Accidents and serious injuries are nightmarish situations at best. At worst, they can inflict debilitating trauma that interferes with your ability to return to your daily life, go back to work, or even be present for your family. Thankfully, under Wyoming law, a plaintiff can claim compensation for emotional distress.
Since an accident or injury rarely causes just one kind of problem, plaintiffs frequently make emotional distress claims together with other claims. And just as with a physical injury, the plaintiff must meet certain standards of law and evidence in court.
Emotional Distress as a Tort Claim
A tort claim arises when one party breaches a duty of care that they had to another party, resulting in injury or damage. To take an example from medical malpractice, if a surgeon accidentally leaves a surgical sponge inside a patient, that surgeon breaches their duty of care to the patient. When that patient becomes sick and needs further treatment, they have suffered damage because of what the surgeon did, and they have a tort claim. The patient can recover for their psychological suffering—emotional distress—as well as for their physical suffering. In practice, the emotional distress claim is often addressed in an award for “pain and suffering.”
If a defendant’s conduct was reckless enough, people who were near but not directly involved in an incident may have a separate claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. In one famous Wyoming case, Gates vs. Richardson, a car struck and severely injured a young boy. His immediate family witnessed the crash or saw him lying in the street just afterward, and they suffered shock and terrible pain from the sight. The Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed the family’s right to sue the driver for negligent infliction of emotional distress. However, not everyone can make this claim in court. That is limited to closely connected individuals near the scene. Although someone who happens to witness a stranger’s accident or injury may be traumatized, that does not give them grounds to sue for it.
Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
Wyoming law also recognizes intentional infliction of emotional distress as a cause of action. This is a tort claim for deliberate psychological cruelty. Claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress may follow criminal acts or intentional torts such as:
- Assault and battery
However, to recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must meet a different legal standard. The defendant’s conduct must be “extreme and outrageous,” and they must have acted intentionally or recklessly. A plaintiff cannot make a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against a party that simply exercised a legal right. For example, a lawful termination does not make an employer liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, no matter how genuinely distressing it was to lose the job.
How Trauma Manifests
In law, the term “mental anguish” is sometimes used to describe the ongoing effects of an incident, which psychologists call “trauma.” Psychological trauma will vary depending on the circumstances, but they frequently include:
- Phobias, such as a severe fear of driving following an accident, or a fear of animals following a dog bite
- Anxiety, which can lead to panic attacks and agoraphobia
- Depression, which can result in insomnia, low appetite, and executive dysfunction
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can involve flashbacks, nightmares, and avoidant behaviors
Any of these can damage a person’s working life or family relationships. For instance, someone who was assaulted may become deeply fearful of being alone with others, making it impossible to work with customers or clients. They may also suffer depression so strong that they cannot sleep at night or get out of bed during the day. The fact that these injuries are invisible does not mean that they are not entitled to compensation.
Your Next Steps
If you believe you may have a claim for emotional distress, it is important to act as quickly as possible. In Wyoming, under the statute of limitations for personal injury cases, a plaintiff has four years to file suit. However, some torts that can give rise to emotional distress claims have shorter time limits. For example, a plaintiff may have as little as two years to sue for malpractice and only one year to sue for assault. The faster you act, the fewer roadblocks you will encounter.
At your initial consultations, the attorney will ask you about the emotional effects of the incident, both at the time and afterward. If they determine that you can make a claim for emotional distress, you will need to present evidence of that distress for use in court or in a settlement proceeding. This evidence may include the following:
- Statements from therapists, psychiatrists, or other medical practitioners
- Personal writings from after the incident attesting to the severity of the symptoms
- Statements from friends, family, or employers regarding the visible effects of the trauma
- Prescription records for medications treating traumatic disorders or physical aftereffects of psychological trauma
We understand that it is not easy to make a record of what, in our society, may feel like a personal failing. But if you suffer like this because of someone else’s actions, you have not failed. You have rights, and we can help you determine and protect them.
As personal injury lawyers, we represent Wyoming plaintiffs with emotional distress claims every day, serving clients in and around Casper, Cheyenne, Gillette, Rawlins, Riverton, and Sheraton. Contact Platte River Injury Law today at 307-224-9378 to schedule a free consultation.