Can You Sue for Emotional Distress in Massachusetts?

When you get injured or are otherwise in a difficult situation, the actual injuries you suffer are often more than just physical in nature. True, things like car crashes and other accidents will leave literal scars and potential long-term physical issues. However, the mental and emotional toll of such circumstances is often not given the attention it needs. Indeed, it can be just as tough to try and handle mentally dealing with the aftermath of a serious accident as it can be to deal with physical injuries. Therefore, plaintiffs often sue for the physical injuries they receive as well as the mental and emotional toll brought on by accidents.

In Massachusetts, you are allowed to file a civil claim seeking damages for emotional distress. In order to recover damages for emotional distress, you will have to demonstrate through legal argument and evidence that you experienced the emotional distress you are claiming. This can be a high bar to clear, but our attorneys are up to the task.

Call the Law Office of John J. Sheehan by dialing (617) 925-6407 and speak with our team of Massachusetts personal injury lawyers about your claim today.

Does Massachusetts Let You Sue for Emotional Distress?

You can request damages due to emotional distress in Massachusetts in many cases. When you bring a civil claim, you do so to get financial compensation for wrongs done to you. In this instance, you will be requesting damages because the defendant caused you emotional distress. “Emotional distress” generally means an intense, negative emotional or mental response to a certain event or series of events. For example, recurring nightmares of a horrific car crash you were in is an example of manifestations of emotional distress.

However, Massachusetts also has rules about when you are able to sue for emotional distress. Under Mass: Mass. Gen. Laws Ch. 231 § 6D, you are only able to sue someone for emotional distress when you have at least $2,000 in “economic” damages for things like emergency medical services, medication costs, and long-term care costs for your physical injuries. Additionally, you can sue for emotional distress in accidents where someone dies, you lose a body part, suffer permanent, serious disfigurement, or lose your sense of sight or hearing. You should speak to an attorney to ensure that your situation meets the criteria to sue for emotional distress before going forth with that lawsuit.

Emotional Distress in Massachusetts

Suing someone for infliction of emotional distress falls under the category of tort law. A “tort” is simply a wrongdoing that one party does to another. For example, if you punch someone in the face, you can be charged with the tort of battery.

There are both intentional torts and torts which can result from negligence. If you are filing a tort claim for emotional distress, it can be for either intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. Claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress are rare, and there is a high bar that needs to be cleared to prove intentional infliction of emotional distress in court. Most claims will be for negligent infliction of emotional distress, which is significantly more common.

To successfully sue for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NEID), you must prove that because of someone else’s negligence, you witnessed a loved one die or get very badly injured. This is also known as a “bystander claim.” In Massachusetts, you have to demonstrate that the defendant was negligent, that you suffered emotional distress, that the defendant caused that distress, and that said distress is provable with physical symptoms, as established in Payton v. Abbot Labs. For example, suppose two spouses are crossing the street, and one of them is hit by a drunk driver. While the injured spouse is recovering, the “unhurt” spouse starts getting nightmares, has difficulty getting up in the morning and working, gets headaches and chest pain, and generally just feels “down and out.” The distressed spouse then sues. In this case, the defendant was negligent – and ultimately caused the plaintiff’s distress by driving drunk and hitting their spouse. The plaintiff indeed suffered emotional distress, and that emotional distress physically manifested itself as nightmares and other health problems. Therefore, all the elements needed to satisfy a claim for emotional distress in Massachusetts would be met.

In addition to bystander claims, you can also file a lawsuit in Massachusetts for direct negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, such claims are rare, and you should discuss your case with our Boston personal injury lawyers before proceeding.

Proving Emotional Distress in Massachusetts Courts

To recover damages for emotional distress, you need to demonstrate your distress to the court and prove that the defendant caused that distress. This can be done through several different mediums. For example, you may be able to submit medical records into evidence which explain the effects of the distress you experienced. You can also testify on the stand or have witnesses testify as to the distress the defendant caused you.

The defendant’s attorneys will likely try to downplay the situation and try to convince the jury that it is really “not that bad.” Indeed, proving emotional distress can be difficult in some circumstances; since the injury of emotional distress is not physical, it may not be immediately obvious to the jury. Of course, our Massachusetts personal injury attorneys will work diligently to put a case together that adequately explains to the jury the level of emotional distress you experience because of the defendant’s conduct.

Our Massachusetts Personal Injury Lawyers are Ready to Help You

If you need legal assistance, call the Andover, MA personal injury attorneys from the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407.