Emotional distress, or mental anguish, is a non-physical and largely psychological injury that may be asserted in civil lawsuits. The law recognizes emotional distress as a state of mental suffering occurring due to an experience caused by the negligence or intentional acts of another person, generally of a physical nature.

Bystanders who personally experienced the emotional trauma, along with their relatives, may be able to assert a civil lawsuit alleging emotional distress. Emotional distress may be exhibited by feelings of:

  • Humiliation;
  • Shame;
  • Insomnia;
  • Depression;
  • Self-destructive thoughts;
  • Anxiety;
  • Stress; and/or
  • Another emotional response resulting from a traumatic event.

It is important to note that in most cases, you may only be able to sue for emotional damages if the incident resulted in physical harm. However, as of June 2019, some courts have recognized the right to award monetary damages for emotional distress claims without showing actual physical harm in cases of sexual harassment or defamation. In these cases, expert witness testimony from a therapist or psychiatrist may be necessary in order to prove a plaintiff’s case of emotional distress, as well as evaluate the range of monetary damages associated with the injury.

Mental abuse, or psychological abuse, is an aspect of many different crimes and civil legal claims. It generally involves cyclical, repeated patterns in which one person uses threats, intimidation, and/or abusive language and behavior against another person. A person generally engages in this behavior in order to place themselves in a position of superiority or dominance over the other person.

Some of the most common examples of mental abuse include:

  • Yelling or screaming at the person;
  • Using lies or deception to gain something from the person, especially financially;
  • Using demeaning language towards the victim;
  • Using various discriminatory terms, such as ethnic slurs and/or gender stereotypes; and/or
  • Using threats of physical abuse. In some cases, mental abuse is associated with patterns of physical harm, as well as threats of physical harm.

Emotional abuse is an extremely harmful form of abuse frequently associated with family law cases. There is no one legal definition of abuse, because there are many different forms of abuse. To reiterate, emotional abuse occurs in a situation in which there is a power imbalance. It often results in anxiety, depression, and/or other psychological symptoms that can result in physical manifestations. Psychological or emotional abuse is generally just one factor in a situation that is one-sided in terms of power and influence.

Emotional abuse can be accompanied by physical violence, threats of violence, and/or sexual assault. Generally speaking, a cycle of abuse exists over long periods of time, and results in emotional damage or a psychological imbalance in the victim. The victim may be able to sue their abuser for damages, depending on the specific circumstances of the case, which will be further discussed below.

There are many different settings in which emotional abuse can occur, including but not limited to:

Emotional abuse is a specific type of domestic violence, which is considered to be illegal in many states under various domestic violence laws. Additionally, many of the domestic violence laws that are in place make reporting emotional abuse mandatory under specific circumstances.

If a person is in a situation in which they are being emotionally abused, or if they know of a person who is suffering from emotional abuse, they should investigate local resources for domestic violence. Additionally, they should report the violence against them or another individual to the authorities, beginning with the local police.

While emotional abuse is generally harder to identify than physical abuse, it is just as harmful. In a legal context, there is no standard emotional abuse definition; however, it often contains many of the following elements:

  • Verbal aggression, which frequently includes false statements and/or lies directed towards another person;
  • Dominating or repressive behavior against another person;
  • Implanting ideas of jealousy and/or slander of another person; and/or
  • Forcing someone to view disturbing and/or negative images and/or behavior.

When Can I Sue for Mental Abuse?

Large numbers of mental abuse cases go unreported each year, largely because they are either unaware that they are being mentally abused, or they are afraid to file a report. However, there are laws in place which are intended to protect and compensate people who have suffered losses or injury due to mental abuse. To reiterate, this includes:

Generally speaking, it is easier to win a mental abuse lawsuit if you can prove that you experienced a manifestation of physical symptoms associated with the abuse, such as heart problems caused by the stress of the abuse. Additionally, you should be able to show that you experienced financial losses associated with the abuse. It is also recommended that you create written accounts of the individual incidents of abuse, as well as gather any information, evidence, and/or testimony associated with the claim.

In cases involving specific offenses, you should immediately seek out the assistance of an experienced criminal law attorney in your area who can assist with reporting emotional abuse and/or protection for themselves or loved ones. The most common examples of these types of offenses include, but may not be limited to:

Because emotional distress cases are complicated due to the nature of having to prove an injury that you cannot physically see, cases in which emotional distress damages are claimed must be backed by solid documentation that will prove to the court that you have suffered actual damages.

This could mean having a therapist, doctor, and/or psychologist diagnosing you with:

  • Depression;
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); and/or
  • Various other mental health conditions generally associated with trauma.

What this means is that the use of expert witness is generally necessary to help prove to a court that you both suffered an actual injury, as well as the amount of damages that resulted from that injury. Because of the necessary use of expert witnesses, suing for emotional distress is considerably expensive. However, if you have a valid claim for severe emotional distress, a personal injury attorney may take your case on a contingency fee basis, which will prevent you from paying high case fees yourself.

In addition to the numerous pieces of evidence that you must have in order to prove damages, you must also be able to prove the various other elements of an emotional distress claim. What this means is that you must prove that the incident that caused the emotional distress was due to the intentional or reckless acts of a person who acted with extreme or outrageous conduct. This conduct resulted in your suffering of severe emotional distress.

In terms of what would constitute outrageous conduct, this must be more than:

  • Mere insults;
  • Threats;
  • Annoyances; and/or
  • Petty oppressions.

An example of this would be how someone shouting at you that they hope you die would not result in a valid claim of emotional distress. However, someone falsely informing you that your child or a close family member had been killed may serve as an example of outrageous conduct.

A restraining order for mental abuse is, unfortunately, considerably difficult. Generally speaking, state laws do not cover abuse unless it includes stalking, threats, and/or physical or sexual abuse.

What Are Some Legal Remedies for Mental Abuse?

Some of the most common legal remedies for mental abuse include:

  • Monetary damages, which are intended to cover expenses such as medical costs and lost wages;
  • Restraining orders or injunctions requiring the abuser to maintain a certain amount of physical distance from the victim;
  • In an employment harassment, context, various work-related remedies such as a reinstatement of their position at work; and/or
  • Criminal charges for especially serious abuse cases.

To reiterate, many mental abuse lawsuits also involve other legal issues as well. What this means is that remedies will also depend on any other issues involved. Compensatory damages, or monetary damages, are generally awarded in order to restore the plaintiff to the position that they were before the harm or loss occurred.

Generally speaking, there are two main types of compensatory damage awards. Special damages generally include damages that can be calculated, such as:

  • Medical expenses;
  • Property damage;
  • Loss of wages or earnings; and/or
  • Other quantifiable losses.

General damages may be awarded for losses that are not easily determined through monetary calculations which can include losses associated with:

It is important to note that some states may place limits on compensatory damages, especially general damages.

When calculating compensatory damages, courts will generally consider the following factors:

  • The background of the victim, such as their age;
  • The type of injury, as well as the extent of the injury;
  • Costs associated with treating and/or rehabilitating the plaintiff;
  • Any differences or losses in the victim’s ability to earn a wage before and after the incident;
  • Actual losses of income; and/or
  • Whether any property damage resulted from the accident.

There may be some circumstances in which a plaintiff’s damages award may be reduced or limited. An example of this would be how if the plaintiff somehow contributed to their own injury, it can affect the amount of damages that they could collect under contributory negligence laws.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Mental Abuse Legal Claims?

Mental or psychological abuse is an especially serious legal issue, and it is often an element in many different types of legal cases. As such, you may need to hire a personal injury lawyer near you if you experience any legal issues or conflicts involving mental abuse. They can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.