Can you sue a doctor for emotional distress?


Yes, it is possible to sue a doctor for emotional distress in some cases.

Emotional distress is a type of mental suffering that can be caused by various factors, including medical treatment.

If a doctor’s actions or lack of action cause you emotional distress, you may be able to bring a legal claim against the doctor for damages.

For example, if you went to see a doctor for a routine check-up and the doctor made a mistake that resulted in you receiving a misdiagnosis, you might experience emotional distress as a result.

You would need to prove that the doctor’s mistake caused your emotional distress, rather than something else like personal issues or stress from work.

This can be difficult to prove, as emotional distress is subjective and can be difficult to quantify.

You will also need to show that the doctor’s conduct was a direct cause of your emotional distress, rather than the result of other factors.

Read also:

Can you sue a doctor for emotional distress?-Case law example

Maybe my plain words sound too simple to be true.

To prove that it is very possible to sue a doctor for emotional distress and win I will give you a real-world example from Toney v. Chester Cnty. Hosp., 36 A.3d 83 (Pa. 2011) in which Toney was pregnant and her doctor did not tell her about problems with her baby.

The baby was born with serious physical problems, including missing arms and legs.

Toney was very upset and said that if she had known about the problems before the baby was born, she would not have been as upset.

The highest court in Pennsylvania agreed with the woman and said that the doctor did not do what was expected of them and caused the woman a lot of unnecessary emotional pain.

Toney awarded the compensation.

The Toney case, in which a pregnant woman in Pennsylvania was awarded compensation for emotional distress due to her doctor’s failure to inform her of fetal abnormalities, has set a precedent that is likely to be followed by courts in other states.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania carefully considered similar cases from states such as New Jersey, New York, Texas, and Wyoming in reaching its decision, demonstrating the strong and consistent legal precedent for upholding the rights of patients to be informed about their own health and the health of their unborn children.

This is a crucial ruling that reaffirms the obligation of medical professionals to exercise a “reasonable duty of care” in the treatment of their patients.

It also serves as a reminder of the serious and potentially lasting consequences that can result from a breach of that trust.

As such, it is likely that courts in other states will look to the Toney case as a guide in future cases involving emotional distress and medical negligence.

If you are interested you may read the full opinion here

How to successfully sue a doctor for emotional distress

To sue a doctor for emotional distress, you will need to file a legal claim in court.

This process typically involves the following steps:

Gather evidence

This is your first homework to do if you want to successfully sue a doctor for emotional distress.

To succeed in a lawsuit for emotional distress, you will need to provide evidence to support your claim.

This may include medical records, witness statements, and any other relevant documentation.

REMEMBER the more documentation and proof you have, the better.

makes sure you have

  • Proof of a relationship with the doctor — such as appointment cards or receipts from a doctor’s visit
  • Medical Notes
  • Doctor’s medical necessity letter
  • Records of missed work
  • Prescription bills
  • Therapy bills
  • etc.

Consult with a lawyer

Now you have a bunch of evidence.

You need a professional assistant to make your case.

It is a good idea to speak with a lawyer who has experience handling medical malpractice cases.

A lawyer can help you understand the legal process and advise you on the best course of action.

You may read this guide to learn more about how you can choose a good lawyer for your emotional distress claim.

File a complaint

To initiate a lawsuit for emotional distress, you will need to file a complaint with the court.

This document is also known as a petition or a pleading.

The complaint will outline your legal claims against the doctor and the specific damages you are seeking.

The complaint should include the following information:

  1. Your name and contact information
  2. The name and contact information of the doctor you are suing
  3. A description of the conduct that caused your emotional distress
  4. An explanation of how the doctor’s conduct was extreme and outrageous
  5. An explanation of how the doctor’s conduct caused your emotional distress
  6. A description of the emotional distress you experienced, including any specific symptoms or effects on your life
  7. The damages you are seeking, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for emotional distress

It is important to be as detailed and specific as possible when drafting the complaint.

You will need to provide sufficient evidence to support your claims, so it is helpful to include as much relevant information as possible.

If things appear unclear for you don’t worry, once you have a lawyer, will handle this quickly.

Serve the complaint

Once you have filed the complaint, it must be served on the defendant (the doctor being sued).

This is an important step in the legal process because it allows the doctor to be formally notified of the lawsuit and gives him an opportunity to respond.

There are several ways that a complaint can be served to the doctor:

  1. In-person: A process server or other authorized individual can personally deliver the complaint to the doctor.
  2. By mail: The complaint can be mailed to the doctor, typically via certified mail with a return receipt requested.
  3. By publication: In some cases, if the doctor cannot be located or is evading service, the complaint can be served by publishing it in a local newspaper.

Once the complaint has been served, the doctor will have a certain amount of time to respond.

This may involve filing an answer or a motion to dismiss the case.

The exact time frame will depend on the specific rules and regulations of the court in which the case is filed.

Wait for a response

Once a complaint has been filed in court, the doctor will have a certain amount of time to respond to your complaint.

