the suit.

For extra advice on a pursuing a lawsuit over mental stress or trauma, you may want to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer.

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