Emotional pain and suffering lawsuits in Orange County with insights from the expert attorneys at Martinez Law Center.

How to File an Emotional Distress Lawsuit

Suing someone for emotional distress can help you get compensation for mental anguish, anxiety, depression, or other psychological injuries caused by another person’s negligence or harmful behavior. Here’s what you need to know about filing an emotional distress lawsuit.

What is Emotional Distress?

Traumatic events can lead to psychological suffering, known as emotional distress. It can manifest as anxiety, fear, anger, depression, panic attacks, sleep disturbances, or other conditions that negatively impact mental health and well-being.

According to the law, two types of conduct can lead to emotional distress claims:

  • Negligent infliction is when someone’s carelessness causes mental anguish. For example, a car accident that leaves you traumatized
  • Intentional infliction – when someone deliberately engages in extreme behavior to cause mental harm. This includes actions like harassment, threats, discrimination, etc.

In both cases, the emotional trauma must be severe to justify legal action. Normal stress and anxiety from daily life are not grounds for an emotional distress lawsuit.

Steps to Take Before Filing a Claim

If you believe someone else is responsible for causing severe emotional distress, here are some steps to take first:

  • Document your symptoms. Keep a detailed log of how the distress manifests, including panic attacks, changes in work or social life, therapy visits, prescription medications, etc. This evidence can help prove your mental anguish later.
  • Get medical evaluations – Seek treatment from psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors, and ask them to formally diagnose your condition. Their clinical records will help validate your emotional trauma.
  • Consult a personal injury lawyer – Discuss your situation with an attorney experienced in emotional distress cases. They can examine the circumstances and evidence to determine if you have valid legal grounds to sue.

How to File an Emotional Distress Lawsuit

If your attorney believes you have a strong case, they will begin drafting the lawsuit on your behalf. Key elements include:

  • Naming the defendant(s) responsible for causing distress
  • Describing the circumstances that led to your mental suffering
  • Outlining the specific diagnoses from medical professionals
  • Detailing how the distress has negatively impacted your life
  • Listing the monetary damages you are seeking, such as medical costs, lost income, etc.

The lawsuit will be filed with the appropriate state civil court, along with a summons notifying the defendant they are being sued. They have a limited time (typically 30 days) to respond. The case then enters the discovery phase, where evidence and testimony are gathered in preparation for trial.

Key Factors in Winning an Emotional Distress Claim

Having a skilled lawyer is vital, but you can also help build a successful case by doing the following:

  • Proving severity: The emotional trauma must go beyond typical anxiety or stress. Evidence like hospitalization, inability to work, and suicide attempts can all demonstrate severe distress.
  • Documenting impact: Keep a detailed diary of how the mental anguish affects your job performance, relationships, out-of-character behaviors, etc. The more you can quantify the distress, the better.
  • Establishing negligence: There must be clear wrongdoing by the defendant that directly caused the emotional trauma. Eyewitnesses, communications, and video surveillance can help establish negligence.
  • Seeking prompt treatment: Judges understand delays in seeking treatment, but late diagnoses weaken claims. Get medical help as soon as reasonably possible.
  • Retain an experienced attorney to build a strong case
  • Provide medical records, therapist notes showing emotional trauma
  • Present testimony from doctors, counselors, loved ones observing changes
  • Document lost wages, hospital bills, treatment costs due to distress
  • Keep a detailed diary quantifying how anguish impaired work, activities, relationships
  • Demonstrate how defendant’s actions directly caused the emotional harm
  • Convey the severity, duration and persistence of the mental suffering
  • Request monetary damages that adequately compensate for the trauma
  • Have attorney advocate powerfully for appropriate compensation
  • Submit compelling evidence like records, testimony, documentation of impact
  • Quantify and qualify how defendant’s conduct resulted in anguish
  • Prove significant life disruption from emotional distress


Emotional pain and suffering lawsuit Orange County

Emotional Distress Claims Are Challenging But Possible to Win

Lawsuits based solely on mental suffering face higher burdens of proof. However, you can successfully recover damages for the emotional trauma that someone else’s actions wrongfully caused with the right evidence and legal representation. Be prepared for a difficult battle, but don’t hesitate to pursue justice.


