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  • Writer's pictureRobert Schuerger II

Does Emotional Distress Count as Personal Injury? | Factors to Consider

Personal injuries are often more complex than people imagine. There are many types of damage that someone can get beyond physical harm. A traumatic event, for example, can cause a wide range of psychological symptoms that will affect the victim's life.

In some cases, emotional trauma could be considered a personal injury. However, there are many variables when it comes to mental anguish and other psychological issues, which can complicate the case.

Those who want to add emotional distress to their personal injury claims must find a lawyer who can calculate how much compensation they deserved based on how much they got hurt psychologically.

This page will cover everything about emotional distress, including how it's different from a physical injury and how much compensation the victim can expect.

What's Emotional Distress According to Personal Injury Law?

What's Emotional Distress According to Personal Injury Law?

In simple terms, emotional distress refers to psychological/mental suffering. When someone files an emotional distress lawsuit, it means they're filing a claim because someone else caused them "emotional" harm. Emotional distress is also known as "Pain and Suffering."

There are three types of emotional distress claims someone can file:

  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED)

  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress

  • "Bystander" infliction of emotional distress

To understand how to prove emotional distress successfully, it's crucial to identify which type of case the victim is working with. Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys can advise on questions like, "How do you quantify a personal injury claim?" Here's an overview of each type:


This case applies to victims who can prove they got emotionally hurt on purpose. However, due to the nature of this case, not everyone can file a personal injury claim based on intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Most courts in the country, including those in Indiana, may approve an IIED case if the victim can prove the conduct was outrageous or extreme. In other words, victims may not be able to file a case for insults or name-calling scenarios.


It's the most common case when it comes to pain and suffering. Most of the time, it applies when the victim starts experiencing psychological symptoms after a traumatic event, such as a car accident.

The victim, however, doesn't necessarily need to have sustained extreme physical harm to file a claim for mental anguish. However, it may help if they can prove they developed a physical reaction because of the event, such as hand tremors, headaches, etc.


Bystander cases are less common than the other two. Here, the person experiencing emotional distress doesn't have to be directly involved in the accident.

If someone, for example, got the news that their spouse got hit in a car accident and was severely hurt, they could sue the at-fault driver for causing them emotional distress.

Bystander cases mostly apply to family members. A victim may not be able to file a personal injury claim if the person who got hurt was a close friend, for example.

Can Physical Injuries Lead to Emotional Distress?

Even though physical injuries can often develop emotional distress, that's not necessarily the case all the time. If someone gets into a car accident but doesn't suffer any serious injuries, they could still file a claim if the circumstances apply.

Unfortunately, proving someone caused the victim emotional distress without any physical injury tends to be harder, which is why it's important to hire a personal injury lawyer who can navigate the facts and come up with a great strategy.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress can involve a wide range of symptoms. The more severe they are, the more likely the victim will be of getting fairly compensated.

Some of the most common symptoms of emotional distress include:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Guilt

  • Chronic Headaches

  • Fatigue

How Much Is an Emotional Distress Claim Worth?

Emotional distress damages are complicated to measure since they're more subjective than physical injuries. In short, the amount of money the victim can get for their emotional distress claim depends on how many personal losses they experienced and how much evidence there's available.

If the victim can prove their life quality degraded significantly after the traumatic event, they could get compensated. Some experts calculate pain and suffering damages differently, although most use the "multiplier method." It involves assigning a number between one and five to the severity of the injuries. Then, the person will multiply that number by the amount of economic or physical damages.

The best way to know how much emotional distress compensation a person can get is to hire a personal injury lawyer. They can help answer questions such as, "Do you have to pay taxes on a personal injury settlement in Indiana?" These professionals can evaluate all factors surrounding the case and determine whether it's viable to file for pain and suffering or not.

Can People Add Emotional Distress to Their Personal Injury Claim?

Yes. In fact, most personal injury claims involve both physical and mental injuries. This is because, typically, a severe physical injury can lead to a lot of stress or anxiety.

Even though proving emotional distress damages is hard, it becomes easier if they're linked to severe accidents or physical injuries, as it's more likely for someone to feel psychologically hurt after experiencing something so traumatic.

Adding emotional distress to a personal injury case can get the victim better compensation for their damages. However, they'll need the help of a professional lawyer who can build a solid case.

How Can Someone Prove Emotional Distress?

There are three main factors a victim must prove if they want to sue for emotional distress:

  • First, the victim must prove that they were harmed.

  • Then, they must prove that the other person knew (or should have known) that their actions would cause the injury.

  • Finally, the victim must prove that the at-fault party's actions caused the injury.

Proving any of the three factors will be complicated due to the subjectivity of emotional distress. However, a personal injury lawyer with experience could be able to do it, as long as they have enough evidence and a lot of negotiation abilities.

Since an emotional injury can't be "seen" like a physical injury, there are fewer methods to prove distress. Thankfully, there are two main pieces of "evidence" a person can use, including:

  • Testimonies from mental health professionals and loved ones.

  • Any other documentation of the victim's emotional damages (diaries, journals, etc.)

Even if the victim has all of that, they should ask their lawyer if it's possible to win their case with all the available resources.

How to File an Emotional Distress Claim with a Personal Injury Lawyer

How to File an Emotional Distress Claim with a Personal Injury Lawyer

In Indiana, personal injury victims have two years from the date of the incident to file their claim. Trying to file a claim after this period will likely result in a dismissal. Most of the time, the best thing a personal injury victim can do is to talk to their lawyer as soon as possible following their incident.

The standard timeline for these types of cases looks like this:

First, the victim must document all their injuries. If they experienced a vehicle accident and suffered physical injuries, they can take photos/videos of the accident, get a police report, etc. On the other hand, those who start experiencing psychological issues after the accident must also document them, whether by getting a psychological evaluation or adding notes to a diary.

Most of the time, developing a physical reaction due to stress can help the victim's case, so it's also important to document that if it happens.

Once the victim gathers all the information possible, they must take it to their lawyer to see if they can sue for emotional distress. Professional personal injury lawyers may even help people gather more evidence to support their claims and get better compensation.

Sometimes, the case may get settled before it goes to trial, which can help the victim save time and avoid additional burdens. This happens when any party offers a settlement amount and the other one agrees to it. However, if both parties can't come to an agreement, the case will go to court. There, the lawyer will represent the victim and present as much evidence as needed to support their claim.

The longer the victim takes to file their case, the more complicated proving their emotional distress will be. In any case, people must contact a lawyer as soon as possible to ensure the highest chances of winning.

Bottom Line

Emotional distress is hard to navigate, especially considering that many people calculate these damages differently depending on the circumstances. However, by contacting an honest and transparent lawyer, the victim could have a better chance of getting compensated.

These cases tend to make the victim more vulnerable than they already are, which is why they should always work with a lawyer they feel comfortable with. Those in need of legal help can contact the team at Schuerger Shunnarah Trial Attorneys. These experts are committed to helping people in Indianapolis navigate their emotional distress cases and determine how much money they can get.

Any victim will know if they have a strong case to file after they seek a free case evaluation with a professional from this law firm.


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