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How to Recover Damages for Emotional Distress under Texas Law

Victims of negligence have various mechanisms under Texas law for seeking compensation for their injuries, property damage, and other losses. But what if an accident doesn’t cause physical injuries? What if it only causes emotional distress?

In those cases, it may still be possible to seek damages for damages, but it can be challenging. Here’s why and what’s crucial to know about damages for emotional distress in Texas.

Personal Injury Compensation: Economic vs. Noneconomic Damages

To set the stage for this discussion, it’s first important to point out and define the two main types of damages that can be available to those who pursue personal injury claims. These damages can include:

  • Economic damages: This form of compensation can be objectively calculated from medical bills, lost wages, property repair bills, and/or other documents. Potentially covering past and future losses, economic damages are more ‘concrete’ in nature than noneconomic damages. Consequently, Texas law does not limit the extent of economic damages that a victim can recover after an accident.
  • Noneconomic damages: More subjective in nature, noneconomic damages are associated with pain, suffering, and emotional distress. These types of damages are not inherently valued at a particular dollar amount. As a result, noneconomic damages can be more difficult to calculate. Additionally, some states, including Texas, place caps on the amount of noneconomic damage that can be awarded for personal injury cases.

No Physical Injury? Recovering Damages for Emotional Distress Alone Can Be Challenging

In many personal injury cases, the injured parties (i.e., plaintiffs) will seek compensation that includes both economic and non-economic damages. If no physical injuries were suffered, however, seeking noneconomic damages for emotional distress alone can be difficult under Texas law.

Example: Someone witnesses a car accident that severely hurts or even kills a loved one. This witness didn’t suffer any physical injuries in the crash. However, he arguably may have suffered emotional distress.

In situations like this example, pursuing damages in the absence of physical injury can be an uphill battle. Generally, this is because:

  • The negligence involved must be really outrageous or horrific if it didn’t cause any physical injury: In other words, insults, petty threats, criticism, or mild oppressions are not usually considered to be ‘horrific’ or especially egregious. The act or behavior would have to go beyond the bounds of decency, rather than simply being unethical or illegal alone.
  • If another statute or tort applies to the claim, the plaintiff can typically only recover under that claim: This is because Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress claims are typically gap-filler torts, meaning they apply when there is no other tort or law under which to seek recovery. So, for instance, a plaintiff who filed a harassment claim (without any physical injuries involved) and a claim for emotional distress would usually only be able to recover under the harassment claim.

Despite the challenges associated with non-injury emotional distress claims, however, these claims CAN be (and have been) won on behalf of plaintiffs, usually with the help and representation of an experienced personal injury attorney. To find out if you may be entitled to damages for emotional distress and/or other losses related to an accident or personal injury, contact a lawyer.