Can You Sue for Emotional Distress in New York?

Accidents are unsettling events that can bring more than just physical injuries; they can leave lasting emotional scars that affect a person’s life in profound ways. New York law recognizes that emotional distress, also known as psychological or mental distress, is a real injury, and you may be entitled to seek compensation for it. 

If you’ve experienced emotional distress due to someone else’s actions, you might be wondering if you can sue for it in New York. Here, we’ll explore the concept of emotional distress claims and what you need to know.

Understanding Emotional Distress

Emotional distress, in legal terms, refers to the psychological impact that a traumatic event can have on an individual. It goes beyond everyday feelings of sadness or frustration; instead, it often involves severe and disabling emotions such as anxiety, depression, fear, or even post-traumatic stress disorder. Emotional distress can be caused by various situations, including accidents, medical malpractice, intentional harm, or witnessing a traumatic event.

Symptoms of Severe Emotional Distress

Emotional distress can manifest in various ways, affecting an individual’s overall well-being. Common symptoms include:


  • Anxiety: Overwhelming feelings of unease, fear, or dread.
  • Depression: A persistent sense of sadness, hopelessness, and disinterest in life.
  • Panic Attacks: Sudden and intense episodes of fear that can include rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shortness of breath.
  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, often due to intrusive thoughts.
  • Physical Symptoms: Such as headaches, stomach issues, and muscle tension.

Can You Sue for Emotional Distress in New York?

Yes, you can sue for emotional distress in New York under specific circumstances. There are two main legal theories under which you can file a claim: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED) and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED). Let’s explore both of these in more detail.

Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (IIED)

IIED claims arise when someone intentionally engages in outrageous or extreme behavior that causes severe emotional distress to another person. For a successful IIED claim in New York, you typically need to prove:

  • The defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous.
  • The defendant’s actions were intentional or reckless.
  • The emotional distress you suffered was severe.
  • Your emotional distress was a direct result of the defendant’s actions.

Examples of IIED may include:

  • Racial slurs and derogatory comments
  • Gender-based discrimination and harassment
  • Instances of false imprisonment
  • Conduct that jeopardizes your safety

Establishing an Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim

To successfully prove this type of claim, the misconduct must significantly exceed acceptable social boundaries. It is not a prerequisite to have suffered physical harm to seek compensation in such cases.

Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress (NIED)

NIED claims involve instances where someone’s negligent actions lead to emotional distress. To pursue an NIED claim in New York, you generally need to prove:

  • The defendant owed you a duty of care.
  • The defendant breached that duty through negligence.
  • You suffered severe emotional distress.
  • Your emotional distress was directly caused by the defendant’s negligence.

Examples of NIED may include:

  • Texting while driving
  • Driving while intoxicated
  • Ignoring a stop sign or a red light
  • A medical professional negligently gives the wrong diagnosis, leading to prolonged suffering

The “Zone of Danger” Rule in New York

New York follows the “zone of danger” rule. This implies that an individual might have the possibility to seek compensation for emotional distress when they witness an accident in close proximity that involves an immediate family member. 

To build a case under the “zone of danger” rule, the plaintiff must demonstrate the following:

  • There existed a real threat that the plaintiff could have suffered severe or fatal injuries in the accident alongside their loved one.
  • The plaintiff was simultaneously aware of the grave injury or death of their loved one.
  • The injury afflicted the plaintiff’s parent, child, or sibling.
  • The plaintiff sustained a physical or emotional injury as a result of witnessing the accident.

Compensation You Can Recover from Emotional Distress Claims

If your emotional distress claim is successful, you may be entitled to various forms of compensation, including:

  • Medical expenses: Related to therapy, counseling, or other necessary treatments.
  • Lost wages: If your emotional distress causes you to miss work.
  • Pain and suffering: For the emotional anguish you’ve experienced.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life: Compensating for the activities or hobbies you can no longer participate in due to emotional distress.

IIED and NIED Statute of Limitations

In New York, the statute of limitations for IIED and NIED claims is typically one year from the date of the incident that caused the emotional distress. It’s crucial to act promptly and consult an experienced attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

Emotional distress is a real and often debilitating injury. If you’ve experienced severe emotional distress due to someone else’s actions, it’s essential to know your rights and seek legal advice. At Joudeh & Kuller, we are here to help you through the legal challenges of your emotional distress claim. Your emotional well-being matters, and we’re committed to assisting you in seeking the justice you deserve. Don’t hesitate to reach out for a free consultation to discuss your case.

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