Can I Recover Damages for Emotional Distress?

Posted on June 14, 2023

Any accident with painful injuries is distressing and some are potentially life-altering, especially when they cause long-term impacts or disability. But when a preventable accident occurs due to someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional wrongdoing, it’s much more traumatic.

In some cases, the severe trauma of suffering a terrible accident causes lingering emotional distress and mental anguish. Strong, lingering feelings of shock, grief, denial, and fear may have impacts on your life that impede your ability to recover or adjust to a new normal.

Though these impacts are very real, they are also intangible—meaning it can be challenging to prove them and to assign these impacts a monetary amount for compensation. Unlike medical bills, emotional trauma doesn’t come with an invoice or itemization.

If you’ve been injured in an accident and you’re dealing with symptoms of emotional trauma, you might be wondering, “How do I recover damages for my very real emotional distress?”

What Are The Symptoms of Emotional Distress After an Accident?

Whether your injury occurred in a motor vehicle accident, a traumatic fall, a violent attack—or you woke up from surgery to find that your medical provider removed the wrong body part—the shock of the sudden harm done to you causes a sudden sharp rise in the stress hormone, cortisol. You may also have a surge of adrenaline, triggering a fight-or-flight response.

When adrenaline and cortisol rise, you can experience panic and anxiety during the traumatic aftermath of the incident. Later, memories, flashbacks, and other triggers can cause repeats of the cortisol and adrenaline flood you experienced after the accident, causing symptoms of emotional distress such as:

  • Anxiety/panic attacks
  • Avoidance of situations or settings similar to the one that caused your injury
  • Withdrawal from social life and events
  • Inability to enjoy activities you once loved
  • Mood swings
  • Irrational anger, shame, or guilt
  • Sleep disturbances
  • PTSD 
  • Depression
  • Irrational fear

If you experience any of the above symptoms and have difficulty functioning in your daily life, you should seek professional counseling right away.

How to Prove Emotional Damages

Unlike physical injuries, emotional damages aren’t visible on the outside. In order to recover compensation for emotional distress, you need to be able to show that you’ve suffered emotional injuries that have had a negative impact on your life.

Proof of emotional distress doesn’t require proving that you were hurt purposely. Negligence caused accidents also result in emotional distress. Proof of this can include:

  • Showing proof that you’ve attended therapy sessions with a professional counselor
  • Testimony by medical experts and psychologists
  • Keeping a journal documenting experiences like flashbacks, nightmares, and other emotional disturbances
  • Witness statements from family, friends, and coworkers testifying to the changes in your life and behavior since the accident

Emotional distress falls under the same category as other intangible damages like pain and suffering. The court considers these non-economic damages as deserving of compensation as the more easily calculated economic damages like medical expenses and lost wages.

The court offers redress for injury victims with emotional distress through financial compensation. Though financial compensation can’t erase injuries or emotional distress, it can help relieve financial worries while you focus on physical and emotional healing and open doors to therapies and other solutions for coping and improving your overall wellness.