Can You Sue a Family Member for Emotional Distress?

woman sitting on couch dealing with emotional distress

Rifts among family members occur. But what do you do when that rift turns into repetitive behaviors and actions that cause emotional distress? Under U.S. law, individuals have the right to seek compensation if their mental and physical well-being has been compromised, even if the compromise was the result of a loved one’s actions. 

If you are considering pursuing an emotional distress lawsuit against a family member, there are important factors and elements of an emotional distress claim you should know about. Let’s get into the details of each and delve into what it means to sue for emotional distress, as well as who can be held liable for any emotional distress you’ve suffered. 

What Is Emotional Distress 

Emotional distress is a legal concept used to describe a type of mental anguish or suffering that an individual feels at the hands of another. U.S. courts recognize emotional distress as a type of damage that can be awarded to a plaintiff via a civil lawsuit. Learn more about what you can sue someone for

Emotional distress damages fall under the legal umbrella of pain and suffering, another legal concept that is classified as non-economic damages. Unlike economic damages, non-economic damages are subjective, non-monetary losses. Because of this, it can be harder to prove emotional distress. Having ample evidence to support your claim is key to the success of your lawsuit. 

Individuals who seek out emotional distress damages are typically required to have suffered from physical harm as well. This is often the case with personal injury lawsuits. Emotional distress damages available in a personal injury case are usually supported by the economic damages a plaintiff sustains. However, depending on the claim and the proof available, some individuals may have a strong enough lawsuit to seek out emotional distress damages without having suffered physical harm. 

For example, in some cases where a plaintiff has suffered emotional harm because another individual defamed them, the plaintiff can be successful if they show substantial proof that emotional distress was caused. 

Types of Emotional Distress 

On a broad and general level, there are two types of emotional distress an individual can seek when filing a lawsuit claiming emotional damage. These types of emotional distress include the following: 

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress

This type of emotional distress claim is brought on by the negligence of another individual who unintentionally caused harm to a plaintiff. The person who is suffering emotional distress doesn’t necessarily have to be physically harmed by the defendant’s negligence. However, if they can prove that emotional harm was caused, they may be successful in their claim. 

For example, a driver who witnessed a fatal commercial truck accident with another motorist may be left feeling mentally traumatized. They may have grounds for emotional distress damages if they are able to prove the negligence of the other party caused them the emotional distress. 

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

This type of emotional distress claim is brought on when an individual intentionally or recklessly tries to inflict emotional harm on an individual. Cases of intentional infliction of emotional distress can be wide-ranging but include any situation in which an individual is suffering mental anguish or trauma because of the intentional behavior of another.

An example of this would be a female adult who is consistently being stalked by a former partner. Behaviors—including verbal assaults, threatening behavior, and acts of violence aimed at the female—can be grounds for proving that emotional distress is being caused.  

It’s important to know that the intentional infliction of emotional distress goes beyond just having your feelings hurt by someone else. When another individual’s behavior becomes so disruptive to the point it causes you mental pain and suffering, you may be able to move forward with an emotional distress claim. 

Can You Sue a Family Member for Emotional Distress 

Grounds for suing over emotional distress are subjective. Because of this, it’s imperative to collect as much evidence to prove your case as possible. With that said, any individual who is suffering mentally at the hand of another individual may sue for emotional distress. This includes family members. 

In many cases, emotional distress lawsuits arise from marital and other romantic relationships. If a person is seeking to move on with their life from a former partner, but that other partner is emotionally tormenting them in a manner that is causing trauma and mental distress, this can be grounds for seeking an emotional distress claim. 

How to Prove Emotional Distress 

Proving that emotional distress took place can be a difficult legal claim to support. As with any lawsuit, working with an experienced lawyer who can help you collect pertinent evidence is one of the best ways to seek success in your case. 

When you are proving that you have suffered emotional distress, including mental suffering and trauma, there are many different forms of evidence you can and should collect. Important elements you should include in your case are the following: 

Physical Injuries

Being able to prove that you have suffered mental and emotional distress can be easier done when you have proof of physical injuries. When proving your physical injuries, make it a point to collect photographs of the injuries, documentation including invoicing of any doctor or medical visits you had to endure, testimony from a physician, and other evidence pertaining to the physical injury caused by the named defendant. 


Time is on your side when filing an emotional distress claim. The longer the alleged behavior that caused the emotional distress takes place, the more successful your case may be. 

Medical Documentation

Collecting evidence that shows any medical treatment you received as a result of your emotional distress can be helpful to your claim. Typical types of documentation you’ll want to include are reports from any psychologist, therapist, or other physicians who offered you treatment for your emotional trauma. Offering up documentation over a long period of time can be incredibly helpful to your case as it shows the longevity of the emotional harm and how it has impacted you. 

The Severity of the Incident

Unlike other objective claims, proving emotional distress can be entirely subjective. For this reason, the severity of the incident is incredibly important. As previously mentioned, simply being the subject of mean comments and having your feelings hurt is not enough grounds to file an emotional distress claim. The more disruptive,  extreme, and life-changing the event was, the more likely you will be successful in your claim. 

Other Documents and Evidence

Text messages are admissible in court in Florida and can help show evidence of emotional distress. Witness testimony of individuals who observed the behavior that has caused the emotional distress can also be used as a form of evidence. Surveillance footage, police reports, and other elements that can show a defendant’s behaviors that contributed to your mental anguish are also important to consider.  

Speak With a Lawyer About Your Emotional Distress Claim 

If you’re seeking to file an emotional distress lawsuit, working with an attorney experienced in the field can be beneficial to your case. The collection of evidence is essential in any lawsuit seeking emotional distress damages. Work with a team that has a proven track record of collecting such evidence. With over 40 years of experience, the law office of Jack Bernstein Injury Attorneys is ready to help you collect critical evidence and documentation so that you receive the compensation you deserve. 

The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.

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