What happens is someone else’s recklessness causes you to suffer emotional distress? Are you entitled to any sort of compensation? Toledo, Ohio car accident lawyer Dale Emch addresses the issue of emotional distress as a type of personal injury in his most recent Toledo Blade “Legal Briefs” column.
Dear Dale: I am interested in finding out whether I can make a claim against my doctor for causing me tremendous emotional distress. Could you please address this issue in your column?
ANSWER: The quick answer is that people can sue for infliction of emotional distress, but without knowing the specifics of your situation, it’s really tough to say whether you have a claim. I’ll try to provide you with enough information about the law so you can decide whether you have a case worth pursuing.
Under Ohio law, people can bring claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The two are very different – one requires purposeful behavior, while the other is similar to an accident. It’s sort of like the difference between someone who purposely rams his car into another driver’s vehicle, as opposed to the person who causes a routine traffic accident because he took his eyes off the road.
A claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress requires extreme and outrageous conduct caused by someone’s intentional or reckless behavior. The person bringing the claim has to demonstrate serious emotional distress.
Here’s an example of intentional infliction of emotional distress: Let’s say Bob, a CPA, decides to destroy his business rival, Barbara, by sending anonymous letters to some of her best customers that she’s being investigated by the FBI for embezzling clients’ money and, by the way, that she’s also having an affair with a 16-year-old boy.
Further assume that poor Barbara’s client base begins to dwindle and that her husband divorces her because he’s heard the rumor about the 16-year-old. Finally, let’s say that all the stress from the business failure and her divorce causes Barbara to experience a severe depression as well as debilitating anxiety attacks for which she seeks mental health treatment.
Fortunately, Barbara finds out that Bob is the culprit of her financial and emotional demise. In this case, she can bring a claim against Bob for intentional infliction of emotional distress (as well as a lot of other claims). As the Ohio Supreme Court put it, it’s the type of behavior that would make someone exclaim, "Outrageous!"
Barbara would be able to sue for her medical bills for the mental health treatment she received, the pain and suffering she experienced, her lost wages, and punitive damages designed both to punish Bob and serve as an example to others that such outrageous conduct won’t be tolerated in our society.
A claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress generally would result from accidental conduct. Here’s an example: John, while fiddling with the radio, loses control of his car, runs up onto the sidewalk and strikes little Rodney who is taking a walk with his mother, Marjorie. Rodney survives, but Marjorie develops post-traumatic stress syndrome and enters extensive counseling to deal with her mental health issues.
In this case, Marjorie would be able to bring a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Some of the factors to consider would be that she witnessed the scene of the accident – in fact, she was almost physically injured herself, she suffered a direct emotional impact, and Rodney was related to her.
Marjorie would be able to seek compensation for the bills incurred to treat her post-traumatic stress syndrome, the pain and suffering she experienced, and wages lost from missing work. Unlike with intentional infliction of emotional distress, she wouldn’t be able to seek punitive damages because John’s conduct was not purposeful or reckless – it was simply an accident.
I can’t answer whether you have a claim because I don’t know the details, but I hope this provides a framework for you to examine your situation.