  • Emotional distress involves mental suffering from traumatic events caused by negligence or wrongful acts.
  • Strong cases have medical records proving severe diagnoses tied directly to wrongdoing.
  • Documentation of your symptoms and impact on your life is key evidence to win.
  • Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney is highly recommended for these complex cases.
  • With the right evidence and legal strategy, you can win compensation for emotional harm.

What Are the Different Types of Emotional Distress?

Experiencing emotional distress can negatively impact your mental health and disrupt your daily life. But not all distress is the same legally. It’s crucial to comprehend the various types of emotional distress that the law recognizes if you’re thinking about filing a claim.

What Qualifies as Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is a general term for psychological pain brought on by trauma or extremely stressful situations. To have legal validity, the mental anguish must be formally diagnosed and proven to be debilitating.

Normal anxiety, sadness, or stress from everyday life does not meet the legal criteria. The distress must:

  • Result from wrongful acts like abuse, discrimination, and trauma.
  • Manifest through symptoms like depression, panic attacks, and PTSD.
  • Negatively affect work, relationships, and usual functioning.

Types of Legally Recognized Emotional Distress

Two main categories exist for emotional distress claims:

Negligent Infliction

There is mental suffering involved here as a result of someone else’s negligence. Examples include:

  • Medical malpractice: A doctor’s misdiagnosis leads to trauma.
  • Car accident: Reckless driving leaves you mentally scarred.
  • Childbirth injuries: A doctor’s negligence causes delivery trauma.

In these cases, the person did not intend to cause distress but still bears responsibility for the damages through negligence.

Intentional Infliction

This is when someone deliberately engages in extreme behavior to inflict mental anguish. Examples include:

  • Abuse or harassment: Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse leads to trauma.
  • Discrimination: Unlawful bias causes psychiatric injury.
  • Defamation: Humiliation from false statements leads to distress.

Here, the wrongdoer wanted to mentally harm the victim through wrongful acts. The behavior must be proven to be intentional and outrageous.

Emotional pain and suffering lawsuit Orange County

Key Differences

While both types involve mental suffering from another’s actions, there are some key distinctions:

  • Negligence is carelessness; intentional is purposeful wrongdoing.
  • Negligence requires only proof of distress from a careless act. Intentional infliction has a higher bar than extreme conduct.
  • Negligence can have a wider range of consequences. Intentional behavior involves more clearly outrageous behavior.
  • Damages may be lower for negligence. Intentional distress allows bigger claims for reckless acts.

Examples of Severe Emotional Distress

Not all mental anguish meets the standard for legal claims. Some examples of distress severe enough to warrant damages are:

  • Major depression, being unable to work or leave home
  • Hospitalization for anxiety and suicide attempts
  • Diagnosis of PTSD, emotional breakdowns
  • Psychotherapy and medications for years
  • Loss of employment, ruined relationships

These demonstrate a debilitating impairment from mental suffering. Minor cases resolved with minimal treatment are unlikely to prevail.

Consulting an Attorney

Determining what qualifies as negligent or intentional infliction requires an experienced personal injury lawyer. The attorney can assess your specific circumstances and evidence to establish which category of emotional distress applies in your pursuit of damages.

  • Negligent infliction involves unintentional distress from carelessness.
  • Intentional infliction refers to deliberate harm through extreme acts.
  • Severe impairment, like hospitalization or inability to work, establishes a strong claim.
  • An attorney can help determine which type of emotional distress fits your situation.
  • Significant damages are possible with proof of wrongdoing and disabling trauma.

What Damages Can You Claim for Emotional Distress?

If you win an emotional distress lawsuit, the liable party will have to pay damages. But what exactly can you claim as compensation for psychological suffering? Here are some of the common damages awarded for mental anguish.

Pain and Suffering

This covers any emotional trauma stemming from the distress, such as:

  • Anxiety, stress, and fear
  • Loss of enjoyment in life
  • Humiliation, embarrassment
  • Disruption to relationships
  • Anger, sadness, and grief

Pain and suffering aim to compensate for difficult-to-quantify impacts like mental pain, inconvenience, and reduced quality of life. Expert testimony is often used to validate claims.

