emotional distress

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Emotional distress refers to mental suffering as an emotional response to an experience that arises from the effect or memory of a particular event, occurrence, pattern of events or condition. Emotional distress can usually be discerned from its symptoms (ex. Anxiety, depression, loss of ability to perform tasks, or physical illness).

In tort law, there are two causes of action that involve infliction of emotional distress: intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) and negligent infliction of emotional distress i.e., bystander action.

  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) refers to when someone purposely causes someone emotional distress such as by threatening to physically harm said person.
  • A person can commit negligent infliction of emotional distress by acting negligently, in a way that causes emotional distress of someone.
  • For both IIED and negligent infliction of emotional distress, a person may be able to recover damages depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction.

For more information on emotional distress causes of action, see this LII entry on IIED and this LII entry on negligent infliction of emotional distress

[Last updated in December of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]