Can You Sue For Emotional Distress in California?

Please note: Although Ellis Injury Law does not take emotional distress cases, we are happy to provide you with this content on the subject. Our law firm focuses on physical injury cases from car, truck, and slip and fall accidents.

The majority of personal injury lawsuits demand compensation for physical injuries, but what about scenarios when another party’s negligence caused not bodily harm, but emotional anguish? In California, you can sue for emotional distress, even in situations where individuals were not physically harmed.  

Victims are able to sue on one of two grounds: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress, or Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. Both types of claims are complicated, as plaintiffs must prove the existence and severity of an emotional injury that cannot be physically documented.  

Suing for emotional distress without physical injuries 

Victims who claim to suffer depression, anxiety, and mental suffering without accompanying bodily injury may be accused of exaggerating their condition, underscoring the need for competent legal representation. 

The Los Angeles personal injury lawyers of Ellis Law know how to maximize money damages for our clients, including compensation for emotional distress. Our firm has the resources to take cases on a contingency basis, hire expert witnesses, gather evidence to prove emotional suffering, and take your case to trial if need be. 

Negligent infliction of emotional distress 

A claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress can arise when a defendant’s actions – even though accidental — caused the plaintiff’s emotional trauma and anguish.  As an example, you may be able to seek damages if you saw a family member or loved one get hurt because of a reckless driver. (Your neighbor is backing out of their driveway and inadvertently runs over your toddler).  

In order to prevail, your claim must establish: 

  • You were a bystander who saw a loved one get injured 
  • The defendant’s negligent behavior caused the injury or wrongful death 
  • You sustained extreme emotional distress as a direct result  

Being sad and shaken for a few days is not enough to qualify for emotional distress compensation in California. It is up to you and your attorney to demonstrate how the trauma has affected your life, be it recurring flashbacks, chronic anxiety, insomnia, or PTSD.  

Suing for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) 

California allows victims to sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress when a defendant’s outrageous behavior or reckless disregard results in severe emotional anguish.  There are various forms of conduct that can qualify for this type of claim, and here are a few examples: 

  • Repeated threats of physical harm to you or someone in your family 
  • Another person’s egregious conduct or bullying has made you fear for your safety 
  • The defendant’s malicious actions have defamed your character 
  • The defendant’s vicious behavior has led you to believe a family member’s life is in jeopardy 

Generally speaking, recovering compensation for an IIED claim is more challenging than one involving negligent infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs must prove that the defendant’s conduct was truly shameful and that they intended to inflict some sort of emotional harm, or they acted with careless disregard.  

Outrageous conduct is difficult to prove and must be much more than petty insults, harassment, or annoyances. A bothersome co-worker who shouts threats in the workplace would not make a valid claim for emotional distress, but a vindictive ex-spouse who falsely tells you your child has died would likely qualify for filing such a claim.  

There must be substantial evidence that you suffered emotionally from the defendant’s actions, and that your grief, shame, humiliation, shock, and feelings of depression were severe, diminishing the quality of your life.  

Fighting for the compensation you deserve 

Suing for emotional distress is feasible, but a successful recovery hinges on hiring the right personal injury attorney. The legal team of Ellis Injury Law is led by Senior Partner and Founder Andrew Ellis, who leverages more than 20 years of experience litigating complex injury claims.  Our lawyers have secured more than $350 million dollars on behalf of clients in Southern California, and are renowned for our relentless determination to maximize the value of each case.  

There are strict deadlines for pursuing a personal injury lawsuit in California, so reach out to our Los Angeles office to schedule a free case review with a member of our team as soon as possible.