The doctor’s response will typically be in the form of an “answer” to the complaint, in which he denies or admits to the allegations made in the complaint.

If the doctor denies the allegations, the case will proceed to the discovery phase, during which both sides will gather evidence and information relevant to the case. This may include depositions, requests for documents, and interrogatories.

Alternatively, the doctor may file a motion to dismiss the case.

This is a request to the court to throw out the case before it goes to trial.

There are several grounds on which a motion to dismiss can be based, such as lack of jurisdiction or failure to state a claim.

If the motion to dismiss is granted, the case will be dismissed and you will not be able to pursue the claim further.

If the motion is denied, the case will proceed to the discovery phase.

It is important to note that the doctors’ response to the complaint does not necessarily mean that the case will go to trial.

It is possible that the case may be resolved through settlement negotiations before going to trial.


During the discovery phase of a lawsuit, both of you will gather evidence and information relevant to the case.

This is typically done through a number of different legal tools, such as:

  1. Depositions: A deposition is a formal questioning of a witness or party to the case, conducted under oath and recorded by a court reporter. Depositions allow both sides to ask questions and gather testimony from witnesses. Learn more about Depositions here
  2. Requests for documents: You can request that the other side produce specific documents or records that are relevant to the case. This may include medical records, emails, or other types of written communication.
  3. Interrogatories: Interrogatories are written questions that you can ask the doctor. The answers must be given under oath and can be used as evidence in court.

During the discovery phase, both of you have the opportunity to gather information and evidence that will help build your case.

The goal is to allow you to have a full understanding of the facts and evidence in the case before it goes to trial.

Settlement negotiations

The settlement negotiation process is an opportunity for both of you to try to reach an agreement to resolve the case without going to trial.

This may involve you and the doctor negotiating a settlement amount, or coming to some other agreement that satisfies both parties.

During settlement negotiations, both of you may present your case and make offers to try to reach a mutually acceptable resolution.

This may involve discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case, as well as the potential risks and costs of going to trial.

If you are able to reach an agreement during settlement negotiations, the case will be resolved and the lawsuit will be dismissed.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will decide the outcome of the case.

It is important to note that settlement negotiations are typically confidential and are not made public.

The terms of any settlement agreement will be kept private between you and the doctor


When a case goes to trial, both of you will present your evidence and arguments to a judge or jury.

The judge or jury will then decide the outcome of the case based on the evidence presented.

During the trial, each side will have the opportunity to present its case.

This may include calling witnesses to testify, introducing documents and other evidence, and making legal arguments.

You will go first and present your case, followed by the doctor.

After both of you have presented your cases, the judge or jury will deliberate and decide the outcome of the case.

In a civil trial, the judge or jury will decide whether the doctor is liable (responsible) for your damages and, if so, how much the doctor should pay for damages.

Things to prove to win your emotional distress case

To win an emotional distress case, you need to prove four things:

  1. You had a relationship with the medical professional in question: This means that you saw them for medical treatment or care at some point.
  2. The medical professional acted negligently: Negligence means that the medical professional did not act with the same level of care and skill as a reasonably competent medical professional would have in the same situation.
  3. The medical professional’s negligence caused you emotional distress: Emotional distress refers to intense negative emotions like anxiety, depression, or fear. You must be able to show that the medical professional’s negligence caused these emotions, rather than something else.
  4. The emotional distress caused you actual damage: Actual damage refers to tangible harms that you have suffered as a result of your emotional distress. This could be physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach problems, or it could be financial losses, such as missed work or reduced earning capacity.

To win your emotional distress case, you must be able to provide evidence that all four of these things are true.

This may involve presenting witness testimony, medical records, and other types of documentation to support your claim.

How much can I sue for emotional distress?

The amount of money you can sue for emotional distress depends on the specific circumstances of your case and the laws in your jurisdiction.

In general, damages for emotional distress are typically not as high as damages for physical injuries or property damage.

In some cases, damages for emotional distress may be awarded as part of a larger settlement or award for other types of damages, such as medical expenses or lost wages. In other cases, emotional distress damages may be sought as a standalone claim.

To determine the amount of damages you may be able to seek for emotional distress, you should consider factors such as the severity of your emotional distress, the length of time you have experienced emotional distress, and any financial losses or other damages you have suffered as a result of your emotional distress.

You should also consider the laws in your jurisdiction, as different states and countries have different rules for determining damages for emotional distress.

It is generally best to consult with a qualified attorney who has experience handling emotional distress cases to determine the potential value of your case and the damages you may be able to seek.


It is important to note that suing a doctor for emotional distress can be a complex and time-consuming process.

I advise you to speak with a lawyer to understand your legal options and the likelihood of success in your case.

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Isack Kimaro
Isack Kimaro

Holder of Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) and Post Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. I am dedicated to providing valuable and easy-to-understand legal information for individuals at all levels of understanding. Whether you are a layperson looking to increase your knowledge, a law student striving to excel in your studies, or a practicing lawyer wanting to expand your expertise, I am here to help. I'm not creating content, I'm creating awareness to empower you to take control of your legal understanding and achieve your goals.