Wondering, “can I sue a hospital for emotional distress?” In Illinois, the law allows medical malpractice injury victims to recover compensation for emotional distress or harm in the same way as other personal injury victims who suffer physical injuries. Most cases involving emotional distress are resolved by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit against the at-fault party, such as a hospital or a medical professional.

What Is Considered Emotional Distress in Illinois?

In a medical malpractice case, a hospital may be liable for the actions of doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals who are guilty of medical errors or negligence that lead to a patient’s physical or psychological injuries or emotional distress. Illinois law allows damages to be awarded for emotional distress under the following circumstances:

  • When a patient also experiences a physical injury due to medical wrongdoing
  • When a patient is in the “danger zone” where another person is injured
  • When a patient experiences emotional distress due to an act or omission that is linked to another cause of action

Emotional distress, also referred to as mental distress, is defined as a response of emotional or physical tension caused by a physiological response in the body. Emotional distress can be caused by a response to a dangerous situation, a loss of security, internal conflicts, and pain and suffering from a physical injury. Emotional distress is commonly tied to patients who undergo surgical procedures and illnesses that cause physical pain. Emotional distress often presents anxiety or depression, insomnia, low energy levels, lethargy or restlessness, suicidal thoughts, and social withdrawal.

Elements of an Emotional Distress Claim

Intentional infliction of emotional distress is a tort that occurs when one party acts in a manner that intentionally or recklessly causes another party to suffer severe emotional distress. While many acts are intentional, others are caused by negligent actions that result in harm. Emotional distress cases handled by medical malpractice lawyers are based on negligent infliction of emotional distress. These cases usually involve physical pain and suffering of a patient that creates emotional distress, especially if the pain is severe or long-term. In most states, to successfully claim negligent infliction of emotional distress, there needs to be some kind of physical reaction.

Emotional Distress Claims Against Hospitals

Illinois courts are aware that emotional distress can be caused by a physical reaction, such as pain and suffering. For this reason, suing a hospital for emotional distress is allowed. However, to prevail in a medical malpractice case against a hospital, you must prove these 4 facts:

1.      You were a patient in the hospital, and hospital personnel consequently had a duty to provide you with a reasonable standard of care

2.      Hospital personnel failed to provide a reasonable standard of care

3.      You suffered a psychological injury you would not have suffered if the reasonable, expected standard of care had been met

4.      The breach of duty, and not something else, caused your emotional distress

Do You Need a Physical Injury for Emotional Distress Claims?

In Illinois, you do not need a physical injury for an emotional distress claim. However, these types of claims are more difficult to prove because emotional injuries are not visible. With that said, you will need to prove your case by a preponderance of evidence that you suffered a psychological injury to the extent that it has caused a substantial and observable impact on your well-being.

A preponderance of the evidence means your evidence must satisfy the court that your emotional distress claim is more likely true than not. This may be accomplished by presenting the court with one or more of the following types of evidence:

  • A clinical diagnosis of a psychological or psychiatric disorder
  • Testimony from a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other qualified mental health professional
  • Testimony from friends and family about changes in your behavior
  • Testimony from your employer about the impact on your ability to perform work
  • Documentation showing changes in your social activities or hobbies
  • Documentation showing how the emotional distress has impacted your finances

Illinois courts have established that expert testimony is not required to prove emotional distress cases, however, expert testimony in court can be helpful if you’re considering suing a hospital for emotional distress. A medical malpractice attorney in Chicago is an invaluable asset when building these claims.

What Is the Illinois “Impact Rule”?

As with many aspects of law, the Illinois Impact Rule sets a bar for negligence liability claims for purely emotional damages. This rule does have jurisdictional variations, but it typically limits recovery for purely emotional harm to one of two situations. First, where one party’s negligence places another party in danger of immediate bodily harm, the negligent party may be held liable for resulting emotional harm. This is known as the “zone of danger” rule.

Second, a plaintiff may recover for purely emotional harm when the negligence occurs within the context of a “special” relationship, activity, or undertaking that knowingly poses a unique risk of serious emotional harm. In a medical malpractice case, a “special relationship” would be a doctor/patient relationship or a hospital/doctor relationship. Although the Illinois Impact Rule does limit the recovery for damages available in a medical claim, you can sue a hospital for emotional distress.

Steps to Take When Filing a Lawsuit for Emotional Distress

If you’re questioning whether to sue for emotional distress, it’s important to talk to an experienced lawyer before filing a medical malpractice claim. A lawyer can address your general concerns and answer questions about what you need to do and how long medical malpractice lawsuits usually take. Filing a lawsuit for emotional distress will be more challenging without physical injuries, but your odds of a successful court outcome are much greater with an experienced lawyer on your side.

Consult an Attorney

Many Chicago attorneys offer free case reviews and no legal fees unless you win your case. Medical malpractice claims encompass a variety of medical errors and negligent actions that cause thousands of patient injuries each year. If you’re one of those patients, your attorney can help you recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Your attorney can help you recover the following economic damages and non-economic damages:

Economic Damages – Economic damages are awarded for medical expenses such as hospital and emergency room visits, doctor visits, lab tests, and prescription medications, as well as damages for loss of income and loss of earning capacity.

Non-Economic Damages – Non-economic damages are awarded for intangible damages that can’t be assigned a monetary value. These damages include current and future emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.

For a successful outcome, a patient must show that the hospital or medical professional owed a duty of care to the patient, that the hospital or medical professional breached that duty (acted below the standard of care), and that the patient suffered an injury or mental distress as a result of the breach of duty.

Gather Necessary Evidence

Once you’ve established that your case qualifies for a medical malpractice lawsuit, you should begin compiling evidence to prove your case. Typical evidence includes counseling or medical records that chronicle your reports of emotional distress, journal entries or emotion logs detailing the pervasiveness of your mental anguish or emotional turmoil, and any evidence that shows a direct correlation between the onset or exacerbation of your emotional distress and how it aligns with when your incident occurred.

When filing a claim for emotional distress, evidence that validates your symptoms and injuries is key to winning a lawsuit. Your attorney can gather important medical evidence to support your claim and present that evidence in court. Your attorney can also negotiate a settlement agreement between the hospital’s or medical professional’s insurance provider if you decide it’s best to settle out of court.

File a Timely Claim

Like other states, Illinois limits the time to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This is known as a statute of limitations. The Illinois statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years after the date of the injury. If the injury is discovered later, you have two years from the date you discovered or reasonably should have discovered the injury to file your lawsuit. However, you cannot file a lawsuit more than four years after the date of the initial act or omission that precipitated your injury.