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Can You Recover Damages for Emotional Distress?

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A bad accident will do more than just injure a victim physically. The average accident survivor also suffers emotional distress, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or mental anguish. Emotional distress is an intangible loss during a personal injury claim. In California, the civil justice system permits an injured victim to demand compensation for intangible as well as tangible damages. Finding out if you qualify for damages for emotional distress can help you seek a fair amount of compensation during your claim.

Economic vs. Noneconomic Damages in California

The two main categories of damages available in a personal injury claim in California are compensatory and punitive. The courts break compensatory damages down into economic and noneconomic damages. Economic damages are the most common type sought during an injury claim. They refer to the tangible losses that are specific to the victim and the accident, such as medical costs, future health care needs, losses of income, property repairs and travel expenses.

Noneconomic damages are intangible and general in the sense that an average person would have them under the same or similar circumstances. Noneconomic damages include emotional distress, physical pain and suffering, fright, inconvenience, grief, mental anguish, psychological trauma, lost quality of life, diminished enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. Noneconomic damages are available in most California personal injury claims. They are more common in serious and catastrophic injury cases, however.

Can You Only Recover for Emotional Distress Without a Physical Injury?

The courts generally award noneconomic damages along with economic damages, not on their own. Pain and suffering represents only a portion of the overall damages awarded. Depending on the state where you live, however, it may be possible to obtain compensation for only emotional distress without having a physical injury.

In California, you can file a claim for emotional distress without a physical injury if you can prove the defendant intentionally inflicted the harm in question. You will need proof that the defendant intentionally or recklessly caused your emotional distress or mental anguish through an outrageous act or egregious wrongdoing. In general, you cannot recover for only emotional distress during an ordinary negligence claim. You will need proof of a physical injury in this scenario.

How to Calculate Emotional Distress Damages

If you wish to seek damages for emotional distress during a personal injury claim in California, you or your Orange County personal injury lawyer will need to calculate a reasonable amount to claim. It can be difficult to calculate a pain and suffering award, as its value does not come from medical bills or receipts. Instead, your lawyer will need to prove your pain and suffering through other types of evidence.

  • Personal injury journal
  • First-hand testimony from you
  • Testimony from friends and family members
  • Expert testimony, such as from a therapist or medical expert

It is a jury’s job to award damages for emotional distress during a personal injury lawsuit. A jury will typically use the Multiplier Method to do so, although it does not have to use any particular equation to valuate pain and suffering. The Multiplier Method takes a number from one to five – chosen based on the severity of the injury – and multiplies it by the total amount of the plaintiff’s economic damages. If you have $100,000 in economic damages and a multiplier of three, for example, you would recover $300,000 in pain and suffering damages.

Calculating emotional distress comes down to how significantly the accident and injury impacted your mental and emotional health. If your injuries were catastrophic, for example, you may be eligible for greater pain and suffering damages due to permanent disabilities and lost quality of life. A lawyer can fight for maximum compensation for emotional distress during a personal injury case in California on your behalf. Contact an attorney for assistance with your emotional distress claim.

Covid 19 Update: We are accepting new cases and we handle everything electronically and remotely, so our clients never have to leave their homes.