You went to a Virginia hospital for treatment of a serious injury or illness, and you expected to receive the highest level of care possible. Unfortunately, your doctors and nurses failed to treat you under an accepted standard of medical care, and their negligence caused you further injury.
You can sue a hospital to get compensation for your injuries and financial losses. In most cases, you can also obtain compensation for intangible damages, such as emotional distress. However, you need to understand when you sue a hospital for emotional distress and the process involved so you know what to expect.
You also need to consult an experienced Virginia medical malpractice attorney for help as soon as possible who can explain your rights and options and help you get all the compensation you need.
What Is Emotional Distress?
Emotional distress refers to any type of mental anguish or suffering a person experiences because of someone else’s intentional misconduct or negligence. In many personal injury cases, such as medical malpractice, emotional distress is one type of damage you can recover if your attorney can prove the distress was a direct result of your injury.
Like pain and suffering and loss of consortium, emotional distress is non-economic damage. This means that it did not directly cause you financial losses, but it caused adverse impacts on your life that will continue to affect you going forward. Emotional distress can affect your ability to work, attend school, or do the things you need to do in your life to remain productive and happy.
Non-economic damages like emotional distress are subjective, non-monetary losses you suffered, and they can be challenging to quantify. An experienced personal injury attorney in Virginia can help you determine the amounts of compensation you need and fight for you to help you get all you deserve.
When You Can Sue a Hospital for Emotional Distress
In Virginia, you can only recover compensation for emotional distress if:
- A physical injury accompanied the distress.
- The distress resulted from intentional or reckless misconduct.
Unlike some other states, Virginia does not allow parties to recover damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress in and of itself, except in certain extreme circumstances. Any damages for emotional distress are part of the total damages you can recover from the physical injuries caused by someone else’s wrongdoing.
Consider the following examples: A doctor harmed you through a surgical error, and you also suffered emotional distress because of the injury. You would be able to pursue damages for emotional distress along with the economic damages associated with your injury. However, if a nurse was merely rude to you and caused your emotional distress without physically harming you, you likely would not be able to pursue damages for emotional distress in Virginia.
Virginia imposes this standard to ward against frivolous lawsuits for emotional distress. The courts understand that plaintiffs can greatly exaggerate their emotional distress, or even lie about it altogether. Therefore, the courts require that plaintiffs provide clear and convincing evidence of emotional distress, and the conduct of the defendant must have been so outrageous that it would be completely intolerable in society.
To pursue damages for emotional distress in Virginia, your attorney must show:
- The defendant’s conduct was intentional and reckless
- The conduct was outrageous or intolerable
- A causal connection existed between the defendant’s conduct and the emotional distress
- You suffered severe emotional distress as a result
In the absence of physical injury, proving emotional distress and obtaining compensation for it can be extremely challenging in Virginia. You must have an attorney who understands how to build a claim for emotional distress and can help you develop the most compelling case possible.
Emotional Distress Arising From Medical Malpractice
All hospitals and physicians in Virginia have a duty to provide an accepted standard of medical care to their patients. When they fail to provide acceptable care and a patient suffers further harm, victims can hold their doctors and hospitals accountable for their injuries and any non-economic damages the event caused. Any number of medical errors or negligent care can cause you physical injury along with emotional distress.
Some of the most common scenarios include:
- Surgical errors. Sometimes, surgeons or their staff do not properly sterilize surgical instruments or leave foreign objects inside the patient during surgery. Surgical errors also include wrong-site/wrong-procedure mistakes and more.
- Anesthesiologist errors. An anesthesiologist may administer too much medication or not enough. They may also fail to consider a patient’s drug allergies or possible adverse interactions between medications.
- Delayed or misdiagnoses. Doctors may fail to provide the correct diagnosis or not diagnosis a condition in a timely manner, or they may reach an incorrect diagnosis because of their negligence.
- Medication errors. Doctors may prescribe the wrong medication, and nurses and pharmacists may dispense or deliver the wrong one. Adverse interactions between drugs are also common.
Another common form of medical malpractice that can also cause emotional distress is birth injuries. Physicians can harm newborns through risky birth interventions, such as the use of vacuum extractors or forceps, or by not ordering an emergency C-section in a potentially harmful vaginal delivery, for instance.
Related to this, mothers and babies can experience distress and serious complications during labor and delivery if not closely monitored. Birth injuries can cause cerebral palsy and other debilitating conditions in the child, which can create severe emotional distress in the mother.
Building a Case for Emotional Distress in Virginia
Like with any tortious claim where you are seeking damages, you must work with an experienced personal injury attorney to help you build the strongest case.
When pursuing emotional distress in your claim for physical injury, your attorney will work to establish a link between your injury and your emotional distress by providing:
- Documentation of your physical injuries and any related symptoms you are experiencing, such as headaches, cognitive impairment, depression, and anxiety.
- How long you have been experiencing emotional distress symptoms.
- The severity of the initial incident that caused you emotional distress.
- Medical reports from your doctors and psychiatrists that detail a credible link between the incident and your emotional distress.
- Testimony from friends, family members, and co-workers who can attest to your suffering and the impact the incident had on your personality and productivity.
Your attorney may also include other pertinent evidence and information to help you build a strong claim, but you will need to act quickly to pursue compensation. Virginia allows you only two years from the incident to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in court, so you need to consult an experienced Virginia personal injury attorney immediately to get started.
However, the statute of limitations for children has different requirements, so consult an attorney right away if your child suffered an injury and emotional distress from their healthcare provider.