Can You Sue for Mental Anguish?
Mental anguish is a legal term that refers to psychological trauma that one party inflicts on another. There is no lawsuit for mental anguish, but it is an important part of personal injury cases involving emotional distress. In this post, Shreveport personal injury attorney Joseph Greenwald, Jr. will give you a short guide to suing for mental anguish in Louisiana.
What is Mental Anguish?
In the eyes of the law, injury causes two kinds of pain: physical injury and emotional injury. Thus, in a personal injury case, a negligent party can inflict both personal injury and mental anguish. Physical injury and pain are easy to quantify. Mental anguish is much more difficult.
If you are suing for mental anguish, you must prove that your suffering meets the legal threshold for mental anguish. To do this, the pain must be greater than disappointment, embarrassment, or anger. You must prove that the mental anguish was severe enough to cause lasting negative side effects.
Conditions like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are examples of what makes suffering cross the legal threshold into mental anguish.
For instance, if you suffer an injury in a car accident and develop a phobia of driving, you have a case for a mental anguish lawsuit.
History of Mental Anguish Damages
Suing for mental anguish damages isn’t a new phenomenon. It dates back to Ancient Rome, as many of our modern laws do. Roman law allowed its citizens to seek damages for personal injury and for property damage.
The courts based these damages on the plaintiff’s “sense of outrage” rather than on any economic loss. Thus, Roman citizens could seek damages for pain, suffering, and mental anguish.
Similarly, in early English law courts would award compensation for slander and libel. Much later, English courts added shame because shame was “keenly felt”.
What is a Mental Anguish Lawsuit?
As we mentioned, there is no lawsuit for mental anguish exclusively. But in cases of intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, mental anguish is a necessary component. In its turn, emotional distress is often a part of personal injury cases in which the plaintiff asserts that they have suffered physically and mentally because of the defendant’s negligence.
Personal injury lawsuits that usually involve mental anguish include:
- Medical malpractice
When a person threatens another person with serious bodily harm, such as by pointing a gun at them, the resulting trauma can cause long-lasting psychological harm. Similarly, a patient can experience serious anxiety and depression after a medical error by a doctor. In both these cases, the plaintiffs have suffered both physical injury and mental anguish.
You can also suffer mental anguish in cases where the crime does not affect you directly. For instance, if you lose a loved one, you can receive mental anguish damages in a wrongful death suit.
Since there is no such thing as a mental anguish lawsuit, juries will consider mental anguish and emotional distress during the damages phase of a personal injury trial. When you are suing for mental anguish, you are suing for mental anguish damages. In short, you cannot sue someone just for inflicting mental anguish on you, but mental anguish goes hand in hand.
Suing For Mental Anguish: Mental Anguish Damages
Monetary damages for mental anguish fall under the category of “non-economic damages”. Courts award economic damages for actual financial losses: medical bills, lost wages, and property damages.
Non-economic damages are for losses that are not “out-of-pocket”. These include pain and suffering damages, loss of companionship, loss of reputation, and, of course, mental anguish. It is difficult for courts to put a price tag on these types of damages. Every court will approach every case differently.
In Louisiana, there are caps on how much money you can receive from non-economic damages. In most personal injury cases, that cap will be $500,000. Thus you cannot receive more money than that for mental anguish in Louisiana. These caps mostly exist for medical malpractice cases to keep malpractice insurance premiums under control.
How Do I Prove Mental Anguish?
When you are suing for mental anguish, you need to prove that the defendant inflicted mental anguish on you. You must prove that the defendant committed the offense by a preponderance of the evidence.
This is not the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that exists in criminal court. In personal injury cases, the plaintiff must prove to the judge that the defendant more likely than not committed the crime. If you cannot prove this, the courts may not allow you to recover any damages for your injury. Having the proper evidence to support your claim is vital.
When you are in court suing for mental anguish, emphasize the traumatic nature of the defendant’s offense. Emphasize the suffering you experienced because of it.
One of the best ways to prove your mental anguish is by presenting evidence of a diagnosable condition, such as PTSD. A doctor’s testimony can back these claims up. A psychiatrist’s testimony as to your mental condition following the injury can also be powerful.
There are also certain physical conditions that help too. This could include something like stress-induced ulcers.
What’s the Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Anguish?
Courts have consistently drawn a line in the sand between mental health and mental anguish.
When you are suing for mental anguish, the person you are suing cannot use any underlying mental health condition against you, unless you bring it up first.
The defendant cannot compel a mental health exam, or bring up mental health issues at trial or during negotiations.
Do I Need A Lawyer For A Mental Anguish Lawsuit?
If you are suing for mental anguish damages in your personal injury lawsuit, you absolutely need an attorney.
Shreveport Attorney Joseph Greenwald, Jr has been handling personal injury cases in Louisiana and Mississippi for nearly 20 years. At the Greenwald Law Firm in Shreveport, Louisiana, he strives to achieve the optimal result for each and every one of his clients.
To contact the Greenwald Law Firm, call 318.219.7867. You can also send us a message directly to request a free consultation.