Loss of Companionship

If the emotional distress severely damages family or marital relationships, compensation can be sought for the loss of companionship. This accounts for harm to spousal relations, child-rearing, and participation in mutual interests.

Loss of Consortium

Similar to loss of companionship but pertains to sexual relations between spouses. The plaintiff can seek compensation for loss of consortium if the emotional trauma had a negative impact on intimacy.

Loss of Services

If the distress prevented you from performing usual services for family members, you can claim these losses. For example, inability to care for children, perform household duties, or provide financial support

Medical Expenses

Bills from therapy, psychiatric treatment, hospitalization, and medications directly related to the emotional distress can be claimed. Both past expenses and estimated future costs can be part of the damages.

Lost Wages

If you missed work or had reduced earnings due to mental health impairments from the trauma, lost income can be recouped. Supporting documentation like pay stubs, employer notices, and work calendars helps verify the losses.

Reduced Earning Capacity

Even if you have not missed work yet, awards can account for potential future lost income if your emotional state is expected to hinder job performance indefinitely. Expert witnesses often evaluate the impact.

Punitive Damages

If the actions causing distress were intentional or reckless, courts may award additional punitive damages as punishment. These can significantly increase total compensation.

Loss of Enjoyment of Life

Awards can be sought for losing the ability to participate in activities that previously brought happiness. Testimony from friends, family, and doctors can help establish losses.

  • Pain and suffering cover general emotional impacts like trauma, anxiety, and grief.
  • Relationship harm can lead to loss of companionship and consortium damages.
  • Medical costs, lost income, and reduced earning capacity can be claimed.
  • Punitive damages may apply if actions were intentional or reckless.
  • Overall loss of life enjoyment due to distress warrants compensation.

Documenting how each type of damage applies in your specific situation is key. An attorney experienced in emotional distress cases can help maximize your recovery. Significant damages are possible, but they require proving the extent of your losses.

What Evidence Do You Need to Prove Emotional Distress?

Suing for emotional distress can lead to substantial compensation, but these cases face higher burdens of proof. Your proof must unequivocally show that wrongdoing directly caused severe mental suffering. Here are some tips for gathering proof to support your claim.

Get a mental health professional to examine you

Having a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or other specialist formally evaluate your mental state is crucial. Their clinical notes and testimony can certify:

  • Your symptoms match a diagnosable condition like depression, anxiety, or PTSD.
  • The severity reaches the standard for an emotional distress claim.
  • The cause stems from the traumatic event in question.

Judges and juries give great weight to neutral, expert opinions on your psychological injuries.

Collect Records of Ongoing Treatments

In addition to initial diagnoses, keep a paper trail of all follow-up treatments, such as:

  • Therapy session notes show your continued struggles.
  • Prescriptions and medications to manage conditions related to the distress
  • Hospital bills if you require inpatient psychiatric care.

This demonstrates long-term impairment warranting significant damages, not just normal stress.

Document Lifestyle Impacts

Keep a detailed journal tracking how the emotional trauma disrupts your regular functioning, for example:

  • Missing work or school due to anxiety, depression, etc.
  • Withdrawing from social activities that you previously enjoyed.
  • Strained relationships with friends, family, and colleagues
  • New behaviors like increased alcohol use, anger issues, etc.

Quantifying these everyday effects strengthens claims of severe distress.

Gather Eyewitness Statements

Affidavits from people familiar with you before and after the incident can be persuasive. Their first-hand observations of changes in your emotional state or usual behaviors can bolster the allegations.

Keep Communications

Hold on to any emails, texts, letters, etc. related to the actions that caused the trauma. These can help establish wrongdoing. For example, abusive messages can prove the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Consider Video Evidence

If any security camera or smartphone footage captured the incident, preserve copies. Video can vividly depict trauma-inducing events.

With the proper documentation, you can demonstrate the required elements of a valid emotional distress claim, from the wrongful behavior and negligence to the resulting diagnosis and impairment. An attorney can help craft the most compelling case using your evidence.

