Ultimate Guide to Suing for Emotional Distress

In Australia, you can claim compensation by suing for emotional trauma. Know if, when and how much you can sue with our complete guide to personal injury claims for emotional distress.
Can you sue someone for emotional trauma?

Can You Sue Someone for Emotional Trauma?

If you suffer from emotional distress, you will already know how much it changes your life and well-being. Australians experience psychological trauma in a wide range of situations, including accidents, abuse, a sudden loss, or being in (or hearing about) an unexpected, shocking event.

In this situation, people often consider: “Can I sue for emotional distress?” and the simple answer is yes. To help you know your legal right to seek legal damages for psychological suffering, this article explores the legal framework of suing for emotional distress and the following:

  • How emotional trauma is defined
  • The common causes of emotional distress
  • The different types of emotional injury claims
  • The damages you could recover
  • Your legal options when pursuing compensation for emotional harm.

Viewing our guide to emotional distress claims provides the information you need to understand the process and get the justice you deserve.

For immediate legal help, please call Splatt Lawyers on 1800 575 023 or email us >

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Defining Emotional Distress

Emotional distress is a type of psychological injury that can happen when you experience or witness an unexpected distressing event (or series of incidents, e.g., abuse). This psychological harm can result in intense feelings of fear, helplessness, and horror that affect your ability to process the incident and enjoy your everyday life.

Furthermore, people experiencing emotional trauma can live with symptoms like anxiety and depression and potentially be diagnosed with PTSD or another recognised mental health disorder.

Next up in our guide to emotional trauma claims, we answer the common question – can I sue for emotional distress?

Can I Sue for Emotional Distress?

Generally, when a traumatic incident that was partly or wholly not your fault has caused mental trauma, you can successfully sue for emotional distress. This legal action allows impacted people to recover damages for the other party’s negligence or intent.

You can generally seek compensation for a psychiatric personal injury when another party’s action, inaction, or deliberate action has harmed your mental health.

Your distress could be the outcome of a motor vehicle accident, a work accident, witnessing violence or death, sexual harassment, workplace bullying, medical negligence, or even seeing an accident scene soon after the event (when it involves a loved one or family member).

More about psychological injury claims >

Can I Sue My Employer for Emotional Distress?

In Queensland, your employer may face legal consequences and be obligated to provide compensation if they are found to have caused emotional distress to an employee. Under the Workers Compensation Act, an employee can make a WorkCover or common law claim and receive a compensation payout based on the psychological impairment level. When successful, your work-related emotional trauma claim will provide weekly payments for lost income, reimbursement of medical treatment costs, and, when your whole-person impairment exceeds 15%, a once-off lump sum payout.

More about workplace mental illness claims >

Claiming for Work-Related Stress

You could have a valid Queensland WorkCover claim if work stress has caused you to be emotionally injured. Much like employers are required to provide a safe physical working environment protecting you from physical harm, they must also take reasonable steps to protect your mental health. When something goes wrong, and your job psychologically damages you, you can seek damages for your employer’s failed duty of care.

More about work-related stress claims >

Can I Sue for Car Accident Emotional Trauma?

You can sue for car accident-related emotional trauma when you have either:

  1. Participated in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian and were wholly or partly not to blame for the incident.
  2. You witnessed a traffic accident.
  3. A close member of your family died in a motor vehicle accident, including if you witnessed the accident scene after the collision or had a severe psychological reaction when informed of the event. Please know that excessive grief is not considered emotional distress.

Furthermore, you may be entitled to financial compensation for a psychiatric injury and its related losses even if you were not a direct participant in a car crash (or other type of road accident). To succeed, you must be diagnosed with a recognised mental health condition like depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder, PTSD, etc.

More about car accident claims >

Can I Sue for Emotional Suffering Caused by Abuse?

Sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, financial abuse, and other forms of abuse all have the potential to cause significant emotional suffering. If you are an abuse survivor, you may be able to claim legal damages for mental anguish and receive financial compensation.

What are the Common Causes of Emotional Trauma?

A wide range of incidents or events can cause emotional trauma, with common triggers including:

How Do I Know I Have Emotional Damage?

You will know if you have emotional damage when you experience the common symptoms of this type of mental illness. Generally, people triggered by an unexpected event have:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares
  • Avoid people, places or situations associated with the incident
  • Chronic anxiety or panic attacks
  • Depression or feelings of hopelessness
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches and lack of appetite

We recommend you seek treatment from an experienced mental health professional if you have any of the above symptoms. They will help you on your path to recovery, and their documentation of your psychological disorder will support your compensation claim.

Word cloud for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

What are the Legal Options for Emotional Distress Claims

Australians who have experienced emotional distress due to the negligence or intent of others could have legal options for claiming compensation. The circumstances of your case will determine the type of psychological personal injury claim you could pursue, some common ones being:

Negligent infliction of emotional distress

When someone fails their legal duty of care, and you suffer emotional trauma, you could have the right to lodge a personal injury claim. In many circumstances, people (or entities) owe others a duty to provide reasonable care to protect them from harm.

