How Much Can I Sue For Emotional Distress?

When you get physically injured, the injuries are usually clear to see, and because they’re tangible, they can be easily evidenced. #

When it comes to emotional distress, the pain can be just as stringent yet far less obvious, and if you’re left emotionally distressed as a result of an accident or incident, you may be wondering whether you can sue for the damage caused, and how much you can sue for. 

In personal injury lawsuits, plaintiffs usually have the option to claim compensation for non-economic damages like physical pain, emotional suffering, and psychological anguish, however, they must offer proof of these.

how much can i sue for emotional distress

While this may be a simple matter for someone who has suffered a leg fracture as a result of a car accident, it’s a little more difficult when it comes to proving emotional distress. 

The amount a plaintiff can potentially claim in emotional distress damages in cases like these typically relies on the number of medical expenses the plaintiff incurred, the seriousness of his or her injuries, and any ongoing medical issues resulting from the incident in question, as well as the unique details of the case.

If a plaintiff can prove that they received therapy or counseling, they may be reimbursed for these costs, but could potentially receive additional compensation for having gone through the emotionally damaging experience. 

Negligent infliction of emotional distress

“Negligent infliction of emotional distress" (NEID) is a concept in personal injury law and is used to describe a case whereby “one person (the defendant) acts so carelessly that he or she must compensate the injured person (the plaintiff) for resulting mental or emotional injury.”

The rules around NEID vary depending on which state you’re in.

Some states have an “impact rule” whereby the plaintiff needs to have had some sort of physical contact with the defendant, while other states have a “danger zone” principle which means that the plaintiff is likely to have grounds for a claim of NEID if they were in the immediate vicinity of danger around a defendant’s negligent act, even if the defendant did not make physical contact with the plaintiff. 

The majority of states follow a “foreseeability” rule, which means the defendant’s action must have been foreseeably able to cause emotional distress to the plaintiff.

Some states have statutes in place that allow individuals to secure compensation for emotional distress even though they did not personally suffer physical injuries.

These are designed to protect bystanders or loved ones of a victim of a physical injury from negligence, for example, a child who witnesses his or her parent severely injured by a negligent driver may not have been directly hit by the car, but they would still endure severe emotional distress.

Therefore this child would have grounds for an emotional distress claim under foreseeability, danger zone, and bystander statutes.

Calculating emotional distress damages 

No two emotional distress cases are the same, and therefore, there is no way to pinpoint the exact amount of compensation a victim should acquire in any injury case.

In some states, there may be laws enforcing limits on certain types of damages, and plaintiffs may face some tax implications for different types of damages, but generally speaking, the amount in question typically depends on the facts of the case, the discretion of the jury, and the judge’s final ruling. 

If the plaintiff can provide evidence of the emotional distress causing physical symptoms or economic burdens, the claim is likely to secure more compensation. For example, if they can provide evidence of medical expenses such as medication, therapy, or psychiatric treatment, this will help their case significantly. 

Financial burden 

The expense of treatment is one of the logical ways in which emotional distress damages are calculated, as even though emotional distress is non-tangible, this often leads to a financial burden that can be summed up in concrete numbers.

You should use the value of any psychological or psychiatric treatment to come up with a dollar amount that represents the emotional distress you’ve been through.

By adding up the cost of treatments, medications, and therapy you can easily come up with a concrete number that reflects the financial expense of your injury. 

You can also contextualize your emotional distress in other ways, for example, if it caused you to miss work.

Missing work due to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other mental illness may have caused you to lose wages, which has a knock-on impact on your standard of living.

Any lost income can be calculated and added to the damages your personal injury lawyer is suing for.

Keeping Records

With any legal battle, the best thing you can do is document your evidence, particularly when it comes to emotional distress that can’t be evidenced in financial terms.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or have experienced a collapse in your marriage, business relationships, or friendships as a result of the emotional damages you’ve incurred, you should take diligent notes of these experiences, complete with dates and times whenever possible.

Providing this level of detail will help the judge better understand the depth and extent of your pain and suffering, even if you cannot back this up with medical bills or lost wages. 

Pre-Existing Conditions

Lawsuits relating to emotional distress are the same as physical injuries in the sense that it will be harder to claim emotional distress as a result of an accident if you already have a pre-existing emotional disorder or mental illness. 

This doesn’t mean that your claim will automatically be dismissed if this is the case, as people with pre-existing mental health issues are equally deserving of restitution for pain and suffering caused by an accident or injury.

However, it’s something to be aware of, as you and your lawyer should carefully consult your medical records and you should be prepared for any previously reported issues that could crop up and cast doubt on your claim. 

In Conclusion 

There is no go-to figure for how much you can sue for emotional distress, as every case is different, and there are many factors that will influence your claim.

However, as we established earlier on in this article, the more evidence you have to back up your emotional stress, such as medical bills or prescriptions, or detailed notes and documents, the better chance you have of successfully suing the person who inflicted the damage on you. 


Thank you for visiting. This website is for informational purposes only. None of the information provided is intended to constitute, nor does it constitute, legal advice, and none of the information necessarily reflects the opinions of Misty Rock Capital LLC dba or anyone associated, employed or affiliated with Misty Rock Capital LLC dba