Yes, You May Sue for Mental Anguish

man suffering mental anguish

Sometimes, even after the body heals, the memory of an accident and injury lingers. This imprint can result in significant depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even mental anguish.

Dealing with mental torture is never easy. It can keep someone at night, prevents them from doing their normal chores, or forces them to quit their jobs or isolate themselves to cope. In other words, someone with it can also lose a lot.

To recover, they need help, but it can also be costly. In one of the recent studies, a person could end up spending $3,060 annually. In some cases, it may not cover all needs that range from therapy to medications.

This begs the question: can someone dealing with mental anguish sue another whom they think might have caused it?

First, What Is Mental Anguish?

There are actually different ways to define mental anguish. Some experts say it is not normal worry, depression, or even anger. It is an aggravated level of mental pain and distress. A person with this issue may experience some feelings of torment and shame.

Sometimes the mental distress is so severe that it may also manifest physically. According to Science Focus, this connection may be because emotions are also bodily functions managed by the nervous system, such as the brain and hormones that regulate many aspects of living, such as sleep, breathing, and heart rate.

Biologically speaking, mental anguish can create a feeling of threat, which can stimulate the amygdala of the brain to send a distress signal to the hypothalamus, which functions like the body’s thermostat that regulates both the nervous system and the endocrine system that manufactures hormones.

The hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system, which reacts by sending signals to the adrenal glands that sit above the kidneys. When they receive the message, they can begin pumping the body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to give the person a chance to flee or get away from the source of the threat.

The stress response can then cause changes in the body like rapid heart rate, high blood pressure and sugar levels, and feelings of anxiety. If the person continuously feels such a threat, the sympathetic nervous system doesn’t stop working and the adrenal glands continue to pump stress hormones.

In effect, a person dealing with mental distress may eventually struggle with sleep, changing appetites, lack of focus, fatigue, to name a few.

In Relation to Personal Injury

The term “mental anguish” often appears alongside personal injury cases, and it is part of the non-economic damages that a person can claim against another. Why is it non-economic? It’s because it is not easily quantifiable, unlike economic damages, which include medical bills, property damage, and other determinable expenses related to the injury.

However, a car accident attorney might ask for both damages when filing for a personal injury lawsuit. They may demand repayment of the costs of hospitalization and the trauma the accident may have caused on the driver, passengers, or both. If the accident resulted in death, the bereaved family can also sue for wrongful death and include mental anguish in the list of damages.

So It’s Really Possible to Sue Someone for Mental Anguish?

In general, the answer is yes, but the exact rules depend on the state. Many will not allow someone to do that without going through a personal injury lawsuit. During this process, it is important that the plaintiff can clearly point out that the party is negligent, and this negligence led to both physical and mental problems.

Determining negligence can differ between states as well. Some, such as California, may use the pure comparative negligence approach. This means that the injured party can claim damages that may be reduced by the percentage of their participation in the accident. If they are 5 percent at fault, they can receive only 95 percent of the awarded damages.

Others opt for the modified comparative negligence. Here, the state may still award damages to the plaintiff up to a certain percentage of fault. For example, it may set the injured party’s participation at 50 percent. If the court determines that the plaintiff’s negligence is over that percentage, they may not be able to claim any damages, including for mental anguish.

But what if the person doesn’t have any personal injury? States like California allow someone to sue based on emotional distress alone, usually if there are signs of imminent danger to their lives (e.g., the defendant might have sent threatening emails), the anguish is due to witnessing the death of someone from an accident or otherwise, or they developed disorders because of someone else’s actions even without any physical contact. They can also sue if the defendant defamed them, which led to feelings of shame.

Whether someone experiencing mental anguish can take someone to court or not because it depends on the state’s rules. The best way to deal with it is to ask a lawyer. Nevertheless, it is worth pursuing if it means getting the just compensation they feel they deserve.

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