In many personal injury claims, emotional distress is a major part of the injury suffered—and a major part of the money the victim can recover. However, emotional distress damages can also be controversial, and courts have very strict standards for the circumstances under which they will award money.
Many types of emotional or psychological effects can count as distress:
- Fear or terror
- Uncontrollable crying spells
- Mental anguish from adjusting to a disability or terrible injury
Can I recover money for emotional distress in my case?
In general, if you suffered a loss that would qualify for damages in its own right, such as an injury, you can recover money for emotional distress if it’s directly related to that loss.
The strongest emotional distress claims always involve a physical injury. This is known as Georgia’s “impact rule”—emotional distress is valid if there was a physical impact to the body, if that impact caused an injury, and if that injury is the source of the distress.
The impact rule sets a high standard for Georgia emotional distress claims, but it also serves an important purpose. It basically restricts damages to those who were directly impacted by the injury. That way, random bystanders and passersby cannot sue for emotional damages simply because they witnessed a gruesome accident. Only the victims’ own emotional distress counts.
If no physical injury occurred, it is possible to build an emotional distress claim on a purely financial loss (such as a damaged vehicle), but this is much harder.
Examples of how these rules work include:
- With a physical injury: A woman suffers terrible burns to her face in a car accident. In addition to the physical injury, she finds that people stare at her and whisper about her appearance. The humiliation counts as emotional distress, and is related directly to a physical injury. Her claim for emotional distress would probably be granted.
- With no physical injury: A man is transporting his late father’s ashes to a lake where he intends to scatter them, in accord with his father’s wishes. On the way, his vehicle is hit by a truck. The man is physically okay, but the vehicle is totaled and all of his father’s ashes are lost in the wreck. The man is grief-stricken, and starts attending therapy or counseling. The man may have a claim for emotional distress, if he has evidence that his counseling is related to losing the ashes, because that connects the distress to a financial loss.
What types of cases typically involve emotional distress damages?
Any type of personal injury claim can involve emotional distress, but it’s most common in cases with severe injuries or a health situation that affects quality of living. These may include:
- Car accidents and truck accidents
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Wrongful death of a loved one
- Defective medical devices of all kinds
- Nursing home abuse
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