Does Pain and Suffering Include Emotional Distress?

Yes, “pain and suffering” in a personal injury lawsuit does broadly cover damages such as emotional distress. In some instances, however, “emotional distress” may be listed as a separate claim. The legal differences between “emotional distress” and “pain and suffering” may be subtle, but could impact how much compensation you are able to receive from your injury claim. Our New York city personal injury lawyers can help explain how. 

What is pain and suffering?

Pain and suffering is a different category of damages than “economic” or “monetary” damages, which include medical bills, future medical costs, lost time off work, the cost of prescription medication, vehicular damage, and home modifications necessary to accommodate a disability. 

Legally, pain and suffering is defined as “the physical and mental distress suffered from an injury, including actual broken bones and internal ruptures, but also the aches, pain, temporary and permanent limitations on activity, potential shortening of life, depression, and embarrassment from scarring.”

So, in other words, pain and suffering relates to loss of enjoyment in life, which includes emotional injuries like anxiety, depression, fear, grief, humiliation, inconvenience, insomnia, PTSD, torment, and worry.

What is emotional distress?

Legally defined, emotional distress is “a highly unpleasant emotional reaction resulting from another’s conduct, for which damages may be sought.” Common forms of emotional distress following a car accident include a paralyzing fear of getting behind the wheel or even riding in a vehicle. Victims may suffer from:

  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Moodiness
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Social withdrawal

Research links motor vehicle crash with persistent emotional distress.

A study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that musculoskeletal injuries (including whiplash), traumatic brain injuries (including concussion), and spinal cord damage resulted in “significantly elevated levels of psychological distress” for at least three years following a motor vehicle crash. In all, 1 in 2 people were found to suffer heightened psychological distress and depression soon after a motor vehicle crash that persisted beyond 12 months. Older victims and those with past negative emotional reactions to distress suffered the most.

A lawyer can help you prepare a claim for emotional distress.

As part of a pain and suffering claim, your emotional distress damages will require a legal argument, documentation, and evidence. The legal argument will center on whether the defendant is liable for “intentional infliction of emotional distress” or “negligent infliction of emotional distress.” Most cases involve negligence, but a person exhibiting signs of road rage, excessive drunkenness behind the wheel, or willful malice can be deemed intentional.

Documentation to support emotional distress can include daily symptom journals you write, witness statements, medical records, and notes from a psychotherapist. Additional evidence may include the presence of stress-related physical symptoms, as verified by a medical doctor. To strengthen a pain and suffering claim to include emotional distress, your personal injury lawyer will need to establish the intensity and duration of your suffering, and rule out any other underlying causes of your distress.

Is emotional distress worth a lot when included in a personal injury claim?

Emotional distress is often the smallest part of the claim, but it could end up being significant – particularly if you have suffered considerable physical harm in additiontothe emotional harm. One study found that jurors were less sympathetic to those who claimed emotional distress in the absence of physical injury. On the other hand, when plaintiffs can demonstrate severe physical injuries from the crash, data from Jury Verdict Research shows that the awards for emotional distress can be quite high.

Ask a lawyer about which damages you are eligible to pursue.

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, and/or PTSD following a car accident, you may be eligible to pursue damages for emotional distress, in addition to physical injury and financial losses. Call our New York City car accident lawyers here at Douglas & London to discuss your car accident case. We fight for the maximum value of our clients’ claims. All initial consultations are free of charge.