Emotional Distress Legal Definition

What is Emotional Distress?” 

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Emotional Distress Legal Definition

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Emotional Distress legal definition: “Emotional distress” is a type of claim made in personal injury lawsuits. Damages for emotional distress are generally awarded in conjunction with compensation for physical injuries suffered in an accident caused by the negligence of another. 

In order to make an emotional distress claim, an injury victim must prove that:

  • The emotional distress is more than fleeting
  • The emotional distress was caused by the defendant
  • The emotional distress is medically significant

Proving the existence and extent of emotional distress generally requires validation by a medical professional such as a therapist or psychologist.

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Emotional Distress and Car Accident Cases

In car accident injury cases, a victim’s ability to recover damages for emotional distress is dependent on the severity of physical injuries, as well as the type of insurance coverage carried by the drivers involved.

While limited-tort insurance policies allow car accident injury victims to recover legal compensation for bodily injury and property damage claims, it limits their ability to demand payments for pain and suffering EXCEPT in cases where there is a serious injury.

It’s important to note, however, that the term “serious injury” is defined as one that results in:

  • Death
  • Permanent disfigurement
  • Serious impairment of bodily function

Because of that rigid definition of “serious injury,” emotional distress is a type of pain-and-suffering claim that generally only comes into play if a full-tort policy does, too. 


Emotional Distress and Medical Malpractice Cases

In medical malpractice cases, “emotional distress” refers to the non-physical ailments suffered by the victim. Generally, claims for emotional distress are related to a physical injury.

Emotional distress claims can be made for:

  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Embarrassment 
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Acute Stress Disorder
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Depression

The amount of legal compensation awarded for emotional distress claims varies, and can depend on many factors including:

  • The severity of the injury and/or mental ailment
  • Available evidence in the case
  • The believability of medical and personal witnesses


Emotional Distress and Personal Injury Cases

Damages for emotional distress are a component of many types of personal injury claims, and are meant to compensate victims for the mental and emotional impact the accident had on their lives.

Emotional distress claims come into play in nearly all types of personal injury actions. They include:

  • Car accidents cases
  • Medical malpractice cases
  • Defective product cases
  • Slip and fall cases
  • Nursing home abuse cases

However, the compensation awarded to an injury victim is commiserate with the quality of evidence proving your claim. Proving the extent of your emotional distress often requires a great deal of evidence, including a personal daily journal, medical records, testimony from mental health providers, and more.


Emotional Distress and Workers’ Compensation

Emotional distress claims are not permitted under the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act.








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“If someone has a serious case, they will get a great effort and a great outcome working with us,” award-winning attorney Victor Pribanic of Pribanic & Pribanic told Best Lawyers Magazine.

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