Can I Sue a Doctor for Emotional Distress?

Jun 11, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

If the doctor was legally negligent, then yes, you can sue the doctor for emotional distress. This compensation is available as part of the damages in a malpractice case. An unfavorable result, in and of itself, is not negligent. Neither is overpromising a result or making a mistake. Instead, the doctor’s behavior must have fallen below the standard of care. 


A related question, and perhaps a more important one, is “Why can a Richmond medical malpractice attorney sue a doctor for emotional distress?” Money for noneconomic losses, such as emotional distress or pain and suffering, doesn’t reverse the effects of a medical mistake. Legally, a case result must put victims in the same place they would have been had the negligence not occurred. No one can turn back the hands of time, and financial compensation is typically the only way patients can be compensated for the wrong done.

Physician’s Duty of Care

When patients see doctors, they are entirely at their mercy. Patients depend on doctors for all of their treatment needs. Patients have a right to expect that doctors will put aside all other concerns, including their own financial gain, and only do what is best for a given patient. This duty, which lawyers, accountants, and doctors also have, is called a fiduciary duty.


To establish a breach of duty, most victims who make a claim focus on the standard of care. For example, if Jimmy’s mom takes him to the doctor with what appears to be a broken leg, the doctor must examine Jimmy, run certain diagnostic tests, such as an X-ray, set the bone as needed, and authorize physical therapy. The doctor is providing Jimmy the standard of care that would be needed for a broken leg.

Medical Malpractice Examples

Physician negligence in Virginia usually involves one of the areas discussed below. In all of them, the victim/plaintiff must establish negligence, or a lack of care, by a preponderance of the evidence. And it is the establishment of these forms of negligence that leads to a successful case and then ensuing physical and emotional damage recovery.


Of all medical malpractice cases, birth injuries are arguably the most preventable incidents. Doctors should spot red flags, like SD (Shoulder Dystocia) and react appropriately. Frequently, however, they dismiss risks such as an LGA (Large for Gestational Age) infant or an overweight mother. 


Essentially, SD means that the baby is too large to drift down the mother’s narrow birth canal in the delivery room. If this happens, the umbilical cord could disrupt the baby’s brain’s oxygen supply and cause permanent injury.


Since the clock is ticking, many doctors make unwise decisions. For example, they often use risky birth interventions like a vacuum extractor to deliver SD infants. Frequently, these mechanical interventions do more harm than good.


It’s hard to believe that serious surgical mistakes happen. But they do, especially in busy, fast-paced operating rooms. As mentioned, not every mistake constitutes negligence. But a lot of them do, especially considering the high standard of care. Instrument sterilization is a good example. Some doctors fail to properly sterilize instruments. Sometimes, the opposite is true, and they overheat instruments.


Anesthesiologist errors are all too common as well. Some anesthesiologists administer too much medicine, and some don’t give enough. Other negligent mistakes in this area include foreseeable allergic reactions and failure to monitor patients during surgery.

Medical Errors and Emotional Distress

All of these examples serve to highlight just how common it is for doctors to make costly mistakes and subsequently cause their patients physical and emotional pain. Thankfully, successful personal injury cases like medical malpractice do not shy away from ensuring the victim receives due compensation for all levels of their pain–both economic damages (financial losses) and noneconomic damages like emotional distress.

What Is the Most Common Medical Error?

Medical misdiagnosis is probably the most common kind of medical negligence. The general misdiagnosis rate is about 20 percent. This proportion is even higher in some situations, such as cancer.


Many physicians view cancer as a genetic or lifestyle condition. They usually don’t consider this illness if the patient has no family history of cancer or does not engage in risky behavior (e.g. smoking and lung cancer). Sub-misdiagnosis is a possibility as well, particularly regarding lung cancer. NSCLC (Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer) is the most common type of lung cancer, and also one of the least aggressive forms of this disease. If a patient has a different type of lung cancer, such as mesothelioma, NSCLC treatments might do little good.


Other commonly misdiagnosed conditions include heart disease, such as heart attacks and strokes, as well as brain injuries.

Reach Out Now for Legal Assistance

Successful medical negligence plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for their emotional distress. For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Richmond, contact Geoff McDonald & Associates, P.C. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these matters.

Geoff McDonald and Associates: 804-888-8888.


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