Can I Sue for Emotional Distress in Georgia?

Written By: Darl Champion

Date Posted: 11.21.23

Category: Personal Injury

Some events in life are so traumatizing that it may make sense to sue for what’s known as “emotional distress.” But what is emotional distress exactly, and when does such emotional impact warrant filing a suit? I’ll answer these common questions and more below.

What is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is a life-impacting emotional response to mental and/or physical suffering. This elevated emotional state goes far beyond someone feeling minorly sad or anxious and would be more commonly characterized by the affected person not being able to carry out daily duties and tasks. Emotional distress is often brought on by an emotional response or attempt to cope with an experience that has traumatized a person, such as a specific injury or event.

Causes of emotional distress are often classified as one of two types. They are:

1. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

This kind of emotional distress is caused by someone else’s negligence, whether that negligence was intended or not. Many of the clients we work with who have been injured in car crashes experience emotional distress due to the trauma and severity of the crash.

NIED cases almost always have some kind of physical component to them that cause you to be emotionally distressed. For example, if you suffer a brain injury, paralysis, loss of a limb, or extreme physical pain as a result of someone else’s negligence, this might cause you so much mental and emotional distress that you find it difficult to continue living your everyday life. In many cases, particularly those involving serious car crashes, the event itself may have been so traumatic that our client experiences mental and emotional distress.

Under Georgia law, you must have sustained a physical impact to be able to recover damages for negligent infliction of mental or emotional distress. This means that if you were in a car crash, you slipped and fell, or you experienced injury from medical negligence, then you can recover damages for emotional distress. But if you just witnessed a traumatic event–as in the case of bystanders–you cannot recover damages for emotional distress if the defendant was negligent. Some states recognize what is known as the zone of danger test, which does allow people who are in the zone of danger of an accident to recover emotional distress damages.

2. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

This kind of emotional distress is caused when intentional conduct produces the emotional distress. This may occur if there is physical contact or injury to the person, or it may occur even if there is no physical contact or injury.

IIED claims involved cases where the defendant’s conduct was intentional or reckless, the conduct was extreme or outrageous, and the victim experienced emotional distress that was severe. For example, if someone were to chase a pedestrian in their car, making the pedestrian believe they were going to be run over, that might constitute IIED, even if the pedestrian was not run over. The pedestrian may not ultimately be physically injured, but this could cause prolonged emotional distress for them.

IIED claims are different from NIED claims in that a physical impact or contact is not required when intentional conduct is involved.

Symptoms of Emotional Distress

Though emotional distress can present itself differently in each individual, people suffering from emotional distress often exhibit several of the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Poor work or school performance
  • Feeling guilty
  • Changes in personality
  • Difficulty carrying out day-to-day tasks
  • Trouble focusing
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feeling irritable or angry
  • Changes in sleeping patterns (insomnia, difficulty sleeping, waking up often)

It is worth noting that signs of emotional distress could also be related to other health issues as well. It is always best to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you find yourself experiencing one or more of the symptoms mentioned above.

If you are considering taking legal action, make sure to document all of your medical appointments and evaluations, which you can then provide to your attorney if you move forward with your suit.

Suing for Emotional Distress

Suing for emotional distress can be challenging, in Georgia or any state. In general, suing for negligence tends to be somewhat more straightforward, but if you plan to sue for intentional conduct, this could be considerably more difficult to prove. However, it is not impossible to win a settlement in an emotional distress case involving intentional conduct, especially if you have a knowledgeable attorney.

How to Prove Emotional Distress

In making your case, you’ll need to provide evidence as to how emotional distress has impacted you. This might be done by providing records of mental health appointments or evaluations, statements from acquaintances or family about how you have been affected, or other evidence of how your daily activities have been impacted.

Common Strategies Defense Teams Use to Disprove Emotional Distress

Of course, no matter how solid the evidence of your emotional distress is, the legal counsel for the at-fault party will ultimately try to disprove your claims.

They may do this by bringing forward posts from your social media accounts that recently show you looking happy or having a good time. This is why we always recommend personal injury clients simply stay off of social media. We know it’s tempting to want to vent about the pain you’ve experienced or try to show yourself moving on with your life, but such posts can provide fuel for the defense team in many cases. It’s also worth noting that if you have published posts on social media since the event that caused you distress, do not delete them! This only makes you look like you are hiding something, no matter how justified your claims are.

Winning an Emotional Distress Case

As you can see, emotional distress claims can be challenging to prove, especially in cases involving IIED claims. However, this doesn’t mean that emotional distress is not to be taken seriously. Your mental and emotional state has a huge impact on every other area of your life. When someone else’s actions disrupt that balance and, therefore, your life, you have a right to hold them accountable. However, your chances of success are much better with an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.

Our award-winning team of attorneys at The Champion Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.C. are knowledgeable and experienced at winning a variety of injury cases, emotional distress claims included.

If someone else is responsible for your distress, contact us today for a free consultation of your case. We also operate on a contingency fee basis so, if you decide to move forward with your case, you pay absolutely nothing until we win your case for you. If, for some reason, we don’t win your case, you don’t pay us anything.

Don’t let emotional distress take another day of your life away from you. Contact The Champion Firm today.

About the Author

Darl Champion is an award-winning personal injury lawyer serving the greater Metro Atlanta area. He is passionate about ensuring his clients are fully compensated when they are harmed by someone’s negligence. Learn more about Darl here.