Can You Sue For Emotional Distress In Small Claims Court

Can you sue for emotional distress in small claims court?

Yes, in some cases, you may have the option to file a lawsuit for emotional distress.

To do so, you generally must demonstrate that someone intentionally engaged in outrageous behavior with the explicit aim of causing you significant emotional distress.

Additionally, in certain situations, it’s possible to bring a lawsuit if someone negligently led to your severe emotional distress, but navigating through these scenarios entails overcoming some substantial hurdles.

Your ability to meet these challenges will rely on your specific circumstances and the laws in your residing state.

Can You Sue For Emotional Distress In Small Claims Court

Emotional Distress: What Is It?

    • Emotional distress is essentially synonymous with mental anguish, mental distress, emotional suffering, or emotional pain, at face value.
    • However, its legal definition is more intricate and can vary between states.
    • In essence, it constitutes a highly unpleasant emotional reaction triggered specifically by another person.
  • Symptoms of Emotional Distress:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Shame, humiliation, or guilt
    • Insomnia or nightmares
    • Fear
    • Anger
    • Flashbacks
    • Panic attacks
    • Fatigue
    • Chronic headaches
    • Weight gain or loss
    • Uncontrollable crying

Types of Emotional Distress Claims:

    • Typically, emotional distress falls under the category of damages that can be sought if a specific tort is proven.
    • However, in certain situations, you can initiate a separate lawsuit solely for emotional distress.
    • There exist two types of independent emotional distress claims.

Qualifying Emotional Distress Evidence in a Lawsuit:

    • Emotional distress is inherently intangible, and courts typically require substantial evidence to support a claim.
    • Evidence can include diagnoses or medication changes from therapists, counselors, or psychiatrists post-incident.
    • Emerging forms of evidence, such as data from fitness or sleep trackers, showing changes in heart rate or sleep patterns, can also be persuasive.
    • The admissibility of evidence varies by state or judge, but any reliable proof bolstering your emotional distress claim should be presented in court.

Filing an Emotional Distress Lawsuit:

    • Each state imposes its own statute of limitations for filing an emotional distress claim, which may range from one to six years, with most states allowing two to three years.
    • In some states, you may only have a one-year window to file your claim.
    • It’s crucial to secure the services of an attorney you trust and feel comfortable with.
    • Seeking recommendations from friends, family, or other connections is a good starting point for finding an experienced personal injury attorney.
    • Don’t hesitate to ask for referrals from attorneys you may already have for other legal matters, such as estates or taxes, as legal communities can be closely connected in some areas.

Documenting Your Emotional Distress:

    • To initiate an emotional distress lawsuit, start by documenting your emotional stress, including any physical symptoms, as they strengthen your case.
  • Pre-Trial Preparations for an Emotional Distress Lawsuit:
    • With your lawyer’s assistance, proceed to file a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress.
    • Once the case is filed, the defendant is served, and the trial preparation phase commences.
    • Discovery, involving information exchange like depositions and documents, occurs before the trial begins.

Trials and Settlements in an Emotional Distress Case:

    • The trial is scheduled by the court on a specific date.
    • Your attorney will present evidence supporting your claim and challenging the opposing side’s defenses.
    • A trial concludes after both parties rest, and a verdict is rendered, either by the jury or the judge.
    • Settlement offers can arise at any point in the process, including before filing the lawsuit, during pretrial preparations, or even during jury deliberation.
  • Establishing Severe Emotional Distress:
    • Demonstrating severe emotional distress is crucial.
    • Courts assess factors such as intensity, duration, nature of the triggering conduct, and the presence of physical symptoms.
    • This element is highly subjective and relies on persuasion and expert witness testimony.
    • Successful proof allows for recovery of monetary damages.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress:

    • The second emotional distress tort is negligent infliction of emotional distress, with elements defined by state law.
    • Generally includes a duty owed, breach of duty, and resulting severe emotional distress.
    • Some states apply a foreseeability rule for recovery.
    • Others require physical harm risk (“zone of danger”) or witnessing a close relationship’s harm.
    • Some states follow the impact rule, demanding physical symptoms, while mental health conditions’ recovery varies.
  1. Damage Caps:
    • Certain states limit recovery for non-economic damages, including emotional distress, to discourage frivolous lawsuits.
    • Eleven states currently have caps, ranging from $250,000 to $750,000 or more.

Seeking Legal Help:

Can you sue for emotional distress in small claims court? Yes, an attorney can be helpful.

    • Consult with a personal injury lawyer if you’ve experienced severe emotional trauma.
    • These cases are complex and often require legal expertise.
    • Many attorneys offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis.
    • Be mindful of statutes of limitations, as delays can lead to case dismissal.
    • Act promptly if considering a personal injury lawsuit for emotional harm.


Leave a Comment