Intent to Inflict Emotional Distress

If someone intentionally causes you emotional harm, it may be possible to pursue legal action for intentional infliction of psychological distress. It’s necessary to demonstrate that the individual’s actions were highly unusual and disturbing and resulted in significant emotional harm to achieve a successful outcome.

Wrongful Death

In the event you have lost someone close to you because of someone else’s action or inaction, you could successfully file a wrongful death claim. This kind of compensation claim seeks damages for the emotional harm that a loved one’s passing has caused.

Nervous Shock Claims

You could seek damages for psychiatric and psychological harm when you have witnessed an unexpected distressing event or situation. Nervous shock claims are prevalent in severe road accidents and medical negligence cases, where a bystander may have seen the injury or death of someone else (or the accident scene soon after). To succeed, you must prove that it was foreseeable that the negligent action would cause emotional trauma to other parties.

At Splatt Lawyers, it’s free to know your claim type and if you have a valid case, so contact us now to get started – Call 1800 700 125.

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What Evidence Do I Need to Prove Emotional Distress?

Compelling evidence is crucial when seeking compensation for emotional distress. The quality of your supporting documents will play a role in the outcome of your case and can include the following:

  1. Diagnosis and treatment records from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  2. Witness statements from people who can confirm what happened and how it has impacted you.
  3. Photos and videos of the accident scene or your physical injuries, if applicable.
  4. Records from any counselling, therapy or other treatments you have received to address your emotional trauma.

If you intend to sue for emotional trauma, we recommend seeking legal advice from a personal injury lawyer skilled in mental illness claims. A specialist compensation lawyer will review your case and provide expert insights on your best strategy for a successful emotional distress payout.

Documenting Your Emotional Damage

When filing an emotional trauma claim, the quality of your evidence will be critical to achieving a winning outcome. This evidence includes documentation of your emotional damage and mental condition. Apart from the documents outlined above, keeping a diary where you record your daily or weekly experiences can be helpful.

For example, record the times and dates of your treatments, feelings and emotions; document flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance behaviours etc. Psychologists and psychiatrists often recommend this type of documentation and will likely explain more when you meet with them.

A person suffering a psychological injury associated with physical injuries

How Do I Sue for Emotional Distress?

To successfully sue for emotional distress, first discuss the specifics of your case with a psychological injury lawyer; they will guide you through the steps required to lodge an emotional distress lawsuit. Typically, this involves collecting evidence and submitting a statement of claim containing details such as the actions and omissions that led to your mental suffering.

To deliver your desired outcome, your compensation solicitor will negotiate an out-of-court settlement or, in rare circumstances, provide legal representation in court.

Please be aware that the time limits for filing a psychological personal injury claim vary from state to state. Generally, you must lodge your case within three years of the trauma commencing. However, taking swift legal action can often deliver a more decisive outcome because the steps you take sooner after your incident also help determine your result.

Understand that claiming compensation for psychological harm is generally more difficult than for a physical injury, as the damage is not visible. For this reason, your best strategy is to get immediate legal advice by calling 1800 700 125

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How Much Can I Claim for Emotional Distress?

How much you can claim for emotional distress damages depends on your unique circumstances, including how much your injury has changed your life. A significant factor in determining what your claim is worth is the level of your mental damage and its associated loss. For example, some psychological disorders could be long-term, impacting your capacity to maintain a career, while others last less than a year.

The two main types of legal damages for emotional pain awarded in a psychological distress case are economic and non-economic.

Economic Damages

Economic damages refer to the monetary losses you have suffered due to emotional trauma. These can include medical expenses, lost wages, future economic losses, and other out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred from your trauma.

Non-Economic Damages

Non-economic damages refer to the non-monetary losses you have suffered due to emotional distress. These can include pain and suffering, emotional damage, lost enjoyment of life, and other intangible losses.

Limits on Damages

There may be limits on the damages you can recover in emotional distress cases. Some Australian states may have capped how much you can receive, and the size of the defendant’s insurance coverage may restrain your payout value.

At Splatt Lawyers, knowing if you have a case and the value of your emotional distress claim is free. Please understand that all our legal services have 100% No Win, No Fee funding, so you pay nothing until we win your case and owe zero if you lose. Contact us now for a complimentary case review.

What is my claim worth?

What is the Benefit of Working With a Psychological Injury Lawyer?

Working with a psychological injury lawyer to manage your emotional distress case can be invaluable in providing you with the best possible outcome. Experienced personal injury lawyers understand the nuances of psychological trauma claims and will use their knowledge to help pursue your legal rights.

Furthermore, when you work with a skilled compensation lawyer, mental illness experts like psychologists and psychiatrists will be available to assess the extent of your psychological damage and provide evidence to support your case.

