Most people think of emotional distress as a mental health issue, but it can also be a legal issue. It’s common to associate physical injuries with potential personal injury lawsuits. Unfortunately, mental and emotional harm can be just as life-altering for victims as any other injury. If your employer has caused you severe emotional distress, you may be able to file a lawsuit against them for the damages they inflicted upon you.

For a successful emotional distress lawsuit, you must prove that your employer’s actions were intentional or negligent and caused you severe psychological harm. If you believe you have a case, you should speak to an experienced lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights and options. Prompt legal action is crucial in emotional distress cases, as they can be very challenging to prove if too much time has elapsed.

How Can Emotional Distress Occur in a Workplace?

Employers have a duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees. If situations within the workplace are causing an employee to feel severe stress, anxiety, depression, fear, or other intensely negative emotions, the employer may be held responsible for the harm caused by this emotional distress.

But many people sometimes feel unhappy with their job or have to deal with uncomfortable situations with coworkers or employers. How do you determine if the circumstances are serious enough to warrant legal action? Under the law, there are two main types of claims you can file for emotional distress, each with different requirements.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

There may be a number of legal theories to pursue and varieties of negligence based claims.

In some cases, a claim of negligence can be raised, in addition to a claim of negligent training.

To establish negligence, a plaintiff must prove four elements, namely: 1) duty for defendant to conform to a standard of care; 2) a breach of the standard of care; 3) a causal link to defendant’s conduct and the resulting injury; and 4) actual damages. Whereas for a negligent training claim, in order to prevail, a plaintiff must show a defendant’s training or lack thereof was negligent and that such negligent training was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

As with most any claim, the facts and circumstances surrounding your concern must be thoroughly considered and evaluated.

In an NIED claim, the victim alleges that the defendant’s negligent actions caused them to suffer emotional harm. Every state has its own requirements for filing an NIED claim, so it is crucial to speak with a knowledgeable local lawyer to understand if your situation is eligible for legal action. In general, most states follow one of the following three rules:

  • The Foreseeability Rule: Under this rule, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant could or should have reasonably foreseen that their actions would cause negative consequences. Unlike in most other types of personal injury cases, the defendant’s injurious actions do not necessarily have to involve physical harm.
  • The Impact Rule: Some states require evidence of a physical impact of some sort, even a minor one, which caused the emotional distress.
  • The Zone of Danger Rule: For NIED cases in other states, the plaintiff must show that they were in a situation where they were at immediate risk of physical harm when they experienced emotional distress.

Additionally, many states require the plaintiff to show that their emotional distress was so severe that it led to physical symptoms. In states that follow the Impact or Zone of Danger rules, NIED cases are mainly limited to situations where a victim experienced emotional distress due to a fear of injury. An example of this type of situation in a workplace could involve emotional distress resulting from being a survivor of a serious accident caused by a safety violation that significantly harmed another individual.

In Arizona, for cases where a plaintiff seeks to recover based on a theory of negligent infliction of emotional distress, a court will consider whether a shock or mental anguish is accompanied by or manifested as a physical injury. Damages for unintended acts require that the plaintiff/bystander were in a zone of danger so that a defendant’s negligent conduct created an unreasonable risk of bodily harm. Further still, a “transitory physical phenomena” such as “weeping” or “insomnia”- even if done maliciously and without a legitimate basis – is not the type of bodily harm that can typically sustain a cause of action for emotional distress.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

If an employer or coworker subjected you to malicious treatment that was outrageous or extreme, and you suffered severe emotional anguish as a result, you may have cause to file an IIED claim.

An IIED claim is also known as a “tort of outrage” because the harm experienced by the victim resulted from reckless behavior on the defendant’s part that fell far outside normal conduct.

Situations where targeted workplace harassment or discrimination has occurred may fall into this category if the victim suffered mental agony from the treatment.

In Arizona, there are three elements for this intentional tort, namely: 1) the conduct must be “extreme” and “outrageous”; 2) the defendant must either intent to cause emotional distress or recklessly disregard the near certainty that such distress will result from their conduct; and 3) severe emotional distress must indeed occur as a result of the defendant’s conduct.

A court may also consider whether an employer set forth specific policies and guidelines for the handling of employee complaints, and whether the policies and guidelines were recklessly disregarded. Policies in the workplace should not be disregarded. Whether appropriate action is taken in response to a complaint and whether an employer can be held accountable is a question that we would be happy to discuss with you.

How Much Compensation Can I Recover?

The amount of compensation you can recover in an emotional distress lawsuit will depend on several factors, including:

  • The severity of your suffering
  • Whether you experienced a physical injury as a result of your emotional distress
  • How long you were subjected to emotional distress or if it is ongoing
  • If permanent damage has occurred due to trauma

The court may also consider if damages of a certain amount are appropriate to deter other employers from committing the same actions. Your lawyer can help you determine the potential value of your case and what losses you may include as part of your claim, such as medical or therapy expenses and lost wages.

Also, a court may award attorney fees, if, for example, there was a breach of contract (express or) implied by the policies and procedures of an employer. A.R.S. Section 12-341.01 provides the basis for a court to award a successful party reasonable attorney’s fees.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Lawsuit Against an Employer?

You may be entitled to compensation if you have suffered emotional distress because of your employer’s actions. If you’re unsure about your employment rights or what options are available, talking to an experienced employment lawyer can help. They can also help you gather evidence to support your claim and file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Your employer will have a lawyer represent them in an emotional distress lawsuit. You should also have a lawyer to represent you and help level the playing field. Going up against a lawyer by yourself is not advisable. A lawyer can also help you negotiate a settlement with your employer outside of court. If you reach a settlement, you will not need to go to trial.

When Should I Reach Out to a Lawyer for Help?

You should contact a lawyer as soon as possible if you think you have a case against your employer for emotional distress. If you wait too long, you may miss the deadline to file a lawsuit or lose the chance to gather the necessary evidence. If you have any questions or concerns about your legal rights, reach out to Resolvere Law PLLC at (480) 568-1327. We offer case consultations, and we would be happy to review your case.