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What Is Emotional Distress?

When a person undergoes what is defined as mental anguish or suffering, he or she may be entitled to damages or remedies from the party responsible for causing it. This mental anguish or suffering is referred to in tort law as emotional distress.

Emotional distress can be caused deliberately or negligently. Fear, shock, and indignity are classified as emotional distress. A person can use emotional distress as basis for claiming damages in cases of personal injury. Thus, personal harm is not necessary for emotional distress to be awarded damages. However, this was the standard as to how to claim damages in the past.

For example, California allows a person to claim damages in instances of extreme and deliberate mental distress despite the absence of physical harm. Cases such as sexual harassment, stalking, and false imprisonment fall under this category.

Cases of emotional distress often appear in relation to disruption of the peace of mind of others. However, a simple case of disrupting another’s peace of mind is not a basis for a claim of damages. Like any other case, the degree to which emotional distress was experienced is what determines whether or not the case has basis. Thus, it a case of parties insulting or threatening one another like one usually does in a common interaction does not warrant emotional distress and subsequently damages. In order to gain damages from a case of emotional distress, the distress must be severe in nature. This is evaluated by subjecting the claim to a “reasonable person” test wherein the court determines how a reasonable person would react in such a situation.

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