mental anguish

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In reference to law, mental anguish means a relatively high degree of mental pain and suffering one party inflicts upon another. In tort law, this term is often used interchangeably with emotional distress in personal injury cases, where the party who claims to have suffered emotional distress can bring a cause of action against the other party to recover damages. Infliction of emotional distress very often is accompanied by physical trauma and injury.

In common law, there are generally two types of emotional distress cause of actions. The first type is intentional infliction of emotional distress. To recover for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, a plaintiff usually has the burden to prove that 1) the defendant has acted intentionally or recklessly; 2) defendant’s act was outrageous and extreme and 3) such act has caused the plaintiff’s emotional distress. An act is outrageous and extreme if it exceeds all bounds of decency tolerated in a civilized society. Whether the act is outrageous and extreme is a matter usually for the jury to decide.

The second type is negligent infliction of emotional distress. Generally, recovery for this cause of action is available only when the defendant has assumed a duty to plaintiff in which the emotional condition of the plaintiff is an object. Exceptions to this general rule are rare.

A party who seeks to recover for emotional distress generally needs to provide a computation of actual damages. However, such calculations can be vague and unspecific. Doctor’s note and prescription are usually helpful for courts to decide such damages.

[Last updated in September of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]