What Damages Can You Recover for a Mental Anguish Lawsuit When You Are Injured?
When you suffer a personal injury, it affects you in two ways: physically, and psychologically — which is to say, emotionally and mentally. If someone else caused your injuries, through negligence or a deliberate act of wrongdoing. You have the right to file a mental anguish lawsuit against that person and recover monetary damages. For both your physical injuries and your mental anguish.
Depending on the state in which you live your psychological injuries may go by the name of mental anguish, emotional distress or pain and suffering. Whatever name your state assigns to them, it refers to the psychological effects, symptoms and conditions brought about by your accident.
In general, the law does not provide for mental anguish lawsuits per se. Rather, mental anguish by any other name becomes part of the personal injury lawsuit you file after sustaining injuries in the following types of situations:
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Medical malpractice
- Product liability accidents
- Premises liability accidents
- On-the-job accidents
- Intentional torts such as assault, battery, etc.
- The wrongful death of a loved one
Examples of Mental Anguish
Mental anguish is defined as psychological suffering that goes well beyond mere disappointment or irritation. It must be serious enough that it causes you lasting and substantial distress that negatively impacts your life in general. Examples include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Severe stress
- Suicidal thoughts
- Excessive humiliation or shame
When you file a personal injury lawsuit, or a mental anguish lawsuit, you seek to recover two types of damages. Economic and noneconomic. Your economic damages represent your out-of-pocket expenses resulting from your injuries. Such as your ambulance bills and hospital expenses. Or prescription medication expenses, rehabilitation expenses, physical and occupational therapy expenses. The amount of your bills make it easy to put a dollar value on your economic damages.
In contrast, neither you nor a jury can attach a precise dollar amount to your noneconomic damages, like pain and suffering, including your mental anguish. These are subjective in nature and therefore more difficult not only to prove but also to quantify. Keep in mind that noneconomic damages include not only your mental anguish but also things such as the following:
- Loss of consortium, i.e., companionship, of your spouse, children, etc.
- Physical impairment caused by your injuries
- Your disability or disfigurement caused by your injuries
- Loss of enjoyment of life as a result of your injuries
Calculating Noneconomic Damages
No standardized method of calculating noneconomic damages exists. However, many insurance companies and personal injury attorneys use what is called the multiplier method. In this method, you total your economic damages and multiply this amount by a number, usually between 1 and 5, but possibly as high as 10 if your physical injuries are extremely severe.
For instance, if your accident injures your leg severely enough that it must be amputated, this constitutes a catastrophic injury for which you can use 10 as your multiplier. Assuming your out-of-pocket expenses total $100,000, the calculation for the noneconomic damages you seek to recover, including for your mental anguish, becomes $100,000 x 10 = $1 million. This figure then gets added to your economic damages total to become the total amount, $1,100,000, for which you sue the person who caused your injuries.
Noneconomic Damage Caps
Using the above example, it’s not hard to see that noneconomic damages substantially increase the amount of your ultimate settlement or jury award. In fact, they often represent the majority of it. Given the subjective nature of mental anguish and other noneconomic damage components, however, many states have passed laws limiting the amount you can recover for them.
Most, but not all, of these statutes apply to medical malpractice lawsuits only. For instance, California caps the amount of noneconomic damages you can receive in a medical malpractice case at $250,000. Louisiana’s cap is $500,000. On the other hand, New York has no cap.
If your personal injury lawsuit is based on the negligent acts of the defendant, keep in mind that some states are contributory negligence states. If you live in one of these states, the court will reduce the amount of your overall jury award. Typically, the percentage of your own negligence it determines how much you contributed to your accident.
In other words, if the jury awards you $2 million in overall damages for your mental anguish lawsuit. Including both economic and noneconomic damages. But then, determines that you bear 25% responsibility for the accident. Therefore your injuries and your ultimate damage award becomes $1,500,000.
Infliction of Emotional Distress
Though the law does not provide for mental anguish lawsuits per se, some states allow you to sue for the unintentional or intentional infliction of emotional distress. As these terms imply, unintentional infliction means that the defendant’s negligent or reckless actions caused your emotional distress. Conversely, intentional infliction means that the defendant deliberately took one or more actions intended to cause you emotional distress and likely physical harm as well.
In either type of case, you need to prove that the defendant’s actions were so outrageous and reprehensible that they went beyond the pale of societal norms. Or that no reasonable person is expected to suffer such serious and extensive emotional distress as you have.
Why You Need To Hire a Local Lawyer
Given the differences in state laws regarding personal injury lawsuits in general and mental anguish damages in particular, your wisest strategy when you suffer a personal injury is to contact a local personal injury attorney as soon thereafter as possible. You need the legal advice, counsel and representation this law firm can provide.
In addition, if this firm has experience practicing personal injury law, it likely has the resources available to thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding your particular injury. In addition to being able to engage the expert witnesses you almost assuredly will need to testify on your behalf. Furthermore, the attorney will likely take your case on a contingency fee basis. This means that you pay no attorney’s fees unless or until the law firm obtains a favorable settlement or jury award for you.