What Is Emotional Distress?

By November 13, 2014 Employment Law No Comments

One component of employment law cases is emotional distress. You usually hear it mentioned when a plaintiff sues a defendant for “loss of wages and emotional distress.”

You may have heard the term “pain and suffering,” especially in terms of personal injury lawsuits involving physical injury. Emotional distress is another way of saying “emotional pain and suffering,” and is based on the plaintiff’s testimony. They’ll testify to how the emotional distress of their situation affected him or her.

Stressed - Mike HoffHowever, emotional distress doesn’t always visibly manifest itself, not like a broken leg or bruises from a car accident. This is why a plaintiff’s testimony is so important.

There can be physical signs of emotional distress, including loss of sleep, weight gain, depression, weight loss, panic attacks, and anxiety attacks. The plaintiff may even have prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication, or undergo psychology counseling. However, these are not necessary to prove emotional distress. Medical proof or expert testimony from a doctor is not needed.

Emotional distress is hard to nail down because it is so amorphous and unseen. It’s based on the plaintiff’s testimony alone. Friends and family can testify, as well as the plaintiff’s spouse, all explaining how they witnessed the plaintiff’s emotional distress over time.

Emotional distress is not a substitute for punitive damages, and it’s not a way to get a jury to pad a monetary reward for the plaintiff. In Kentucky, lawsuits filed under the Kentucky Civil Rights Act cannot receive punitive damages (although you can for suits filed under the Federal Civil Rights Act). Emotional distress is only used to demonstrate how the plaintiff was negatively affected by the defendant’s behavior.

If you have suffered emotional distress as a result of workplace harassment or an illegal firing, please contact the Cassis Law Office at (502) 736-8100.


Photo credit: Mike Hoff (Flickr, Creative Commons)