Compensation for pain and suffering from an injury
When someone suffers an injury, he or she will experience physical pain and suffering as a result and the court system allows victims to sue the responsible party to recover compensation. Although no one will dispute that pain did occur, the degree to which how much the victim suffered is a very subjective point.
While it is difficult to quantify the extent of the plaintiff’s suffering, courts generally take into account several key factors to determine the amount of compensation the plaintiff should receive. How courts calculate pain and suffering includes:
- How serious was the injury
- Was there any scarring or a permanent disability
- Will the victim experience ongoing pain
- Did the victim already suffer from pre-existing medical conditions
The key to recovering damages for emotional suffering in these situations is that the distress must come directly as a result and be proportional to the physical injury. Courts will generally not hand down large awards for minor injuries or minor, temporary discomfort.
Emotional distress from professional negligence
In 2011, the DC Court of Appeals expanded the types of cases where plaintiffs can recover damages for infliction of emotional distress. Hedgepath v. Whitman Walker Clinic, No. 07-CV-158 opened the door for plaintiffs to sue for infliction of emotional distress for professional medical negligence.
In Hedgepath, the plaintiff receive an improper HIV diagnosis as a result of his doctor’s negligence, claiming severe emotional distress. Although the defendant did not intend to cause the plaintiff emotional harm, the court determined the doctor had a legal duty to care for the wellbeing of his patient and avoid inflicting serious emotional distress.
Loss of consortium
DC injury laws allow the husbands and wives of injured victims to file their own claims against defendants for the loss of emotional enjoyment with the injured spouse. The law defines loss of consortium as “love, affection, companionship, sexual relations and other matters generally associated with a marital relationship.”
Basically, loss of consortium claims alleged the victim’s injury severely impacted the marriage including day to day activities, household duties, child care, travel, and intimacy. Victims considering loss of consortium claims should understand they will have to open up their lives to courts to prove the state of their relationship before the injury and how the marriage has changed since.
Proximity to the zone of danger
The “Zone of Danger Rule” is one of the few situations where DC courts allow plaintiffs to sue for emotional distress where no physical injury occurs. However, the burden of proof for plaintiffs is still quite high and the victim must show he or she nearly suffered a catastrophic injury and subsequently endured serious emotional distress.
An example of suing under the zone of danger rule could be a plaintiff who was nearly run off the road by a reckless driver, barely escaping serious injury or death but was otherwise physically unharmed in the accident. In this situation, the plaintiff may be able to recover damages for infliction of emotional distress if he or she prove the narrow avoidance of a serious injury but developed a fear of driving, PTSD, or another debilitating mental emotional condition.
How do I prove intentional infliction of emotional distress?
Washington DC courts have made it very clear there are few and well defined situations where plaintiffs can sue and recover damages for infliction of emotional distress. Unless the emotional suffering comes directly from a physical injury, being in the zone of a serious accident, or the result of professional negligence, victims have to prove the defendant acted with the intention to cause the suffering.
There are three main elements plaintiffs must prove to win a lawsuit for infliction of emotional distress. Unless these elements are satisfied, courts will likely dismiss the case before a jury may consider its merits.
- The conduct must be extreme and outrageous – In Walden v. Covington, 415 A.2d 1070 (D.C. 1980), DC courts determined plaintiffs must show the defendant’s conduct was so terrible that it rose above “indignities, insults, annoyances, threats, petty oppressions, or other trivialities.”
- The defendant’s actions were intentional and reckless – Plaintiffs must prove the defendant fully intended to cause severe emotional distress or the defendant fully knew his or her conduct was negligent but none the less engaged in the behavior
- The victims suffered severe emotional distress – While highly subjective, the plaintiff must prove he or she were greatly affected by the defendant’s actions. To prove this element, plaintiffs may need expert testimony from a psychologist, counselors, or other medical professionals detailing the repercussions of the event in question