Can I Be Liable for Inflicting Emotional Distress?
If you cause an accident, you could be liable for more than just medical bills and car repair expenses. Many settlements and jury awards take into account the victim’s emotional distress following an accident.
Illinois courts recognize two kinds of claims for emotional injuries: intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
A car accident victim can recover damages for intentional infliction of emotional stress when:
- The at-fault driver’s conduct was extreme and outrageous
- The at-fault driver intentionally, recklessly, or consciously ignored the risk of causing emotional distress
- The victim actually shows signs of emotional distress
- The victim’s emotional distress was proximately caused by the at-fault driver
Unlike many some jurisdictions, victims in Illinois do not need to prove that their emotional distress is related to a physical impact to injury. That being said, it is still very difficult for car accident victims to successfully make a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress because most car accidents are caused by mere carelessness, not “extreme and outrageous” conduct.
In the remote cases where a car accident victim might be able to claim intentional infliction of emotional stress, it would be likely that the jury award would include punitive damages. In any case where a plaintiff can demonstrate the defendant’s intentional, malicious—or in this case, outrageous—conduct, courts will usually apply punitive damages on top of the compensatory damages, which can significantly increase the victim’s award amount.
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
As you might guess from its name, the first step in making a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim is to show the defendant’s negligence. This means demonstrating that the defendant owed a duty of care, which he or she breached in a way that caused the victim’s injuries.
The only factor that sets a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim apart from a claim for physical injuries is the nature of the damages. Here, the victim must show that the defendant caused an immediate or instinctive emotional response that was severe, or a long lasting traumatic neurosis—or both.
Post-traumatic stress, anxiety, insomnia, and depression are all examples of long term emotional damages that can substantiate a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim.
These claims are not reserved for the direct victims of an accident. Bystanders can also sue a negligent driver for their emotional distress, if they can demonstrate that:
- They were in the zone of physical danger
- They reasonably feared for their safety because of the driver’s negligence
- They subsequently suffered a physical injury or illness as a result of the emotional distress