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Suing for Emotional Distress

If you have experienced emotional distress at work, you could be eligible to sue your employer for damages. This is a possible solution in many different situations, from your manager ignoring your requests for help to a coworker behaving in an outrageous way towards you.

The law around emotional distress personal injury cases is complex. Before filing a lawsuit, you must take the time to understand how the law defines emotional distress.

There are two types of emotional distress cases: negligent infliction and intentional infliction. Both can have a severe effect on your emotional state, but they differ in the intentions of the person or company who has harmed you.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

Conduct must contain all the following elements to meet the definition of NIED:

  • The defendant willfully violated their statutory duties or otherwise engaged in negligent conduct.
  • The plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.
  • The defendant’s conduct was the cause of the plaintiff’s emotional distress.

You can sue someone for NIED if they had a legal duty to take reasonable care to avoid causing you emotional distress. For example, if you are injured in the workplace by badly maintained equipment, you can bring a claim against your employer as they had a duty to provide a safe working environment.

In some cases, bystanders can bring cases of NIED. However, it is unlikely that you would be successful in claiming emotional distress simply for witnessing an accident, unless the accident involved a close family member or you were in harm’s way yourself.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

Sometimes referred to as “tort of outrage,” IIED involves conduct that is outrageous or extreme. You can sue someone who behaves this way if they intentionally or recklessly cause you severe emotional distress. Here are the criteria most courts use to determine whether your claim should be upheld.

  • Your employer or their agent acted in a way that was outrageous or extreme.
  • Your employer or their agent acted intentionally or recklessly.
  • The actions caused you severe emotional distress.

There is no exact definition of what constitutes extreme behavior, but most courts agree that it is more than simply being rude, insulting, or annoying. For example, an employer who circulated an embarrassing photo of an employee in the office was found not to meet the standard of “outrageous” conduct. However, an employer who bullied their employees so badly that any reasonable person would be unable to cope would meet the standard.

Can You Sue An Employer For Employees’ Actions?

Employers are held responsible for their employees’ actions through a process called ratification if the following facts can be proved:

  • The employer knew about the behavior.
  • The employer knew the behavior was harmful.
  • The employer did not take steps to rectify the situation.

For example, an employer would be responsible for IIED if they failed to address multiple complaints of sexual harassment against a particular employee.

Size of Emotional Distress Claims

It is extremely difficult to put a figure on the extent of emotional distress. Juries must decide how much to award based on the severity of the harm caused, whether it is ongoing, and the outrageousness of the conduct.

Proving emotional distress is more difficult than proving a physical injury. Seeking evaluation from a psychiatrist is invaluable in this kind of claim.

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.