Insurance Attorney Arguing Mental Anguish Claim

Someone in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, or anywhere else in Texas may wonder how “mental anguish” works as a claim. Here is some insight into that how it works in Texas.
The Texas Supreme Court issued an opinion in 1997, in the case styled “The City of Tyler v. Adeline Likes.” Attorneys for the City of Tyler and attorneys for Likes made arguments for their respective clients. Here is some background.
The primary issue was whether Likes could recover for mental anguish resulting from a flood. There were other issues in the case that will not be addressed.
In April 1986, heavy rains flooded a watershed in Tyler. An open drainage channel ran across Like’s property directed through two drainage culverts. Floodwaters overflowed the channel, sending a neighbor’s landscape timber crashing through a window in Like’s home. Three and a half feet of water and debris entered the house.
Likes discovered the flooding when she went downstairs in the morning to get the paper. There was considerable damage to property and personal items, including family photos and keepsakes.
Likes sued the City of Tyler for negligently constructing and maintaining the culverts. Her attorney later amended the lawsuit to include mental anguish damages.
The City attorneys moved for summary judgment on the basis that mental anguish is not a “personal injury” under the Tort Claims Act.
The City argued that “personal injury” is a term of art that cannot include mental anguish derived from property damage, unaccompanied by physical injury.
In discussing this case, the court said that although mental anguish is a real and serious harm, there are two principle reasons why courts are not willing to recognize it as a compensable element of damages in every case. First, it is difficult to predict. The invasion of the same legal right may lead to extreme anguish in one person while causing essentially no emotional damage to another. Because of this variability in human nature, it is difficult for the law to distinguish between those instances when mental anguish is reasonably foreseeable from particular conduct and those when it is so remote that the law should impose no duty to prevent it. For this reason, Texas courts at one time categorized mental anguish in most types of cases as too remote or speculative to be compensable as actual damages, holding the emotional consequences of the tort relevant only to exemplary damages.
Second, even in circumstances where mental anguish is a foreseeable result of wrongful conduct, its existence is inherently difficult to verify. For years the fear of false claims led courts to require objective bodily symptoms of anguish in most types of cases. The courts eliminated this “physical manifestation” requirement after concluding that physical symptoms are not an accurate indicator of genuine mental anguish. Yet even in those cases where a defendant has breached the type of duty for which mental anguish is recoverable, the courts frequently demand “direct evidence of the nature, duration, and severity of the mental anguish, establishing a substantial disruption in the plaintiffs’ daily routine. The court said that while they recognized that such artificial evidentiary barriers may merely encourage exaggeration and penalize those who deal constructively with life’s vicissitudes, they continue to insist on such safeguards because the law has not yet discovered a satisfactory empirical test for what is by definition a subjective injury.
Texas has authorized recovery of mental anguish damages in virtually all personal injury actions. Where serious bodily injury is inflicted, the courts know some degree of physical and mental suffering is the necessary result. Similarly, when the defendant’s negligence causes a mental shock which produces a serious bodily injury, the defendant is liable for that injury provided it was foreseeable.
In this case, Likes had not claimed damages for bodily injury, however, and the minor symptoms she described, such as difficulty sleeping, are not serious bodily injuries that can form the basis for recovering mental anguish damages.
The court then said that “mental anguish based solely on negligent property damage is not compensable as a matter of law.”
What is important to realize from this case, is that while the law says no mental anguish damages are recoverable based solely on negligent property damage is that there are other ways of recovering mental anguish damages. An experienced Insurance Law Attorney can discuss these other ways of recovering mental anguish damages and discuss whether or not the particular facts of your case allow such recovery.