| Read Time: 5 minutes | Medical Malpractice
can you sue for emotional distress

Were you recently injured by a doctor or hospital and wondering, Can you sue for emotional distress?

In New Mexico, as in most states, you cannot sue for emotional distress alone.

Emotional distress is generally not a basis for a legal cause of action but rather a type of damages you can pursue. 

Generally, three legal causes of action can be used as your basis for a lawsuit: medical malpractice, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death.

In other words, you cannot simply allege a hospital caused you emotional distress and pursue a lawsuit solely for that reason. Let’s take a closer look.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuit and Emotional Distress 

Suppose you went into a hospital and received medical treatment that caused you injury.

In that case, you might be contemplating filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, nurse, hospital facility, and anyone potentially involved in the medical negligence or error.

To pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit, there has to be some extent of physical injury.

Simply alleging the doctor or hospital caused you emotional turmoil is not a valid cause of action. They must have physically injured you, and as a result of that physical injury, you also suffered emotional damage.

In other words, you can’t sue a hospital for emotional distress alone — instead, you must sue under the giant umbrella of a medical malpractice or a wrongful death lawsuit.

If a doctor or hospital injures you, a medical malpractice lawsuit is the proper vehicle for recovery.

However, if your spouse, child, or close loved one dies while in a hospital, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. In either case, you will likely seek emotional distress and other noneconomic damages. 

Emotional Distress Damages

In a medical malpractice lawsuit, you will seek compensatory damages for both economic and noneconomic losses.

Economic damages represent your actual calculable losses, including medical expenses, lost wages, and lost earning capacity.

On the other hand, your noneconomic damages include losses subjective to you, including pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish.

Emotional distress is only one type of noneconomic damage available in a medical malpractice claim.

Emotional distress damages compensate a victim for losses caused by anxiety, PTSD, depression, insomnia, and other psychological symptoms that you might suffer.

Emotional distress damages can represent a significant portion of damages awarded to a plaintiff. Often more than their economic damages. However, there are limitations. 

Limits on Emotional Distress Damages

The first obstacle or challenge a plaintiff will face when seeking emotional distress damages against a hospital is the physical harm requirement.

As mentioned earlier, New Mexico requires plaintiffs to exhibit some form of physical harm or injury to accompany their emotional turmoil.

Assuming, as a plaintiff, you can show physical harm, you are then going to face damage limits or caps. 

Statutory Limits on Emotional Distress Damages

In New Mexico, economic and noneconomic damages for medical malpractice claims, including emotional distress and pain and suffering, are capped at $600,000.

However, this cap excludes the cost of medical care. In other words, your medical bills will not factor into this damage limit.

Practically speaking, this makes sense since many medical malpractice victims will have medical expenses that far exceed $600,000 alone. 

How Much Can I Sue For Emotional Distress?

Aside from the statutory caps or limits on noneconomic damages, the amount a plaintiff can pursue or recover will depend on the circumstances.

Pain, suffering, and emotional distress damages account for the emotional anguish that often accompanies excruciating physical pain and injury.

Unlike their economic counterparts, these damages are difficult to quantify and put a dollar amount on because there are no receipts, invoices, or estimates to quantify the damage. 

When a jury or judge is asked to calculate emotional distress damages, they might consider questions such as: 

  • How much is the plaintiff’s daily life and routine negatively impacted?
  • Does the injury impact their personal and professional relationships? 
  • Will it affect those relationships over time? 
  • Does their emotional distress impact their ability to sleep and function normally?
  • Are they expected to suffer long-term or make a complete emotional and psychological recovery?

Simply alleging that you’re in a lot of pain and have suffered emotional harm will not suffice to prove your case.

Proving Emotional Distress Damages

As the plaintiff, you must provide evidence to show the judge or jury that the medical malpractice caused substantial harm to your daily life. 

The more reliable and relevant evidence you have, the better. This evidence could include:

  • Journals or diaries documenting the significant changes to your daily life;
  • Medical records and doctor’s notes documenting pain levels, limitations, etc.;
  • Testimony and documentation from therapists or psychologists; and
  • Records of prescription medications necessary for you to cope (i.e., antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds).

Providing as much evidence as possible to establish and support your claim is crucial to success.

Doing so might sound straightforward and simple, but it can be challenging and complex to prove in court. 

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all formula for emotional distress damages. There is no calculation or equation that you can plug numbers into and get an answer.

These damages are deeply personal and subjective to the individual and can vary dramatically from one person to another, even if they have similar injuries. 

If you believe you have substantial noneconomic damages, including emotional distress, it is essential to consult with a seasoned New Mexico medical malpractice attorney.

Our compassionate team understands the severity of your pain and suffering and can help you recover compensation for your pain.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim

Unlike simply seeking emotional distress damages in a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit, in which you generally need to have suffered some physical harm to have a valid claim, intentional infliction of emotional distress is an independent claim on its own. 

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is relatively straightforward in theory. Still, it is separate and apart from emotional distress damages that are a part of a typical medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit.

To recover for intentional infliction of emotional distress, the plaintiff must prove that:

  • The defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous under the circumstances;
  • The defendant acted intentionally or recklessly; and
  • As a result of that conduct, the plaintiff experienced severe emotional distress.

To be considered extreme and outrageous, the conduct must go beyond common decency.

In other words, the defendant’s actions must be atrocious and intolerable to the ordinary person. If the plaintiff can show these elements, they will be able to recover for their emotional distress.

Exclusive New Mexico Medical Malpractice Attorneys

At Poulos and Coates, we have dedicated our practice to helping medical malpractice victims seek the justice and compensation they deserve for the wrongs done to them.

With lawyers and a medical doctor on our team, we have the knowledge, experience, and resources necessary to get you the emotional distress damages you deserve.

Contact us today to schedule a confidential and compassionate consultation. 

Author Photo

Greig Coates, M.D., J.D.

Over the last thirty years, Dr. Coates has successfully represented plaintiffs in every conceivable type of medical malpractice lawsuit–from single-physician cases to complex litigation involving over a dozen doctors and several hospitals. Dr. Coates has taken several thousand physician depositions in his career involving every known physician specialty and sub-specialty, and almost as many depositions involving hospital personnel such as nurses, techs, and administrators. He has tried several dozen cases to successful verdicts.

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