Mental anguish is psychological distress which is experienced as a result of traumatic events. In law, there may be cases in which people can be awarded damages for this distress they have experienced if they can demonstrate that the wrongdoing of someone else contributed to or created the state of anguish. For example, the family members of a murder victim might sue the murderer for mental anguish in a civil case.
Psychological distress can take a number of forms, including depression, grief, fear, stress, anxiety, humiliation, and fright. In order to be considered mental anguish for legal purposes, it is usually necessary to provide documentation which demonstrates that the psychological issues experienced were intense, were linked to the actions of someone else, and were out of character for the person who experienced them. Someone with a history of depression, for example, might not necessarily be allowed to claim mental anguish on the grounds of depression.
People can experience this type of distress as a result of being tortured or threatened, being forced to witness acts of depravity such as torture, murder, or rape, or being severely injured as a result of wrongdoing. Someone who loses a leg in a car accident, for example, might argue that the experience of the loss and the recovery was accompanied by mental anguish. Other events which might cause psychological distress include kidnappings, public humiliations, or incidents which lead to the development of post traumatic stress disorder.
Suits for mental anguish are usually seen in civil courts, and may be accompanied with requests to pay other types of damage. In the example in the first paragraph, for instance, the family could also sue for lost wages, arguing that the murderer deprived the family of a wage-earner and the money she or he might have brought into the household. When deciding on what types of damages to sue for, lawyers generally consider the facts of the case, the potential ability to pay the damages, and the prevailing legal culture in the area where the case is being held. If a judge is known for being tough on mental anguish cases, for example, a lawyer might opt to focus on other types of damages.
The size of an award for mental anguish can vary, depending on the nature of the crime, the judge, the evidence presented in court, and other factors. It is important to be aware of the fact that in most nations, lawyers are not allowed to directly solicit clients or to compensate people for soliciting clients on their behalf. If a lawyer approaches with an offer to set up a civil suit, she or he may be violating standards of conduct established by the bar association.