What Is Emotional Distress?

An emotional response after an accident is normal. You may feel fear, anger, shock, and other emotions. However, if your level of emotion reaches intense distress, you may be able to recover compensation.

To get money for emotional distress after an accident, you must prove the following:

  • The defendant’s conduct was extreme or outrageous
  • The behavior was intentional, reckless, or negligent
  • The conduct caused emotional distress and bodily harm

Suppose you can prove each of these elements by a preponderance of the evidence. In that case, you may recover compensation for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) or negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). A preponderance of the evidence means that it’s more likely than not, as proven by more than 50% of the evidence.

Types of Emotional Distress

There are two types of emotional distress: intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) and negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). Each is a bit different according to New York laws.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) involves deliberate conduct by a defendant. For example, direct verbal threats intentionally inflict emotional distress upon a victim.

The intentional conduct must be outrageous, indecent, atrocious, and so unwelcome in contemporary society and culture that it is unacceptable.

The specific elements of IIED include:

  • The defendant takes shocking or repugnant conduct
  • The conduct that is intentional with disregard for the high risk of causing emotional distress
  • The behavior is the cause of the emotional distress
  • There is actual debilitating or harmful emotional distress

A person may also act recklessly and cause IIED.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

A person might be liable for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) if they acted negligently instead of intentionally. The specific elements of negligence include:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty
  • The defendant breached that duty of care
  • The breach caused the plaintiff emotional distress
  • The conduct was outrageous or extreme (more than mere negligence)
  • The behavior caused the plaintiff to actually suffer extreme emotional distress

For example, all drivers have a duty to other people on the road to be sober. This is a matter of law. Suppose a defendant breaches that commitment and drives intoxicated, especially on multiple occasions, and they cause an accident that results in emotional distress to the plaintiff. In that case, they can be held liable for NIED. In some extreme cases, their reckless behavior may rise to IIED.

Examples of Emotional Distress

The type of emotional distress you can recover money for must be extreme.

For example, if someone repeatedly threatens you with a pattern of reckless behavior, you may become fearful to the point that you must change your lifestyle. This extreme fear is an example of emotional distress.

If someone tries to run you off the road in a fit of road rage and follows you to your home, their actions are highly reckless and even intentional. You may suffer PTSD from such an event and be unable to drive after the event.

“Zone of Danger” Rule

A bystander rule, or “Zone of Danger,” theory of liability is associated with NIED. Under this theory, a person who was not injured may recover from the defendant if:

  • The defendant unreasonably subjected the plaintiff’s family member to physical injury
  • The family member died or suffered significant physical injury
  • The family member’s death or injury was the result of the defendant’s unreasonable behavior
  • The plaintiff witnessed the injury or death
  • The plaintiff was within the “zone of danger” of the accident
  • The plaintiff suffered actual emotional distress

To recover compensation under New York’s zone of danger rule, you must also prove that there was a real possibility that you may have suffered severe injury or death, you were aware of your family member’s injury or death at the time it happened, and the victim was an immediate relative (parent, child, sibling, or grandchild).

Suing for Emotional Distress

Filing an emotional distress lawsuit can be difficult. You often must file it with other damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, etc. In most cases, IIED and NIED require the same types of proof as these other losses.

It’s important to document all the losses associated with your emotional distress. That will involve mental health records, a journal, and anything else proving you had debilitating emotional distress.

Insurance companies frequently deny IIED and NIED claims; you will likely have to file a lawsuit to get what you deserve. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you draft necessary legal documents and meet all required deadlines.

IIED and NIED Statute of Limitations

In New York, to meet the statute of limitations, or deadline, you must file an IIED or NIED lawsuit within one year of the event. If you file a lawsuit after that deadline, you may forfeit your right to compensation, no matter how strong your case is.

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Our New York Personal Injury Attorneys Can Help

One of the most essential steps in an IIED or NIED case is hiring a personal injury lawyer who knows how to handle these complex cases. The legal team at Hecht, Kleeger & Damashek, P.C. has helped countless clients like you. Call us today at (212) 490-5700 or use our online contact form to reach out.

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