In addition, a solicitor will develop an effective legal strategy, helping you navigate the legal process and understand the full implications of any settlement offer. Rely on their skill and expertise to get your desired result.

Accessing Support for Emotional Distress

Feeling grief and stress following an unexpected traumatic incident is normal, and these emotions will pass with time. However, when the event is so horrific it causes you to develop a mental injury that will require professional support. While a lawyer can help you access financial resources to give you the space to take time off work and recuperate, a mental illness professional will help you get your life back on track.

Furthermore, seeking medical treatement is an essential first step in managing your damaged emotions. Your doctor will help you with the physical symptoms of psychological distress and refer you to an emotional disorder specialist for further treatment. Additionally, their documentation and treatment records will be valuable evidence if you decide to pursue your legal right to compensation.

Joining an Emotional Distress Support Group

In addition to professional medical and legal support, joining an emotional support group can be beneficial in helping you manage your psychological distress. When you meet with others who have been through a similar ordeal, you can feel less isolated and have a safe place to process your feelings. Sharing your experience with others to know what you are going through can also help reduce feelings of isolation and help you heal emotionally.

Expert Legal Advice for Emotional Distress Compensation Claims

You must get expert legal advice to make an emotional distress claim. Winning these types of lawsuits is challenging because the injury is invisible and relies on expert reports and assessments. Furthermore, large insurance companies will also do their best to undervalue or outright reject your claim, further complicating matters. Splatt Lawyer’s expert team of personal injury lawyers have successfully supported thousands of Queenslanders with mental illness compensation advice for nearly three decades. Rely on our expertise to get the outcome you desire.

Contact our skilled psychological injury compensation lawyers today for a free review of your case and to find out how we can assist you in gaining access to the financial resources necessary for a full and speedy recovery. Relax knowing you have zero financial risk for your case thanks to our “no win, no fee” policy.

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Suing for Emotional Distress FAQs

What happens during a psychological injury lawsuit?

When you decide to pursue a psychological injury claim, your solicitor will take the lead in gathering evidence and preparing your case. The personal injury claims process includes collecting witness statements and medical evidence from mental health professionals and other experts to establish your personal injury lawsuit.

Your lawyer will also identify the negligent party, conduct negotiations with their insurers or solicitors, and settle your case by mediation. Have peace of mind knowing Splatt Lawyers wins 99% of claims without the expense of proceeding to court litigation.

Who can sue for emotional distress?

Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event that was wholly or partly the fault of another person or party and acquired a recognised psychological or psychiatric injury could sue for emotional distress.

Seeking professional legal advice is the first step in the compensation claims process, as your lawyer will help you assess the merits of your claim and build a strong argument for a successful payout.

Who should I speak with about my emotional distress?

When experiencing emotional distress, your best choice is to consult with a mental health professional. Mental trauma can cause harm to both the body and the mind, but with the assistance of a doctor or therapist, you can learn to cope with both conditions. Participating in a support group for people experiencing similar challenges will also help you find understanding and comfort from those who can relate to your circumstances.

How do I prove I have emotional trauma?

Proving you have an emotional trauma condition is a tricky process that starts by collecting evidence from various sources. To verify your illness, you will need witness statements, medical reports and assessments from mental health professionals that establish the existence of psychological and psychiatric injuries. Additionally, you will also need to provide proof that the traumatic event caused your psychiatric condition (or the escalation of an existing disorder), such as an expert assessment of how the accident caused or contributed to your illness.

Rely on our experienced team of personal injury lawyers to help you build a compelling case and get the compensation you deserve.

How long is an emotional distress lawsuit?

The time it takes to get a compensation payout for an emotional distress lawsuit depends on several factors.

  1. The level of your psychological harm. More severe cases take longer to settle because they generally have larger payouts, making insurance companies more likely to challenge these claims.
  2. The difficulty of proving psychological injuries. It is simpler to provide evidence for some recognised mental illnesses than for others.
  3. The difficulty of establishing fault. Sometimes the guilty party will deny liability, or multiple parties are to blame, each having a proportion of responsibility. The process of establishing or apportioning fault can take some time.

Generally, more straightforward claims may settle within six months to a year, with others taking several years. Contact Splatt Lawyers for your free claim assessment, and our team will help you know the steps to fast-track your outcome.

What is the relationship between psychological injuries and physical injuries?

A mental injury often comes after traumatic events like motor vehicle accidents. In Australia, many psychological injuries are associated with physical harm. However, unlike physical injuries, a pure psychological injury cannot be seen, which complicates the process of seeking common law damages.

Can you sue for post-traumatic stress disorder in Australia?

In Australia, you can sue for post traumatic stress when the negligence of another person or party causes your psychological suffering. For example, if passengers in motor vehicle accidents develop PTSD, they can make a common law claim against the CTP insurer of the at-fault vehicle.

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