Most people associate emotional distress with a major accident, but even minor accidents can lead to mental anguish. Emotional distress often accompanies serious physical injuries, though that’s not always the case—even a relatively small car accident can still leave drivers and passengers with long-term anxiety, depression, guilt, insomnia, and travel-related phobias. These are real psychological issues and conditions that will likely require long-term medical treatment, and you deserve full compensation from the auto insurance company for the resulting mental anguish.

What is Emotional Distress?

In a personal injury lawsuit, damages awarded for “pain and suffering” generally refer to the physical pain and emotional distress that you experience as a result of an accident. Emotional distress can be difficult to quantify, but it’s an important aspect of pain and suffering damages. According to the law, emotional distress exists when you’re suffering mental anguish as a result of an extreme situation. In practice, emotional distress and mental anguish can include a variety of psychological conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of consortium
  • Mood swings
  • Panic attacks
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Psychological torment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Travel-related phobias

Symptoms of Emotional Distress

Emotional distress is classified by psychological conditions, not physical ailments. As such, mental pain such as headaches doesn’t typically qualify as emotional distress. That said, psychological conditions often present themselves with physical indicators such as headaches, so it’s still important to keep track of any physical ailments that you may have as a result of your car accident. As you do that, keep an eye out for these common symptoms of psychological conditions that may indicate emotional distress:

  • Anger management issues (including bitterness and frustration)
  • Feelings of guilt, humiliation, helplessness, and hopelessness
  • Drastic or otherwise severe mood swings
  • Obsessive/compulsive behavior
  • Weight fluctuation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Chronic fatigue

Mental anguish often presents itself soon after the accident, but that’s not always the case. In some situations, your anxiety, depression, or insomnia may take weeks or months before it fully develops and begins to affect your daily life. If you don’t get behind the wheel of your car for a month after the accident, you may not immediately realize that you’re too petrified to drive yourself to work, or that certain places or triggers on the roadway can bring on too much anxiety to travel. It’s important to document your experiences as much as possible, as this will help your doctor recommend appropriate treatment options, and it may provide necessary evidence to prove your case.

Assessing Your Case for Emotional Distress

In order to qualify as a valid emotional distress claim, you’ll need to demonstrate three important things. First, that the distress is long-lasting, not fleeting. Second, that the other driver’s conduct directly caused your emotional distress. Lastly, you’ll need professional certification that your mental anguish is medically significant or severe. When you’re assessing whether or not you your case meets these three important factors, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. How intense is your mental anguish?
  2. When did the mental anguish begin, and how long does your doctor expect it to continue?
  3. Is your emotional distress related to any physical injuries or symptoms?
  4. Has your doctor been able to pinpoint the underlying cause of your mental pain?
  5. Is your doctor willing to sign a note to certify your psychological symptoms?

Proving Emotional Distress

Most states (including Arizona) require evidence and documentation to validate a claim for emotional distress. Being able to describe your mental anguish isn’t enough—you need facts, specific examples, and proof that your condition has negatively impacted your life and your family’s lives. Even if your case doesn’t go to court, the insurance company will need to see supporting evidence in order to justify reimbursing you for a higher amount for your pain and suffering. While every case is different and may require specific documentation to substantiate your claim, the following evidence is usually helpful:

  • Letters from witnesses – whether the letter is written by a family member, friend, employer, or co-worker, it helps to have written testimony from people who are close to you.
  • Mental Health Narratives – your doctor, psychologist, or counselor should be able to submit a Narrative to the insurance company or court that includes their professional observations of your emotional and mental state.
  • Prescription medications – not only do prescription medications substantiate your doctor’s assessments, they also help to demonstrate that there are actual financial costs to your emotional distress.
  • Personal journal – you may not love the idea of handing over your journal or diary, but it can provide valuable insights into your mental state before and after the car accident. At the very least, having your thoughts and feelings written down proves that the emotional distress is notable enough for you to document.


In a personal injury lawsuit, there are economic damages and non-economic damages. Economic damages are tied to solid figures such as lost income, hospital bills, ambulance bills, prescription medication costs, property damages, etc. Non-economic damages are a little more difficult to calculate, as physical pain and mental suffering aren’t exactly quantifiable. As such, non-economic damages like emotional distress can be challenging to extract from an auto insurance company and will require the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney.

A personal injury attorney should be able to calculate your potential pain and suffering damages, and work with you to collect evidence to support your claim. The attorney can also advise you on whether or not there are any applicable caps on non-economic damages that may limit the amount of compensation that you can sue for.

Other Ways to Sue for Emotional Distress

While emotional distress is often considered part of pain and suffering damages in a personal injury case, Arizona law provides three other opportunities to sue for damages caused by emotional distress:

  1. Intentional infliction of emotional distress – in this type of tort action, the offender intentionally caused distress of substantial or enduring quality that no reasonable person should be expected to endure. To qualify, the offending individual or entity must know or suspect that the victim would be subject to emotional distress as a result of their conduct.
  2. Negligent infliction of emotional distress – in this type of tort action, the victim suffers emotional or mental harm due to an individual’s or entity’s negligent behavior. In personal injury cases involving a car accident, this may be a wise approach if the other driver was more at fault than you (see Arizona comparative fault law).
  3. Loss of consortium – in a loss of consortium case, the victim suffers from the deprivation of benefits of parenting or married life due to the intentional or negligent acts of another individual or entity.


Call Personal Injury Attorney Jared Everton at (480) 467-4392 to discuss your case today.

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