  • Get medical evaluations and ongoing treatment records from mental health professionals.
  • Maintain records of lifestyle disruptions like lost jobs, social withdrawal, etc.
  • Gather eyewitness accounts and communications related to the incident.
  • Video footage can sometimes help depict traumatic events.
  • A personal injury lawyer can build the strongest case using your evidence of emotional harm.

Can I sue for Emotional pain and suffering?

You may sue for emotional anguish with proof. You can only win an emotional distress case in most U.S. states if the event caused bodily injury. This may include sexual abuse, bodily assault, or imminent danger. 

You must prove that someone purposely did something outrageous to cause you significant emotional anguish. Perhaps PTSD or anxiety led the plaintiff to acquire hives, tremors, or hand shakes. 

Contacting a personal injury lawyer about your case is the first step to seeking emotional distress compensation. 

California personal injury lawyers measure pain and suffering per diem. They will urge a jury to evaluate a victim’s agony and suffering every day and multiply this amount by the number of days they expect it to last. 

How do you prove emotional pain and suffering?

A lawsuit might be difficult to show emotional anguish since mental impairments are “invisible”. However, it is conceivable. Emotional suffering may be proven with: 

  • Medical records
  • Statements of witnesses
  • Mental health professionals testify
  • Reports by psychologists, therapists, or other doctors who treated emotional trauma
  • Physical injuries from the incident
  • The duration of your discomfort


The greater your proof, the better your litigation chances. A experienced personal injury attorney may help you recover damages. 

Intentional emotional distress (IIED) often involves: 

  • Someone behaves dangerously or purposefully
  • Extreme or provocative behavior
  • This causes considerable emotional discomfort.
  • Different states have different IIED components. 


What is an example of an emotional distress lawsuit?

The following circumstances may lead to emotional distress lawsuits: 

  • Watching a crash
  • Malpractice medicine
  • Nursing home abuse
  • A former partner stalks a mature woman
  • Verbal abuse and harassment
  • Witnessing wrongful death


Anxiety, sadness, fear, and PTSD are emotional discomfort symptoms. Emotional distress damages reimburse you for the psychological effect of an accident on your life. 

There are two categories of emotional distress claims: 

  • Negligent emotional harm
  • Creating emotional discomfort intentionally
  • Torment and verbal assaults might be grounds for a lawsuit, but name-calling would not. 


How much may you claim for mental distress?

Emotional discomfort is damage, not a claim. The severity of the event and the claim determine emotional distress compensation. The sum varies greatly for each instance. 

California allows $250,000 in pain and suffering, or non-economic damages. However, emotional distress compensation is not set. A judge and jury will determine compensation based on the case and evidence. 

Cause and effect must be shown to substantiate emotional distress as an injury. This may include: 

  • Recording everyday routine modifications
  • Submitting friend, coworker, and employer letters
  • Verifying any medical care you’ve had for your symptoms
  • Some PTSD claims settled for $50,000–100,000.


How do you calculate emotional distress?

Two popular lawsuit emotional distress calculations are: 

  • Multiplier method: The attorney adds up economic losses like medical bills and lost pay and multiplies by 1.5 to 5.
  • Per diem method: The attorney asks the jury to estimate a victim’s daily agony.

The incident’s severity and claim strength determine emotional distress compensation. Emotional anguish is harder to prove than other harm. 

Some factors that affect emotional distress compensation are: 

  • How the accident changed your life
  • Whether stress and anxiety have caused sleeplessness or other concerns,

There’s no formula or computation for accident victims’ mental anguish compensation. However, the victim’s lawyer builds a case on the facts using legal expertise. 

How hard is it to prove emotional distress?

Because emotional anguish is psychological and cannot be seen or felt, proving it in court is challenging. Emotional distress symptoms are harder to measure than physical ailments, which can be seen with x-rays and lab testing. 

The plaintiff must prove that mental stress induced a bodily response to claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. PTSD or anxiety might produce hives or tremors in the person. 

To prove emotional distress, the plaintiff may need to: 

  • Document lifestyle and mental state changes.
  • Submit witnesses
  • Show that the defendant has to act properly and not in a way that would disturb others.
  • Show that the defendant knowingly or carelessly acted excessively.

Legally, emotional distress is mental discomfort or suffering caused by another. US courts may award emotional anguish as civil damages.