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Recovering Damages for Emotional Distress in Personal Injury Cases


Missouri Personal Injury Specialists

Plumb the depths of recovering damages for emotional distress in personal injury cases with the guidance of Buchanan, Williams & O’Brien, your Missouri legal advocates.

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Navigating Emotional Distress Claims

Have you or a loved one suffered emotional distress in a personal injury case? In personal injury law, emotional distress is an often overlooked and misunderstood element of a personal injury claim.

Understanding the definition of emotional distress, the legal standards, types of emotional distress, and the role of a personal injury attorney is essential when seeking emotional distress damages.

The personal injury team at Buchanan, Williams & O’Brien has a wealth of experience securing compensation for personal injuries. Your journey to justice begins here.


Understanding Emotional Distress in Personal Injury Law

Emotional distress is a complex aspect of personal injury law. Sometimes called mental anguish, emotional distress relates to the suffering caused as a result of another’s actions.


Definition and Recognition of Emotional Distress

Emotional distress refers to the psychological effects caused by a traumatic or distressing event. This suffering can take on various forms and may differ from one person to another. When psychological and emotional trauma is caused by the negligent or intentional actions of another party, the victim may be able to recover compensation.

Legal standards for recognizing emotional distress in personal injury cases vary. In general, the injured party will need to show how their mental and emotional suffering affects their daily life and how the defendant’s actions caused it.

Types of Emotional Distress

There are two types of emotional distress: intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Navigating Emotional Distress Claims

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Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) happens when someone causes emotional pain, mental upset, or even physical harm to another person by doing something extreme on purpose or without caring.

In Missouri, a plaintiff must prove four elements to recover for IIED: (1) the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct was the cause (4) of severe emotional distress. Hyatt v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 943 S.W.2d 292, 297 (Mo. Ct. App. 1997).

It is not necessary for there to be physical harm to prove this conduct. The person who experienced the harm can receive compensation for emotional pain and any physical harm caused by the bad behavior. However, proving IIED in personal injury law takes work. At Buchanan, Williams & O’Brien, our experienced lawyers can help you understand your claim and review your options for pursuing emotional distress damages.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) happens when someone’s careless actions lead to mental distress. Missouri has adopted a “zone of danger” NIED in which both a direct victim and bystander can recover for emotional distress.

To recover for NIED, a plaintiff will need to show that: “(1) the defendant should have realized that his conduct involved an unreasonable risk to the plaintiff, (2) that plaintiff was present at the scene of an injury producing sudden event, (3) and that plaintiff was in the zone of danger, i.e., placed in a reasonable fear of physical injury to his or her own person.” Asaro v. Cardinal Glennon Memorial Hospital, 799 S.W.2d 595, 599-600 (Mo. banc 1990).

Factors for Proving Emotional Distress

Some factors that will be considered in an emotional distress claim include:

  1. Severity: Emotional distress needs to be substantial and extend beyond ordinary emotions associated with daily life.
  2. Genuineness: The distress should be authentic and not exaggerated, with a verifiable impact on the individual’s well-being.
  3. Direct causation: There needs to be a direct connection between the defendant’s actions or negligence and the emotional harm suffered.
  4. Foreseeability: The defendant should have been able to reasonably foresee that their conduct could lead to emotional distress.
  5. Concrete evidence: Courts often require tangible proof, such as medical records, testimony, or witness statements, to substantiate the emotional distress claim.
  6. Supporting evidence: Tangible proof such as medical records, testimonies, or witness statements substantiating the emotional distress claim. Physical injuries can also help show anguish and provide examples of how the incident caused emotional trauma. Things like ulcers, problems with thinking, and headaches can also be physical signs of mental pain.
  7. Duration and impact: The duration of the emotional distress and its impact on the plaintiff’s daily life and well-being.

These factors ensure that an emotional distress claim is valid, significant, and directly linked to the defendant’s action.

Proving emotional distress can significantly affect the value of a personal injury claim. The more profound and genuine the distress, the more significant its impact on the emotional distress compensation sought. Courts will consider the extent of psychological and emotional trauma alongside physical injuries, influencing the overall valuation of the claim.

Challenges To Proving Emotional Distress

Due to its nature, proving emotional distress can be challenging. However, there are ways to overcome these common challenges:

  • Subjectivity: Measuring emotional distress is not straightforward. Keeping records like a diary that details your experiences can bolster your case along with medical records.
  • Defense tactics: Others may downplay the severity of your mental anguish or emotional trauma. A seasoned personal injury lawyer can help you make a strong case and gather adequate evidence to back your claims.
  • Delay in seeking help: Delays in seeking help could be used against you. It is essential to seek prompt medical attention and ensure timely reports of all injuries.
  • Lack of tangible evidence: Emotional distress does not always leave tangible proof. Documenting as much as possible and seeking testimony from others, particularly experts and professionals, can be critical to your claim.
  • Proving long-term impact: Showing long-term effects is a challenge. Therapists and other experts can help to explain the long-term psychological impacts.

Compensation for Emotional Distress

Emotional distress is subjective and challenging to measure. Two methods are generally used to calculate emotional distress damages: multiplier and per diem.

  • Multiplier method: Under the multiplier method, compensation is typically one to five times the total economic damages. Economic damages include medical bills, lost wages, rehabilitation, therapy, and medication expenses.

  • Per diem method: The per diem method places a daily value on the emotional distress and multiplies it by the total time the harm is expected to last.

In general, there is no cap on non-economic damages in Missouri. However, in medical malpractice cases, awards are capped at $400,000 for “non-catastrophic” injuries and $700,000 for “catastrophic” injuries. Damages are also capped in cases against state and municipal governments.

When seeking emotional distress damages, it is crucial to illustrate how mental suffering affects your daily life. Consulting with a personal injury attorney is essential for guidance and coordination.

Compensation for Emotional Distress

Confused about Personal Injury in Missouri? We are here to answer your questions.

How To File a Claim for Emotional Distress

If you suffered a traumatic event and wish to recover damages, you should:

  • Document your emotional distress. To build a claim for emotional distress, you should document your symptoms. Keeping a journal detailing your daily emotions, concerns, and unusual thoughts can be beneficial. You can also bolster your case with medical and work records illustrating the impact on your mental health, aiding in obtaining compensation for your losses.
  • Consult with an attorney. It is crucial to engage a personal injury lawyer. They can assess your claim, assist you in suing for emotional distress, and help you with other legal measures like pursuing workers’ compensation.
  • File an emotional distress lawsuit. If you choose to sue for emotional distress, your attorney can help you file your suit and ensure compliance with the statute of limitations.
  • Prepare for trial. Your attorney will gather evidence, consult eyewitnesses, and enlist witnesses for your lawsuit, outlining the direct impact of the defendant’s conduct on your mental well-being.
  • Trial and settlement. Your attorney will help you negotiate with the responsible parties and prepare for trial. If no settlement is reached, your case may go to trial, where a jury or judge will decide your case.

No two personal injury cases are the same. At Buchanan, Williams & O’Brien, we can help you understand your claim, the path to recovering damages and filing your personal injury lawsuit.


Craft Your Path to Justice With Buchanan, Williams & O’Brien


Solid legal representation can be vital to navigating your emotional distress claim. Buchanan, Williams & O’Brien stands ready to offer personalized guidance tailored to your unique situation.

Our team crafts strategies that are as individual as your experience. We understand the legal intricacies of emotional distress claims and how psychological anguish affects our clients’ lives.

If you are seeking justice and want a personalized approach, we invite you to schedule a consultation with Buchanan, Williams & O’Brien today.

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