Emotional distress can be just as damaging -- if not more so -- than the physical damage from an injury. The court system realises this fact and has created laws to allow the injured party to request restitution for the emotional damage caused by the offending party's actions. Before suing the offending party, it must be determined if the offender intentionally meant to cause emotional distress to the victim or if the distress occurred as a side effect of the offender's actions.
Emotional Distress Defined
Emotional distress is defined by the mental state of the injured party in terms of suffering or anguish due to the actions of the offending party. Mental distress means that the injured party is experiencing highly unpleasant mental reactions, including -- but not limited to -- feelings of fear, nervousness, anxiety, shock and humiliation. Sometimes these stressful mental reactions can cause physical manifestations in the body.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
The first type of emotional distress recognised in a courtroom is the negligent infliction of emotional distress. This distress is characterised by the fact that it occurred because of a physical injury or due to the offender's negligent actions, which led to physical symptoms manifesting from the emotional distress. For this type of distress to be proven valid in court, the injured party must be able to show a connection between the offender's conduct and the emotional distress that occurred as a result of this conduct.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
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Intentional infliction of emotional distress is another type of distress an injured party can sue for in court. In this case, it must be proven that the offender's actions were committed to purposely cause emotional distress to the injured party. The offender's actions must be outrageous and intolerable in such a way that anyone in the community might react with shock or horror if they were to witness the action. The resulting distress must also be extreme and severe, to the point that the distress is adversely affecting the injured party's life.
Emotional Distress Experienced by Bystanders
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In rare cases, bystanders may sue the offending party in court for emotional distress. These cases are so rare because it must be proven that the emotional distress resulted directly from the negligent party's actions and that the bystander must have witnessed an injury or death of an immediate family member. It must also be proven that the witnessing party was in a "zone of danger" where she was exposed to a risk of bodily harm by the offender.
- Hofstra University: "The Tort of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress in the Private Employment Sector"; Frank J. Cavico; 2011
- Louisiana State University Law Center: Elements of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
- Law School Help: Infliction of Emotional Distress Torts 101
- Legal Match: "Emotional Distress Lawyers"; Ken LaMance; 2011
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images