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Can I Sue a Doctor for Emotional Distress?

Posted in Medical Malpractice,Personal Injury on March 19, 2019

Doctors and other medical professionals have a moral and legal obligation to do no harm to their patients. They must refer to the appropriate standard of care for a patient’s condition and meet that standard with their treatment and medical advice. Some patients may develop additional medical complications due to a negligent medical professional’s actions, or they may suffer tremendous pain and psychological suffering due to negligent medical treatment. Some victims may wonder if they have grounds for legal recourse after experiencing emotional distress.

How to File a Lawsuit for Emotional Distress

If you suffered a physical injury or illness due to negligent medical treatment you would likely qualify for a medical malpractice lawsuit against the medical professional responsible for causing the damage. The emotional distress you experienced from developing a permanent disability would be related to your physical injury, so you could expect compensation for your emotional distress in addition to your other damages in the lawsuit. However, it would be very difficult to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit solely for emotional distress.

Most states place specific restrictions for civil claims based on emotional distress. Generally, an individual can only sue solely for emotional distress damages if he or she witnessed the wrongful death of a close blood relative, was present in the immediate danger zone of a witnessed fatal incident or following any mishandling of a deceased loved one’s body.

The court may also allow emotional distress claims more leniently for claimants who qualify as “eggshell plaintiffs,” or especially vulnerable individuals such as children who witness the death of a parent, elderly individuals who suffer from various medical complications and diminished resilience, and pregnant women.

Intentional Torts and Actual Malice

The rare instance of a physician or other medical professional intentionally inflicting emotional distress on a patient knowingly, willingly, and/or for personal gain would likely qualify the plaintiff for emotional distress damages. For example, imagine a specialist tells a patient he has a certain medical condition requiring careful treatment at risk of the patient’s life, and the doctor attempts to keep the patient billed for unnecessary medical treatments in a pattern of exploitation.

Upon discovery of this or any similar type of deception, the patient would likely experience severe emotional distress in addition to the distress experienced from the doctor’s false diagnosis. This may be an extreme example, but generally emotional distress in and of itself does not constitute grounds for legal action unless the defendant acted with actual malice or intent to cause emotional distress or other harm.

To succeed with a lawsuit against a medical professional for emotional distress, the plaintiff and his or her lawyer would need to prove the defendant’s conduct was extreme, outrageous, or intentionally harmful or exploitative. The plaintiff would also have to prove the extent of his or her emotional distress, including producing proof the plaintiff sought mental health counseling or other support services due to his or her traumatic experience, prescriptions for any required psychiatric medications, and testimony from coworkers, friends, and family members attesting to the changes in the plaintiff’s mental health following the conduct in question.

Types of Emotional Distress Claims

Different types of emotional distress claims fall under different rules state by state.

  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress pertains to emotional distress as the result of the defendant’s lack of care, such as a mistake in a diagnostic procedure or incorrect prescription.
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress pertains to direct, knowing, and willful abuse.
  • Parasitic emotional distress refers to emotional suffering related to other damages, such as the emotional stress resulting after developing a permanent disability.

If you recently experienced emotional distress as a result of a medical professional’s conduct, consulting with a medical malpractice lawyer in Bakersfield can help you determine your best options for legal recourse. An attorney can determine whether the doctor’s conduct was reasonable and foreseeable given the circumstances in question and weigh his or her actions against the typical standard of care for the patient’s condition.