California Law on Negligent and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

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California Law on Negligent and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

By  Dan McCrary | March 21, 2023

Key Takeaways:


  • Legal remedies are available for those suffering from serious emotional distress.
  • Compensation can aid healing, though it can’t fully restore peace or lost happiness.
  • Understanding the nature of emotional distress and its legal classifications is crucial.
  • Selecting a competent attorney is vital for navigating the complexities of emotional distress lawsuits.

When you have suffered a serious emotional blow, you might feel overwhelmed and distraught. It’s natural to be caught up in the moment of suffering. But after you have the opportunity to catch your breath and process what happened, you might start to wonder what will make you feel whole again. You might start to think about how unfair it is that someone was allowed to inflict emotional distress that disrupted your life, but they didn’t suffer consequences nearly as powerful as what they handed you.

If you’re suffering serious emotional distress, there are legal remedies for you. Though no amount of money can fully restore your peace of mind or make up for what you have suffered, holding someone accountable for what happened can go a long way toward your healing. The seasoned attorneys at McCrary Law Firm can help you explore the situation and determine what damages you might be able to recover, and walk you through the process.

Let’s start by helping you understand what emotional distress actually is – as well as the differences between negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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What is Emotional Distress?

There are numerous words to describe what it is, such as anguish, horror, suffering, grief, shock, humiliation, and shame. Though all of us might feel something akin to those things from time to time, emotional distress goes beyond a fleeting emotion.

Emotional distress exists if a reasonable person is unable to cope with the situation. If an everyday person were to be completely overwhelmed with the circumstances and unable to handle the emotions that arose from it, that’s a case for emotional distress. Emotional distress can greatly impact everything about you and make it almost impossible to live your day-to-day life as you used to.

In fact, emotional distress can lead to serious consequences for your mental and physical health. In addition to feeling overwhelmed or helpless, you can suffer from sleepless nights or sleep too much, anxiety and depression, difficulty with thinking or remembering things, and feeling unusually angry or irritable at those around you and at life in general. You might notice changes in appetite and energy levels. You might turn to substances, such as alcohol or drugs, to alter your mood and make the distress easier to cope with. You might even feel unexplained physical pain that seems to make no sense.

If you are dealing with overwhelming emotions, it’s time to give us a call and figure out where to go from here. The long-term consequences of what you have suffered can be significant. Compensation for your emotional injuries can help you work through the difficulties with the help of counselors, doctors, and Therapists.

When you choose to file a lawsuit for emotional distress, there are two types of emotional distress suits you can bring. The first is negligent infliction of emotional distress. The second is intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

To bring a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress, the person who inflicted the emotional distress must have displayed negligent conduct in doing so. To provide an example, let’s say a person suffered was driving well within the speed limit but experienced a blown-out tire and as a result, lost control of their vehicle and hit someone. This isn’t necessarily negligent. It can be argued that no matter the emotional distress suffered as a result of the accident, the circumstances were beyond the driver’s Control.

However, if a person is driving recklessly and well over the speed limit and then collides with someone, it’s safe to say they were likely negligent. Though the accident was not deliberate, their actions leading up to it were. They breached the duty of care in the state of California through their deliberate actions. In this case, they might be liable for negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

In the intentional infliction of emotional distress, the person deliberately chose to do something that would reasonably lead to emotional distress. Imagine a person is very angry over a parking lot confrontation over an open space. They get into their vehicle, aim for the person they are arguing with, and hit the gas. The resulting accident is witnessed by family members. This is the intentional infliction of emotional distress, not only for the individual harmed but for the bystanders who saw it happen. The person behind the wheel knew what they were doing and did it very deliberately.

Bringing a lawsuit for emotional distress in California deserves the closest attention possible. Let the attorneys at McCrary Law Firm help you review the situation and determine your best course of action. Handing the burden over to us means you have the time to focus on healing while we take care of the the legal side of things.

What is a Bystander Claim for Emotional Distress?

