Suing for Emotional Distress in Illinois Personal Injury Cases

In Illinois, the injured party may be eligible for financial compensation when someone harms another person through their negligence or wrongdoing. For instance, a car accident victim could file a claim with the insurance company of the driver who caused the wreck. Doing so would allow them to seek compensation for medical bills and lost wages. However, financial loss isn’t the only result of an accident. An injured person could experience other intangible losses, such as emotional distress. While this loss doesn’t have a strict dollar value, you may still be entitled to compensation because of it.

What Is Emotional Distress in a Personal Injury Case?

Emotional distress can take many forms in a personal injury case. Sometimes, emotional distress is an acute response to a traumatic experience. For example, someone may experience emotional distress after being severely injured in a motor vehicle accident with an 18-wheeler or after being bitten by a dog.

Emotional distress can also linger for weeks or months after a frightening experience. Someone struggling with emotional distress might develop mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) offers a list of symptoms of emotional distress a person might experience after a crisis. They include:

  • Excessive eating or loss of appetite
  • Disengaging from relationships and/or activities
  • Struggling with low energy
  • Generally feeling hopeless
  • Coping with emotional distress by using substances
  • Struggling with unexplained physical pains, like headaches
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Thoughts of harming others
  • Excessive worrying
  • Excessive feelings of guilt

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress vs. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

Emotional distress claims may come in two forms:

  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) claims
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED) claims

IIED claims arise when the following elements are true:

  • The at-fault party engaged in extreme or outrageous behavior
  • The at-fault party either intended to cause emotional distress or disregarded the fact that their actions might cause such distress
  • The at-fault party’s actions caused someone to experience emotional distress

For example, perhaps someone puts another person in a situation in which they have reason to fear for their safety. Maybe someone has developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after sustaining a dog bite injury. Someone might be the target of an IIED claim if they were to then place such an individual in a situation where they’re locked in an enclosure with a dangerous dog and can’t get away.

NIED claims are different. As the name implies, someone may file an NIED claim if they experienced emotional distress due to the negligence of another party.

In the past, Illinois law did not allow plaintiffs to receive compensation for NIED if they didn’t sustain physical injuries. That’s no longer the case. According to the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, “a plaintiff can recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress even in the absence of a physical impact.”

According to a paper available through the DuPage County Bar Association, the case of Rickey v. Chicago Transit Authority established the “zone-of-danger” rule for NIED claims. Under this rule, a person who didn’t sustain physical injuries may seek compensation for emotional distress as long as their location placed them at a high risk of physical harm.

In the case above, the plaintiff sought compensation after witnessing his brother being injured on an escalator. The plaintiff did not sustain physical injuries, but he did experience emotional distress. In addition, he could have sustained injuries in the accident due to his location. The appellate court determined that his lack of physical harm didn’t make him ineligible for compensation.

What Types of Cases Involve Emotional Distress Claims?

Many types of frightening experiences can cause emotional distress. Thus, emotional distress claims can theoretically arise in such cases as:

How to Prove Emotional Distress in a Personal Injury Case

Sueing for emotional distress is a complicated process. If you received treatment for your emotional distress, you could include the cost of your treatment when filing a claim.

However, emotional distress might also involve intangible harm that has no clear or obvious dollar value. Proving you deserve compensation for such a loss requires presenting substantial evidence with your claim.

Potential forms of evidence that may help you sue for emotional distress include:

  • Evidence showing that the at-fault party was negligent, such as CCTV recordings, witness testimony, or police reports
  • Medical records showing you sustained emotional distress and linking it to the accident
  • Personal testimony
  • Doctor and therapist testimony
  • Testimony from loved ones and close friends about how your behavior has changed
  • A journal in which you describe how emotional distress affects your life

Every case is unique. Depending on the details of your case, additional forms of evidence may help you prove you deserve the compensation you’re seeking.

When Suing Isn’t an Option

Suing for Emotional Distress in Illinois Personal Injury Cases

You’re not eligible for emotional distress compensation in all circumstances when you might receive compensation for injuries. Consider the example of a workplace accident.

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission (IWCC) states most employees in Illinois can file workers’ comp claims for work-related injuries and illnesses. You don’t need to prove your injuries resulted from negligence to be eligible for workers’ comp.

However, workers’ comp only covers economic losses, like medical expenses. It doesn’t cover non-economic losses like mental anguish or emotional distress.

Even so, suing for emotional distress might still be an option if a negligent party other than your employer caused your injuries. In these circumstances, you could file a third-party claim or lawsuit in addition to your workers’ comp claim.

Contact an Illinois Personal Injury Attorney Today

Determining whether suing for emotional distress is an option in your case requires a thorough understanding of Illinois law. Even if you strongly believe you deserve this form of compensation, you might not know how to gather evidence for your case.

You don’t have to navigate this process by yourself. At JJ Legal, our Illinois personal injury attorneys can take over your case, allowing you to focus on your recovery. Learn more by contacting us online or calling us at 312-200-2000 for a free case review.

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