Can I recover for mental anguish or psychological harm?


It is well settled in that compensation for mental suffering and mental distress may be recovered in a tort action if such suffering is a “natural and probable result” of the tortious act.  Sanford v. Ware, 191 Va. 43, 49 (Va. 1950);  See also Bruce v. Madden, 208 Va. 636, 640 (Va. 1968)  (finding error where a trial court refused to instruct the jury that it may consider mental anguish as an element of damages in a personal injury case).    However, case law makes clear that mental suffering and mental distress are generally recoverable only when Plaintiff also makes a claim for physical injury arising from the tortious act.  

However, case law distinguishes between “hybrid” cases in which mental anguish arises from tortious conduct causing personal injuries and “pure” mental anguish claims where injury arises from a non-physical invasion.  As a general rule, mental anguish is recoverable only when in “hybrid” cases where a physical injury is also present, and is not permissible as a standalone source of recovery.  See, e.g., Fairfax Hospital Sys. v. McCarty, 244 Va. 28, 37 (1992) (mother’s mental anguish from a defective birth not recoverable absent physical injury to mother);  Bowers v. Westvaco Corp., 244 Va. 139, 149 (1992)  (no recover for mental anguish caused by nuisance); Carstensen v. Chrisland Corp., 247 Va. 433, 446,) (“in the absence of physical harm or wanton and willful conduct, emotional distress damages are not recoverable.”).   However, the associated physical injury need not be a significant element of the claim for damages, and need only be a distinct source of Plaintiff’s harm.   Indeed, the Virginia Supreme Court recently reaffirmed the principle that mental anguish forms a proper basis for damages in a tort action even in a case with comparatively minor injuries. See Kondaurov v. Kerdasha, 271 Va. 646, 656 (Va. 2006) (“In the present case, the plaintiff suffered physical injury, albeit remarkably slight under the circumstances, as a proximate result of the defendants’ negligence. Thus, mental anguish could be inferred by the jury and would constitute an element of damages.”).  

Consequently, when asserting a claim for mental anguish and other mental injuries, it is essential to allege associated physical injury as a part of your claim for damages.  Mental injuries can form a substantial aspect of a properly pleaded claim for damages; in fact, in many cases compensable harm from mental injuries far exceeds the harm associated with physical injuries, as an attorney, like a personal injury lawyer in Arlington, VA from The Law Offices of Ryan Quinn, PLLC can explain.