Filing A Personal Injury Lawsuit? What Damages Are Available For Emotional Distress?

If you've been injured or made ill by a faulty product, you're probably considering filing a personal injury lawsuit against the manufacturer. There may even already be a class-action lawsuit in the works. However, even if your medical bills are paid by the manufacturer, you could still be suffering for some time to come. What damages are available for emotional distress resulting from a physical injury? What legal issues will you need to establish in order to recover damages for emotional distress? Read on to learn more about the types of compensation available for emotional and mental distress.

When you file a personal injury case, what types of damages are available?

In personal injury lawsuits, you may be able to recover a judgment for several different types of damages.

  • Compensatory damages

These funds compensate you for what you've lost as a result of the injury. They most often include medical expenses, time missed from work. If your injury has created a long-term condition, these damages may also compensate you for future higher costs of health insurance or the cost of later care.

  • Mental and emotional distress damages

These damages will help compensate you for any emotional problems stemming from the injury. For example, if you now suffer from anxiety or nightmares as a result of the injury, you may be awarded funds over and above your out-of-pocket expenses to help compensate for this.

  • Punitive damages

These damages are intended to punish the manufacturer or defendant so that they will be more careful not to let such injuries take place in the future. Many states do not have a cap on the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded, so that these damages often exceed the medical or emotional distress awards.

What will you need to establish to recover damages for emotional distress? 

To recover compensation for emotional distress in the personal injury context, you'll need to establish two things: 

  • First, that the emotional injury substantially impacted your quality of life;
  • And second, that the emotional injury directly resulted from the physical injury at issue. 

A problem does not need to be permanent in order to have a substantial impact on your life. For example, if your injuries prevented you from driving for several months, and being homebound caused temporary depression, this will likely be deemed a substantial impact -- even if the depression lifted once you were able to drive again.

Establishing that the emotional issues arose from the physical injury is usually a timing question. If the emotional distress came about shortly after your injury, this should be easy to prove. If you didn't begin having emotional problems until your injury was mostly resolved, the defendant may argue that these issues did not result from the injury and that you are not entitled to damages.

You may also be able to recover damages for a pre-existing emotional condition, so long as you can show that the injury substantially worsened the condition. For example, if you suffered from severe anxiety, but began having anxiety attacks only after your injury, you will probably be able to recover emotional distress damages for the increase in your anxiety.

Will you have to pay taxes on the funds received?

Because your emotional distress directly stemmed from your physical injury, any damages received for emotional distress should not be taxed. In general, damages received for physical or emotional injury are tax-free, while punitive damages are taxable. However, you'll want to consult a tax professional to ensure that this general rule applies to your specific situation. If you have an attorney from a place like Hardee and Hardee LLP handling your personal injury lawsuit, he or she may be able to refer you to an experienced accountant.