Can You Sue a Hospital for Emotional Distress?

When patients seek medical care, they place their trust in healthcare professionals to provide competent treatment. Sometime, hospital negligence is unfortunately led to emotional distress, and yes, you can sue a hospital for emotional distress if it is connected to a physical injury resulting from a separate cause of action, such as medical malpractice. Below, we will discuss emotional distress in medical malpractice and what is involved in suing a hospital for emotional distress.

Overview of Medical Negligence

Most medical errors that cause emotional distress also involve severe physical injuries. However, it is possible for medical malpractice to cause psychological trauma in the absence of a physical injury. Researchers estimate that hospital negligence is the third leading cause of death in the US. Sadly, there were 139.8 million emergency department visits in the US in 2021. These resulted in 18.3 million people being admitted to the hospital. When hospital negligence occurs, it can leave victims not only with physical injuries but also with the heavy burden of emotional distress.

What Is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress in a medical malpractice case is psychological trauma that damages your daily life. It is also known as mental anguish. Symptoms of mental anguish may include the following: 

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder 
  • Severe anxiety 
  • Deep depression 
  • An inability to function at work 
  • Changes in your ability to maintain relationships 
  • Suicidal thoughts 
  • Grief 
  • The development of phobias 
  • Humiliation 
  • A loss of your financial or social status 

Emotional distress may cause from various medical injuries, including chronic pain, new disabilities, wrongful death, and birth injuries. Such symptoms and feelings are life-altering and deserve to be addressed. Under the Utah Health Care Malpractice Act, healthcare providers include physicians, medical staff, and hospitals where a patient is being treated. Therefore, the law allows you to pursue a claim for emotional distress against a hospital or other healthcare institution.

How did a care provide effects a you with emotional distress?

In most cases, to show that you have grounds for any type of medical malpractice claim, you will need to establish that the care provider deviated in some way from the standard of care expected of a medical care provider in that specific type of case. For example, you might need to show that your care provider did something that posed a risk to your overall safety. 

Did your care provider:

  • Fail to properly diagnose you based on clearly-presented criteria?
  • Fail to treat you for the diagnosis offered, despite a clear standard of treatment and expectations for treatment for that specific ailment or injury?
  • Neglect to inform you about the possible side effects or consequences of a procedure in cases where those side effects or consequences might have changed your decision to consent to the procedure?
  • Fail to procure your consent before beginning a needed medical procedure in a non-emergency situation?
  • Commit a never event during your care, including a devastating surgical error?

Am I Eligible to Sue a Hospital for Emotional Distress?

Can You Sue a Hospital for Emotional Distress

Am I Eligible to Sue a Hospital for Emotional Distress?

Hospitals are bound by a set of professional standards and ethical guidelines when it comes to dealing with patients. If they fail to those standards and guidelines, they can be liable for damages. Following are the consideration under which you can be eligible to sue a hospital:

Duty of Care

Hospitals have a legal obligation, known as a “duty of care,” to provide patients with a certain standard of medical treatment. This means that they must act reasonably and responsibly in the care they provide. To establish a duty of care, it must be shown that you were the patient in that hospital, and the hospital had a duty to provide you best reasonable standard care. The hospital had failed to provide you reasonable standard care.

Breach of Duty

To prove a breach of duty, you need to show how the hospital failed to meet the expected standard of care. This can occur through negligent actions, such as:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Surgical errors
  • Medication mistakes
  • Inadequate supervision
  • Failure to communicate important information
  • Not obtaining informed consent
  • Failure to provide necessary follow-up care

If the hospital’s actions or omissions fall below the standard of care, there may be a breach of duty. You suffered from an emotional distress or psychological metal distress that may not occurred if the hospital provides you best possible reasonable care. Their negligence and breach of duty, can cause you emotional distress.

How to Prove Emotional Distress in a Hospital Suing?

How to Prove Emotional Distress in a Hospital Suing

How to Prove Emotional Distress in a Hospital Suing?

Emotional injuries are much more difficult to prove than the physical injuries because they are not visible. You will need to prove the extent of emotional or psychological distress with strong evidence that you are suffered from their negligence. Your evidence should satisfy the court that it has caused a substantial and observable impact on your well-being. You can have following types of evidence:

  • A clinical diagnosis of a psychological or psychiatric disorder that generates from the incident 
  • The proof of evidence or testimony of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other qualified mental health professional 
  • The testimony of friends and family members who can testify to the differences they have observed before and after the incident 
  • Testimony by your employer about how the incident has affected your ability to work 
  • Documentation showing changes in your social activities or hobbies 
  • Documentation showing how the emotional distress has impacted your finances  

When Can You Include Emotional Distress in a Hospital Medical Malpractice Claim?

In a medical malpractice case, the hospital gets accountable for errors commit by the actions of doctors, nurses, or other personnel that lead to psychological injury. Illinois law allows damages to be awarded for emotional distress in the following circumstances: 

  • When you were in danger zone where someone else was injured 
  • When you also experienced a physical injury as a result of the wrongdoing from any medical staff 
  • When the act that caused the emotional distress occurred in connection with another cause of action 

Physical Injuries 

The Illinois courts have recognized that emotional distress may come from physical injuries caused by medical malpractice. In these cases, damages for emotional injuries are awarded in addition to physical pain and suffering. 

The Zone of Danger 

The zone of danger is the physical area surrounding someone experiencing a severe physical injury, in which a witness also faces a risk of being severely injured. 