If you are a bystander to a traumatic event, you might also be able to recover damages under California law. Though you were not injured or perhaps even not at risk of being injured, the trauma of witnessing an accident can lead to emotional distress. To file a lawsuit for emotional distress, you must meet the following guidelines:

  • You must be closely related to the victim. Under California law, this means it must be a spouse,domestic partner, a relative who resides in the same household, or your parents, siblings, children, or grandparents.
  • You must be able to prove that the defendant’s negligence led to the injury or death.
  • You must have been present at the scene of the injury at the time it was occurring and aware that the injury was happening.
  • As a result of the injury, you suffered severe emotional distress that goes above and beyond what someone would experience if they were a casual witness to the incident.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to have a physical manifestation of emotional distress to be able to file a lawsuit for it. Though many people do suffer physical consequences as a result of their mental and emotional anguish, some appear to be perfectly fine in the physical sense. Just because you might be one of those who are “fine” doesn’t mean you really are.

Don’t hesitate to call us here at McCrary Law Firm for a free consultation. Remember, you are fully invested in the situation and might not be able to see it clearly; a seasoned attorney has the benefit of being able to view the incident through a neutral lens and uncover points you might not have considered.

How Much Can I Sue for Emotional Distress in California?

Compensation is determined based on the facts of your case, the amount an insurance company for the defendant is willing to pay, and what might be deemed suitable by a judge or jury. There is no cap on damages for personal injury or emotional distress in California, with one exception: in medical malpractice cases, there is a cap of $250,000 on non-economic damages.

In any other case, recovering damages means working with your attorney to make a list of the things that your emotional distress has affected. This might include:

  • The costs of mental health care
  • The cost of treating any physical manifestation of the distress
  • The loss of income that results when you can’t work due to emotional distress
  • The loss of enjoyment of life when you can’t do the things you used to enjoy
  • The difficulties suffered in your relationships and friendships due to the distress

Each situation is different, so it’s important to work with your attorney to figure out what emotional distress has done to you and what you might be able to claim in your lawsuit. The attorneys at McCrary Law Firm are well-versed in lawsuits concerning emotional distress and can gently walk you through the process. We will work to get you the compensation you deserve.

Filing a Lawsuit for Emotional Distress – Statute of Limitations

Under California law, you have two years from the date of the incident to file a claim for emotional distress. If you don’t file within that 24-month window, you have likely given up your right to recover damages for emotional distress.

While it might seem like 24 months is a long time, you might be surprised by how quickly it can fly by, especially when you are dealing with the emotional fallout of a significant accident or injury. Hiring a good attorney as soon as you begin considering a lawsuit is the best way to ensure that you understand what the deadlines are and don’t your opportunity to file.

Choose the Right Attorney When Suing for Emotional Distress

When suing for emotional distress in California, you need a law firm that can ensure you get the money you deserve with minimal amounts of added stress during the process. McCrary Law Firm is home to seasoned attorneys who know the law inside and out. We can help you figure out what your case is worth, walk you through the process of filing a lawsuit for emotional distress in the California courts, and be by your side through every step.

Our personal injury services extend across various locations to ensure we can assist you wherever you may be. We are proud to offer our expertise in Rocklin, Folsom, Yuba City, Woodland, Fresno, Pleasanton, Carmichael, Citrus Heights, Roseville, Natomas, Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Fair Oaks, Elk Grove, and El Dorado Hills. Each location is equipped to provide you with the comprehensive support and legal guidance you need for your personal injury case.

Call or Text Us Now (855) 752-6326

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    McCrary Accident Injury Law Firm specializes in personal injury litigation. Its founder, Dan McCrary, Esq., spent 14 years working for the insurance companies before switching sides to represent personal injury victims in Rocklin as an attorney.

    Dan McCrary’s years of experience on the defense side taught him exactly how to obtain maximum recovery for his injured clients. If you have been injured in an accident you should contact the Accident & Injury Lawyers, Personal injury Attorney, Car accident lawyers at McCrary Accident Injury Law Firm in Rocklin, folsom, Sacramento to get the money you deserve, and overcome the tactics routinely employed by the insurance companies.