It’s hard to notice depression, anxiety, or any emotional distress in a person, especially if you didn’t know them before the significant event that changed their life. Perhaps it was a car accident or a workplace injury that caused their emotional pain, and that person tells you they haven’t been the same ever since it happened. You believe them, but it’s difficult to perceive another individual’s inner world.
That’s why when someone makes a claim for emotional distress as part of a lawsuit, the law often requires special proof to recover for mental or emotional injuries. Not every state has this requirement, though. Let’s take a look at what’s required in Virginia and North Carolina.
Claiming emotional distress under Virginia law
In Virginia, courts will award compensation to an injured party in three limited circumstances:
- if the emotional distress manifests along with a physical injury,
- if the emotional distress was the result of intentional or reckless conduct by the defendant, or
- if there are statutes that provide for recovery for emotional suffering as a stand-alone, like the anti-harassment and anti-stalking statutes.
We will explore these in turn.
1. Physical injury required
Consider an individual who was involved in a car accident. If, for example, they suffered a broken collarbone, could not work for a while, and began to suffer depression because of the accident, then they would be entitled to compensation for emotional damages as part of their compensation for the overall harm done to them because of someone else’s negligence. However, if they were unharmed physically in the accident, they could recover for any damage done to their vehicle, but they would not be entitled to any recovery for any pain and suffering caused by the accident.
2. Intentional infliction of emotional distress
If another person intentionally treated another person in an intolerable and outrageous way that caused severe emotional distress, then Virginia courts would allow for a claim of emotional distress. A word of caution: courts are very skeptical of these cases, and it’s very difficult to win damages for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim in Virginia.
3. Statutory recovery
Virginia has an anti-harassment statute that provides a civil remedy for individuals subjected to intimidation or harassment, outside of the workplace, that is motivated by race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. By statute, the victim does not have to provide proof of harm but can be awarded statutory and punitive damages to redress the wrongful behavior.
Claiming emotional distress under North Carolina law
In North Carolina, a lawsuit for emotional distress can proceed without an accompanying physical injury.
Even so, emotional distress claims can still be difficult to prove. To prevail on a claim for emotional distress, you’ll need a diagnosis from a qualified mental health provider, such as a therapist or psychiatric physician, and you’ll have to provide proof that you have participated in treatment.
What to do if you want to file an emotional distress claim
You’ll need the guidance of a legal professional if you want to proceed with a claim for emotional distress in North Carolina or Virginia. To receive advice for how to proceed that puts your needs at the heart of the matter, contact the attorneys at Hunter & Everage in Richmond, Virginia, and Charlotte, North Carolina.