Cases & Court orders on emotional distress

In the 1983 case Rickey v. Chicago Transit Authority, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that bystanders who witness a traumatic injury or death may sue for emotional distress in the absence of a physical injury if they were in the zone of danger. 

In 2011 in Clark v. Children’s Memorial Hosp., the Illinois Supreme Court established that a plaintiff could pursue damages for emotional distress as an element of damages for another wrongful act or omission.  

The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed its decision in a case in 2017, Cochran V. Securitas Sec Services USA, Inc, in which a corpse was delivered to the wrong family and cremated before an autopsy could be performed. Although there was no physical injury, the emotional distress occurred due to the wrongful act of denying a family the right to the decedent’s remains.

What Is the Statute of Limitation for Suing a Hospital for Negligence?

In Chicago, there is a two-year time limit for filing a lawsuit against a hospital for negligence. This period starts from the date when the injury occurred or was discovered. If negligence leads to the patient’s death, 740 ILCS 180/2 allows a timeframe of two years, beginning from the date of the patient’s death. 

Like other states, Illinois limits the time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The Illinois statute of limitations for medical malpractice is also two years after the date of the injury. 

Generally, in Utah, the claimant has 2 years from the date of the incident to file a medical malpractice claim against a hospital. That being said, the statute of limitations limits you to 4 years max to bring a medical malpractice action. This applies regardless of when the negligent act or error was discovered. Additionally, in some situations, you may have even less time to take legal action against a hospital.

Potential Compensation for Emotional Distress in Hospital Lawsuits

Potential Compensation for Emotional Distress in Hospital Lawsuits

Potential Compensation for Emotional Distress in Hospital Lawsuits

Emotional distress stemming from medical negligence and a bad hospital experience can throw your entire life into turmoil. Filing a lawsuit against the hospital may help you get your life back on track after the unfortunate incident. Being compensated for economic damages is pretty easy. You add up your medical bills and other medical treatment costs, but how can you calculate something that has no receipt or bill?

Well, there’s no perfect formula to calculate something like this, but there are a couple of helpful methods we’ll cover. But first, what are we quantifying? What things can we take into consideration here? You may be able to seek both economic and non-economic damages for the emotional distress you are experiencing. Well, there are many things to consider, like:

  • The amount of pain and suffering
  • The amount of time it lasted
  • The frequency of it
  • Medical expenses needed as a result
  • Injuries that ruin a person’s life in some sense
  • Life disruption
  • Age and life expectancy (how long will you live with the injury?)
  • Exacerbated pre-existing medical conditions
  • The severity of the injury
  • Permanent physical injuries
  • Disfigurements
  • Emotional distress caused; PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc
  • Mental anguish

These things can all affect how much compensation you seek and ultimately to get through your medical malpractice claim. Most courts use one of two methods to calculate a fair compensation for pain and suffering:

1. Per Diem Method

The per diem method involves coming up with a dollar value the victim will receive each day while healing from their injuries. Usually, this value is equal to a person’s daily wages. The amount is multiplied by the number of days it takes the victim to recover from the injury. 

Here’s an example. The per diem amount assigned by a court for a medical negligence case is $200. It takes the victim 60 days to recover from injuries. $200 x 60 = $12,000 for pain and suffering.

2. Multiplier Method

The second way of calculating a pain and suffering award is the multiplier method. This entails multiplying the plaintiff’s medical expenses by a number (between 1.5-5) that reflects the severity of injuries.

Now let’s say for the victim in the example above, the court decides to use the multiplier method. The economic damages were $10,000 and the judge ruled the injuries to be moderately severe. So maybe a “4” Pain and suffering would be $10,000 x 4 for a total of $40,000. This would be in addition to the $10,000 of economic damages.

Many states also impose a cap on pain and suffering damages. In Texas, there is a cap of $250,000 on pain and suffering damages in medical negligence cases. Even if the per diem or multiplier method calculates a number above the cap, Texas courts cannot grant you an award higher than $250,000.


Every patient deserves to feel confident and well cared for when undergoing medical treatment. Emotional distress due to medical malpractice can greatly ruin the victim’s life. You can sue a hospital for emotional distress, by taking the important step towards obtaining compensation for your emotional distress, which is filing a lawsuit against the hospital in question.


Do I need a lawyer to sue for emotional distress?

While it is not legally required to have a lawyer to file an emotional distress lawsuit, having an experienced attorney can greatly improve your chances of success. 

Can family members sue for emotional distress?

Family members can sue for emotional distress if they directly witness the hospital’s negligent or intentional actions that cause distress or if the distress arises from the injury or death of a loved one due to the hospital’s conduct. 

Is emotional distress considered a personal injury?

Yes, emotional distress can be considered a type of personal injury. It refers to the psychological impact and suffering a person experience due to another party’s negligent or intentional actions. 

Can I sue for emotional distress if there was no physical injury?

Yes, it is possible to sue for emotional distress even if there is no accompanying physical injury. However, these cases can be more challenging to prove. 

What role do expert witnesses play in emotional distress lawsuits?

Expert witnesses, such as psychologists or psychiatrists, can provide professional evaluations and testimony regarding the extent and impact of your emotional distress. 

Can emotional distress claims be made against individual healthcare providers?

Yes, emotional distress claims can be made against individual healthcare providers, such as doctors, nurses, or other medical staff, if their actions directly caused your distress. 

I am Sher A, the person behind this idea. With education in Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) degree from the University of Karachi, Pakistan,, like 5 years of experience as a lawyer.

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