Emotional Distress Law & Legal Definition


Emotional distress is a claim of damages in lawsuits for injury due to the negligence or intentional acts of another. Damages for emotional distress used to require proof of a physical injury in order to be recoverable, however, recent case law has recognized a right to an award of money damages for emotional distress without physical injury or contact. Sexual harassment and libel and slander cases may involve emotional distress as the main, or only, harmful result. In most jurisdictions, emotional distress cannot be claimed for breach of contract or other business activity resulting in monetary loss. Professional testimony by a therapist or psychiatrist may be required to validate the existence and depth of the distress and place a dollar value upon it. Bystanders to an injury must show physical closeness to the traumatic event, and a relationship to the party injured may be required.

To prove intentional emotional distress, the plaintiff must show: 1) the defendant must act intentionally or recklessly; (2) the defendant's conduct must be extreme and outrageous; and (3) the conduct must be the cause (4) of severe emotional distress. The definition of outrageous is subjective, but it should be more than mere insults, indignities, threats, annoyances, or petty oppressions. It has been generally defined as conduct which would cause a reasonable person to exclaim "Outrageous!" An example would be falsely informing a person that a close family member had been killed.