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Can I Seek Compensation for Emotional Distress Caused by a Doctor?

January 29, 2020 in

Emotional distress caused by a doctor’s intentional or negligent act, can at times be worse than a physical injury. In some cases, victims may be entitled to compensation. However, because emotional distress on its own is not easily quantified and cannot be seen, it is often much more difficult to obtain a recovery than it is when coupled with a physical injury. New York courts have very specific rules for people making these claims.

Doctors owe patients a high level of care and are entrusted to provide the best medical treatment. When instances of medical malpractice occur, they can leave patients with long-lasting mental effects, to the point that they may not return to their job or other daily activities.

What is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress is mental or psychological pain, resulting from a traumatic event. The symptoms are different in every person, but some common ones include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Memory issues
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Increased alcohol use
  • Sleep disturbances

Victims who are able to successfully prove severe emotional distress, can obtain a recovery for their medical bills, lost income, and their pain and suffering. When a doctor’s behavior is particularly atrocious, the court may award punitive damages, which are meant as punishment for the defendant.

When Can You Sue a Doctor for Emotional Distress?

There are generally two situations, which may entitle you to compensation for experiencing emotional distress:

  • When a doctor acts negligently and causes a physical injury, resulting in emotional distress. For example, a patient’s healthy leg is amputated by mistake due to their doctor operating on the wrong body part. The unnecessary permanent physical disability may lead the victim to become withdrawn and sunken into a deep depression.
  • Emotional distress caused by a doctor, without the presence of a physical injury. For example, a doctor misdiagnosing a patient and telling them they have six months to live, when they actually have a treatable condition.

New York recognizes a victim’s right to seek damages for emotional distress that does not arise from a physical injury. However, compensation is much more likely to be awarded when physical injuries are involved.

How to Prove Emotional Distress

The main hurdle in validating a lawsuit for emotional distress is providing documentation of what happened and the fact that it caused harm. Evidence of the following is needed:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed, establishing the duty of care owed.
  • The doctor breached his duty with negligent conduct.
  • The negligent act resulted in severe emotional distress.
  • The resulting emotional distress has caused actual damages.

When these types of cases proceed to trial, they will almost always require expert testimony from a therapist or psychiatrist who has treated the patient. Testimony from family, friends, or co-workers can also be helpful if they can attest to the victim’s mental state and how they have changed as a result of the doctor’s error. Additional evidence that can assist in proving a claim, are:

  • Diary or journal entries.
  • Email messages.
  • Medical and therapy bills.
  • Prescription costs.
  • Records of missed work and lost wages.
  • Any records from a witness to the incident.

Let Us Review Your Case for Free

If you or someone you love is suffering emotional distress caused by the negligent actions of a doctor, contact the New York City medical malpractice attorneys at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo, P.C. We will discuss your legal options in a free consultation. Reach us online or by calling (212) 732-9000.