Can You Still Sue for an Injury Without Pain?

    When an individual suffers a physical personal injury due to the negligent behavior of another person, the grounds for pursuing litigation to recover compensation for damages is often fairly straightforward, especially when guided by the experience of a trusted local personal injury attorney. However, there are cases in which a person can suffer from severe emotional distress due to another’s behavior, even after the pain from an injured body part has receded.

    Are victims in these cases eligible for compensation for their suffering? While there are many different types of pain and non-physical pain is certainly real, it's more difficult to prove and quantify. This article aims to present some basic information on how the litigation process may look in cases where a person suffers from emotional distress due to another’s behavior in the absence of any physical pain.

    Pain and Suffering in Personal Injury Cases

    PLG Blog Images (7)

    When determining whether or not an accident victim has a plausible case to present to a court in order to recover monetary compensation for damages, a major consideration is the monetary value assigned to the reparation of harm that resulted from the incident. When the accident victim suffers physical personal injury after the accident, the cause for damages is often easier for the courts to access.

    For example, if an accident victim needs to see their health care provider to address a broken bone, torn ligament, a sprain, or a dislocation following the incident, the monetary costs are fairly straightforward and easy for the courts to review. Costs associated with diagnostic tests such as X-rays, as well as treatment costs like surgery and physical therapy are all factored into compensation. In addition, many injury victims have to take time off work to limit physical activity during the healing process. The costs associated with taking time off work and lost wages are also fairly easy for the court system to quantify.

    Physical pain and suffering include not only the often severe pain and discomfort the plaintiff is feeling at this moment, but also the negative effects that he or she is likely to suffer in the future as a result of the accident and the defendant’s negligent behavior. This forecast can be harder for courts to accurately assess and presents the first example of challenges in accurately determining and awarding monetary compensation for damages.

    Aside from physical pain and suffering, mental pain and suffering is also a realm in which accident victims can be eligible for recovering financial compensation for damages. Mental pain and suffering is often a byproduct of the plaintiff’s physical injury. Mental pain and suffering can include things such as mental anguish, emotional distress, reduced enjoyment or quality of life, fear, anxiety, anger, humiliation, and shock. Just as physical ailments like knee injuries, ankle injuries, a torn ACL, and other serious injuries can cause things like enduring chronic pain around the injured area, immobilization, a limited range of motion, etc., mental and emotional suffering can grow into an ongoing problem that impacts quality of life as well. Any type of negative emotion that an accident victim incurs as a result of having to endure the physical trauma of an accident may be considered eligible for compensation.

    It can sometimes be difficult for judges to determine an accurate amount to award accident victims for pain and suffering in personal injury cases. There are no official reference points for judges to use, and often they must rely on experience, background information, and common sense to determine how much compensation to award a plaintiff for their injuries. While a judge may be able to reference medical bills and cost projections for physical injuries, mental pain and suffering is often much more difficult to accurately quantify.

    Taking all of this into consideration, readers may be wondering what happens when an individual suffers only from emotional distress after an accident, without any clear indication of physical injury. Are these individuals able to be compensated for their distress in a manner similar to those who have suffered physical personal injury? This topic will be explored in the following section.

    Recovering Compensation for Non-Physical Personal Injuries

    As mentioned above, an accident victim may be able to recover compensation for mental pain and suffering when the root cause of that pain and suffering is related to a physical personal injury the plaintiff suffered due to the defendant’s negligence. In these cases, the related emotional distress caused by the physical injury can be compensated for. For example, it is common for victims of a traumatic car crash or dog attack to experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition to the physical pain of the injuries, the victim will have to face the mental sequelae of surviving the attack.

    It can be much more difficult for accident victims to recover compensation for purely emotional distress in the absence of any physical pain or injury after an accident. However, if a plaintiff and their legal team can prove that the infliction of emotional distress was intentional and extreme in nature, then there may be a case for pursuing compensation for damages resulting from the emotional distress.

    In order to build a sound case against a defendant, the plaintiff must be able to show that the defendant’s conduct is considered unacceptable by the norms of civilized society. A common example of this type of behavior is repeated death threats. If these threats of harm cause emotional distress to manifest into physical symptoms associated with conditions such as anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then the plaintiff may be able to prove to the court that they are owed compensation from the plaintiff to help pay for the treatment needed to address these symptoms.

    Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress

    The key concept a personal injury court will consider in cases where there is no evidence of physical pain is the intentional infliction of emotional distress. This type of case often involves some kind of conduct by the defendant that is severe and outrageous enough to cause severe emotional trauma to the plaintiff.

    Not all types of behavior qualify as severe and outrageous enough to qualify for litigation. In general society, people must be prepared to deal with a certain degree of rude or offensive behavior from others. However, when this type of conduct becomes pervasive and severe, it may warrant taking the offender to court.

    Although every state court will differ somewhat on what constitutes grounds for suing another for emotional distress, the core elements are fairly similar across the nation. As already mentioned, the defendant’s behavior must be considered extreme and outrageous. That behavior must also be intentional and/or reckless, and as a result causes severe emotional distress to the victim. This emotional distress may or may not manifest into physical symptoms.

    Sometimes, a person may suffer from severe emotional distress even when the intentional reckless behavior was not directed at them. A common example of this type of case is where the behavior is directed at a family member, in the victim’s presence. Although the state laws vary more widely in these types of cases, the general elements include extreme and outrageous conduct directed at a third party that intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to a member of the third party’s immediate family (regardless of the occurrence of bodily harm).

    Defining Extreme and Outrageous Conduct

    Determining what constitutes extreme and outrageous conduct is one of the most important considerations in these types of cases. Although there is no clear-cut definition or guidebook for judges to follow in making a determination, extreme and outrageous behavior must go beyond simply being malicious, harmful, or offensive.  To rise to this degree of severity, the behavior in question must go beyond all expected bounds of human decency.

    One caveat to the above definition is if the defendant has prior knowledge that the plaintiff is particularly vulnerable to emotional distress due to a physical or mental impairment or abnormality. For example, exposing a person with arachnophobia to spiders with the intent of causing emotional distress can potentially qualify as severe enough to warrant litigation.

    Another important consideration is that exercising a legal right often cannot be considered a qualifying behavior, even if it results in severe emotional distress. A common example is a landlord exercising their right to evict a tenant who has recently gone through a traumatic event and is failing to pay their rent. Although the eviction may contribute to the tenant’s emotional distress, the landlord in this case is simply exercising their legal right to evict and therefore is unlikely to face a penalty through the litigation process.

    Defining Severe Emotional Distress

    PLG Blog Images (6)-1

    Although no formal definition of severe emotional distress exists, there are some guidelines courts can use to answer the question, “How severe is severe enough?” Judges will often look at the conduct in question and the suffering of the victim and ask themselves if any reasonable person should be expected to endure it.  If not, emotional distress is likely severe enough to warrant compensation.

    Additionally, the duration and intensity of the emotional distress is also an important contribution to its severity. The longer the emotional distress carries on for, the more likely it will be to constitute severe emotional distress.

    The amount of evidence a plaintiff must present to a court will vary from case to case.  Sometimes, the plaintiff will need to show that their persistent anxiety or paranoia was a result of the defendant’s behavior. The victim’s physician or psychiatrist may be called upon to speak to the severity of their distress. In other cases, the conduct of the defendant is clearly severe enough that relatively little further exploration or presentation of evidence is needed.

    Getting Professional Legal Counsel

    As the reader can see, the process of pursuing litigation in order to recover compensation for damages involving only presentations of emotional distress without physical injury are much more complicated than traditional personal injury cases. For years, the attorneys at Palermo Law Group have been helping victims in Oak Brook and throughout Chicagoland as they navigate this process. Contact Palermo Law Group today for insight into your case.



    Mario Palermo is the Founder and Lead Attorney at Palermo Law Group in Oak Brook, Illinois. For the past 23 years, he has worked tirelessly to help injury victims and their families in their times of need. He is a seasoned authority on civil litigation, and also a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, a prestigious group of trial lawyers who have won million and multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements. Mr. Palermo has been named a “Leading Lawyer” by his peers in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

    Request a Free Legal Consultation

    Recently Published

    Recent Outcomes

    $1.3 Million

    Mr. Palermo obtained $1.3 million dollars for an airline employee who was injured on the job.


    Palermo obtained $800,000 for the family of 63-year-old woman who died after gallbladder removal surgery.


    Palermo obtained $400,000 for a 28-year-old woman from Aurora that was the victim of a hit-and-run.