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When Can an Injured Plaintiff Recover Compensation for Mental Distress?

Plaintiffs in civil litigation can obtain compensation for numerous types of damages.  A personal injury claimant may seek recovery for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages.  A defrauded consumer or investor may recover actual money lost, and in many cases may also recover attorney’s fees and statutory penalties.  Any plaintiff may seek attorney’s fees under certain circumstances if the defendant’s conduct was intentional or particularly egregious.  But there is one type of damage that has rather peculiar, and often misunderstood, rules for recovery in Georgia:  mental anguish or distress.  Under what circumstances can the plaintiff recover damages for mental distress?

Although the requirements for recovering mental distress damages are somewhat nuanced, an analysis of Georgia case law reveals the following general guidelines:

  • A plaintiff who suffers a physical personal injury can recover for the mental suffering accompanying that injury (in addition to compensation for the physical pain).
  • A plaintiff who has suffered monetary loss from the defendant’s conduct can recover for the mental distress caused by the conduct that precipitated the monetary loss.
  •  If the plaintiff’s claim is for negligence only, but the plaintiff has suffered neither a physical injury nor monetary loss from the defendant’s conduct, the plaintiff cannot recover mental distress damages.
  • Where the defendant’s wrongful conduct was intentional, the plaintiff can usually recover mental distress damages.

The take-away from these rules is relatively straightforward:  a plaintiff who has been physically or economically injured, or who has been victimized by intentional wrongdoing, can generally recover mental distress damages from the defendant.  These rules are especially important for victims of consumer fraud, as many of these cases involve relatively modest financial losses by the victim, but a very substantial emotional impact.  Many attorneys make the mistake of undervaluing cases by not appreciating the emotional toll that their clients have endured.  The most competent and aggressive attorneys maximize the compensation recovered for their clients by fully leveraging recovery for emotional distress damages.